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Virginia's Judicial Circuit and District Courts,

Virginia Court System

This website provides an interactive map of Virginia's judicial circuits and districts that helps show the way the levels of courts in the state court system. Clicking on a section of the map reveals links to the circuit and district courts in that region. Try exploring the websites of your local courts to learn more about Virginia's judicial system. What is the difference between a circuit and a district court? How are the courts organized, and what are their essential duties?

Thomas Jefferson Center on Free Expression,

Thomas Jefferson Center

The Thomas Jefferson Center, in Charlottesville, Va., is an organization that promotes freedom of speech through legal cases, education, and the arts. The website offers podcasts, such as Thomas Madison Lives. Another key feature is legal briefs from Thomas Jefferson Center cases, including Commonwealth of Virginia v. Black. This 26-page court document may seem intimidating, but the language is accessible to the general reader. The case addresses whether burning a cross on someone’s lawn can be punishable as a form of intimidation, or if cross burning is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Searchable Virginia Constitution,

Virginia General Assembly

This website, maintained by the Virginia General Assembly, offers a quick reference to each article and section of the Virginia Constitution by keywords. For example, Article I Section 1 relates to “Equality and the Rights of Men.” This feature simplifies finding a relevant section of the Virginia Constitution, and complements the U.S. Constitution Guide. The website also contains a downloadable pdf of the current Virginia Constitution.

Constitutional Issues: Separation of Powers,

National Archives and Records Administration

The National Archives website features a lesson plan about the separation of powers on a federal and state level that revolves around a history of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s court packing during the 1930s. It includes background information on the time period, as well as a primary source document in which a newspaper publisher warns that FDR’s actions may lead to “absolutism and complete dictatorial power.” The website also features a document analysis worksheet and teaching activities.

Brown v. Board of Education: Five Communities That Changed America,

National Park Service

the National Park Service. has created a Brown vs. Board of Education lesson plan that places the landmark civil rights case within the context of five communities affected by school segregation, including Farmville, Virginia. Background reading on the website can help place school desegregation in a national context. Four photographs of a segregated African American school in Farmville give a stark visual representation of inequality in education during the 1950s. The website also offers ways these resources can be used in the classroom, and supplementary resources useful for further research.

Virginia Courts in Brief,

Virginia Court System

Virginia Courts in Brief offers a one page overview of Virginia’s judicial structure. The website profiles levels of the court from magistrates to the state Supreme Court, providing explanations about what each level of the judicial system does. Find out the difference between a civil action and a criminal case, what the Clerks' Office does, and how many judges are in Virginia.

Justice Learning: Lesson Plans for Current Issues,

NPR's Justice Talking and The New York Times Learning Network

Justice Learning provides lesson plans and classroom activities on a wide range of issues. Each issue challenges students to think about complex issues, such as free speech in classrooms. Some exercises encourage students to deal with more difficult issues, such as cross burning and free speech or capital punishment and juvenile offenders. Each issue challenges one to think within a national, state, local, or classroom context. At the end of each lesson plan, there is a list of “Other Information on the Web.” Researchers on any topics covered on the website may find these links a good jumping-off point for their studies.

Our Courts – Build a Curriculum,

Sandra Day O'Connor, Georgetown University and Arizona State University

The Our Courts website is a resource started by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to help students gain more understanding of civics. The curriculum builder includes lesson plans organized both by state (i.e., Virginia) and topic. Although most lesson plans are aimed at grades 5–8, they can be adapted for older students. Games are also under development, which can be played alone or with a classroom group.

U.S. Courts Educational Outreach,

Office of U.S. Courts

This website offers classroom materials on courtroom simulations, contemporary court cases, and other classroom activities. One courtroom simulation involves downloading music and movies, which is particularly relevant to students’ lives. The website also has interactive Double Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Million-Dollar Citizen games related to trivia about the judicial branch.