Lesson Plan: Opening Statements of Female Supreme Court Justices

The Senate and Confirming Judicial Nominations

From C-SPAN's original production The Senate: Conflict and Compromise, this segment uses archival C-SPAN video to show the procedures and history of the Senate's power to confirm judicial nominations.


Six women have been confirmed as United States Supreme Court Justices: Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson. This lesson opens with a review of the role and history of Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Students then review and analyze each of the female justice's opening statements from these hearings, before completing a culminating writing prompt. The lesson also includes one optional extension activity.


  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resource for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout: Graphic Organizer (Google Doc).

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.


    Pose the following brainstorming questions to your students and have them share their responses in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class:

    • Name as many current or former United States Supreme Court Justices that you can. How many on your list are women?
    • How does an individual become a Supreme Court Justice?

    Play this introductory video clip [Clip #1] (6:18) for your students. Direct your students to answer the following questions on their graphic organizer and have them share their responses in pairs, small groups, or as a whole class:

    • Based on the clip, when did nominees begin to appear and testify before Senate committee hearings? When did this practice become routine?
    • Why was Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987 significant? How did this change how the Senate viewed the confirmation process?
    • According to Donald Ritchie, why do people "complain about the nomination process?"
    • What agreement was reached in 2005 between Democrats and Republicans regarding confirming judicial nominees?
    • How did the Democrats change the Senate rules in 2013? How was this change "extended" by Republicans in 2017?

    The video clips in this lesson span more than 30 years and reference many individuals, topics, events, and words that may be unfamiliar to students.

    Prepare a graffiti wall similar to those listed on this website (We Are Teachers). (Alternatively, you could utilize a virtual graffiti wall using a platform such as Jamboard or Google Slides.) As students progress through the video clips, have them record unfamiliar names, words, or phrases on the graffiti wall, defining or summarizing each item that they list.

    The graffiti wall will serve as an instructional tool for all students to reference as they progress through the lesson.


    Have students open their graphic organizers and watch each of the opening statements by clicking on the pictures (note: no C-SPAN video exists for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opening statement, as her confirmation hearing predates C-SPAN's coverage of the U.S. Senate).

    By using the video clips and accompanying text links, have students complete the chart on the graphic organizer.


    Allow time for your students to prepare their findings from the lesson with their peers.

    After your students are finished sharing their findings from the choice activity with the class, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt in their graphic organizers: What is the role and impact of the opening statement for female nominees for the United States Supreme Court, and how has this role and impact changed over time? Be sure to include evidence from the video clips in the lesson to support your argument.

    Have students share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates'.


    Since 2009, C-SPAN has released a survey on public opinion regarding the Supreme Court whenever there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. As an optional extension to this lesson, have students compare their findings from this lesson to data from the March 2022 C-SPAN/Pierrepont Supreme Court Survey Results (PDF).

    Have students provide a summary of three-five convergent or divergent trends that they notice.

Additional Resources


  • Confirmation Hearing
  • Constitution
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Senate
  • Supreme Court


Judicial BranchLegislative BranchU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh SchoolUniversity