Educator Resources

Constitutional Issues - Separation of Powers

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 8-The Great Depression and World War II (1929 - 1945)
    • Standard 2C-Demonstrate understanding of opposition to the New Deal, the alternative programs of its detractors, and the legacy of the New Deal.

This lesson also correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • Standard III.B.1-Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding the purposes, organization, and functions of the institutions of the national government.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history and government colleagues.



  1. Review the definitions of the following words before reading the document.

    camouflage (verb)-to disguise in order to conceal
    expedite (verb)-to hasten
    litigation (noun)-lawsuit
    dissertation (noun)-a formal and lengthy report
    absolutism (noun)-system where ruler has unlimited powers
    integrity (noun)-honesty, wholeness
    tribunal (noun)-court of justice

  2. After reading and working with the document, ask students to write a brief story of the court-packing controversy using five words from the list.

Reading for the Main Idea

Students should review what their textbook has to say about the court-packing controversy. Ask them to read the document and answer the following questions.

  1. How many Justices does FDR want to add to the Supreme Court?

  2. What does Gannett feel will be the result of this increase?

  3. What alternative method for changing the system does Gannett propose?

  4. List three principles of government that Gannett mentions in this statement.

The Constitutional Issue

  1. Ask students to define the constitutional issue. Why was this issue so controversial?

  2. In paragraph 4, Gannett expresses his fear that the executive will dominate the other two branches of government. Ask students to recall other times in our history when one of the three branches became too powerful.

  3. Some have argued that our system of separation of powers and checks and balances paralyzes the efficient working of government and that we should amend the Constitution to provide for a parliamentary system of government. Ask interested students to research and stage a debate for the class on the question: RESOLVED that the Constitution should be amended to provide for a parliamentary system of government.

Thinking Metaphorically

  1. In the third paragraph, the author uses a metaphor when he compares the Supreme Court to an anchor. Play with this idea with your students. How is the Court like an anchor? If the Court is the anchor, what is the ship? What is the sea? What other storms might there have been in our history? Invite them to suggest other possible metaphors for the Court's role in our system.

  2. Supporters of Roosevelt's plan would have seen the Supreme Court differently. Follow the steps below to help students write their own metaphorical statement.

    1. List on the board how the supporters of the President's plan might have viewed the Supreme Court.

    2. Ask students to look at the list and suggest something in nature or something mechanical that has those qualities. List their suggestions on the board.

    3. Ask students to write several possible metaphorical statements that FDR's supporters might have used to describe the Court.

Techniques of Persuasion

Ask students to reread the document and underline the parts that are particularly persuasive, and then to complete one of the following activities.

  1. Rank in order of importance the three most persuasive sections and discuss why they are most persuasive.

  2. Write a brief paper describing the reasons why this document is or is not persuasive.

For Further Study

The number of Justices on the Supreme Court has been changed six times in our history: 1789, 1801, 1802, 1837, 1863, and 1869. Ask students to investigate the circumstances under which the number was changed.

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