Here’s the issue. You’re trying to get students to understand the Supreme Court. Not just that it’s an organization that consists of nine justices and that it interprets the law, but how it actually goes about doing so. How does the court hear and structure arguments? How is it that over the decades, the Court can by interpreting the same document, reach so many different conclusions?
Enter Argument Wars, a game designed to simulate arguing cases before the SCOTUS. You begin by choosing a lawyer, and then choosing a case. Your choices range from classic cases such as Brown v. Board of Education to more hot button issues such as Snyder v. Phelps, and you can argue for either side successfully. This is one of the more interesting hidden messages of Argument Wars. It’s not about perceived who has the moral high ground, but who can structure the better Constitutional argument. It’s actually more fun to play the side that historically lost to see how workable their argument was.
The game does a great job of summing up both sides of the case in one sentence and then sets you to work. You start by selecting one of
to make your case. On the one hand, the cards are structured into real categories of argument, on the other, some of them are ludicrously easy. Your opponent can then object to your argument if its silly. If no one objects you then move onto the next portion. At this stage you select which Constitutional amendment or clause justifies your argument. The final part is perhaps the most challenging, though more so for being arbitrary than for being actually difficult. You are required to string together a fill in the blank sentence which sums up the argument, picking from three sets of fragments.
Based on all of this, the judge awards you points, and the side with the most points wins. At this point, you’re informed how the case actually turned out, and are given the option to “certify your victory” printing out a certificate that can be turned in to a teacher. It’s easy to see how this game could easily be applied to a history, or street law class. While it is built for middle school students, it’s actually worthwhile at any level.
This game deserves kudos for a lot of reasons. It allows students to see how the Constitution is actually applied to law, and how to make a legal argument based upon it. It simplifies complex legal arguments without unduly sacrificing their meaning, and it’s actually quite fun. I especially got a kick out of the look of disappointment on my opponent’s avatar when he lost his case. “Yeah take that Brown,” I found myself saying, “No desegregation for you!” But then, I tend to get a bit competitive.
Of course, by reducing these cases merely to their Constitutional arguments, and divorcing them of their cultural context, students can loose some important perspective on the social role in Supreme Court cases, and the singular impartial Judge is certainly not at all typical of the Court. This game, however, is about the meat and bones, not deep analysis.