Unit Web Activities
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Unit 1: Introduction to Law and the Legal
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Someone Ought to Do Something!
An exploration of different places
on the Internet where people can work for change
Have you ever heard about a policy or a law that you thought
was totally unfair? Something so unjust, so unreasonable,
that you said, "Someone ought to do something!"?
Well, that someone can be you, and you
can do it in a variety of ways, either alone or with others
in an organized group.
1. Advocacy Groups
Many advocacy groups have Web sites that provide education regarding their point of view on a particular issue, as well as information about ways that citizens can actively participate in their mission. In addition, during election cycles more and more candidates are creating Web sites to publicize their positions.
Choose an important public policy issue and gather information about both sides of the debate. Use the Internet to help you with your research. To find Web sites that deal with both sides of your issue, use a search engine such as "Google" or "Yahoo."
Remember to research both sides of the issue, not just the side you support. While you are looking over the Web sites, take notes on the methods the groups provide for you to get involved with the issue.
Another way people can affect public policy is to become
plaintiffs. A person or a group can sue the government or
a private organization to try to force change on an issue.
Several groups represent "regular people" in lawsuits. Some
of the more conservative groups include the Mountain
States Legal Foundation and the Pacific
Legal Foundation, while some of the more liberal groups
for the American Way and the American
Civil Liberties Union. Check out their Web sites to
see the kinds of issues in which they are involved and what
policies they are trying to change.
A person or group can write an amicus
brief, which provides information about the practical results
of a decision. For example, in the 2003 University of Michigan
affirmative action cases, Grutter v. Bollinger
and Gratz v. Bollinger, there were over
100 amicus briefs filed. These briefs were filed by interested
parties, including schools, groups, and government agencies.
Each party intended to inform the court about how the upcoming
decision would affect their lives. The links below were
created by the University of Michigan to provide both summaries
and entire copies of the amicus briefs in the case.
in favor of Grutter (Law School Plaintiff)
in favor of Gratz (Undergraduate Plaintiff)
in favor of the University of Michigan in Law School Case
in favor of the University of Michigan in Undergraduate
in favor of neither party
Browse through the summaries and try
reading the actual legal brief documents, which provide
insight as to how each party addresses the consequences
of an affirmative action decision. Then, choose at least
two briefs from each side and answer the following questions:
|What is the name of the person or
group filing the amicus brief?
|What does the person or group have in common with either
the plaintiffs or the defendants?
|What argument does the person or group make to the
court—what do they want the court to understand about the
potential results of a decision?
of the decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.
Read a summary
of the decision in Gratz v. Bollinger.
Do you think the person or group will agree with the
For more amicus curiae briefs:
If you want to see which cases are upcoming on the Supreme
Court's calendar, visit the Web site for the U.S.
You can go directly to the Court's
calendar for the term by clicking on Oral Arguments.
Choose the date that interests
you and click on Session beginning . . .
This will enable to you download a PDF file with each
session's arguments listed.
Choose a case by its name and write
down the docket number.
Go back and click on Docket.
Enter the docket number in the
search box, and then click on the case when it appears.
Scan the list of proceedings in the case to find the
name of any groups or people who have filed amicus
curiae briefs. Then you can do a Web search for that
group to find out its views.
*Note: it is possible that no amicus
curiae briefs have been filed in the case you chose.
3. Contacting Elected Officials
Another way individuals can get involved in changing policy
is to advocate and work to elect candidates who support
the policies they want to change.
First, you can find out who your representatives
are in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
The House and Senate Web sites provide the addresses, phone
numbers, and e-mail addresses of every House and Senate
member. They also include information about what issues
are being addressed and debated on Capitol Hill each day.
Go to the Web sites for the House
of Representatives and the Senate
and find out who your Representative (1 name) and Senators
(2 names) are. Make note of the names and contact information
for your representatives.
Each individual state legislative branch
also has several ways for voters to find and contact their
representatives. Go to your state's Web site and find out
who your representatives are in both the House and the Senate.
Navigate the Web sites to find the bills that are the current
"hot topics" under consideration. Then summarize one of
these "hot topics" as presented by the Web site.
Now that you know several ways people can take action when
they think, "Someone ought to do something!", choose an
issue about which you feel strongly and take a stand. Your
teacher will direct you, or may give you the choice. Remember—with
any kind of advocacy—unless you speak up, your voice
will never be heard!
|Select an advocacy group with which
you agree. If you choose this option, write a letter to
your teacher explaining the views of this group. Explain
why this group represents your opinions on the subject.
In addition, explain the views of a contrasting group and
explain why you do NOT agree with its views.|
|Find out what groups are submitting
amicus briefs in a court case and write to express your
support for their stance. The letter, which you will turn
in to your teacher before mailing, will explain your opinion
on the issue and why you agree with the stance the group
has taken in the case.|
|If you would like to advocate for
an issue that has not come up in this lesson, write to your
U.S. or state legislators and express your opinion. In your
letter, which you will turn in to your teacher before mailing,
express your opinion on your issue and recommend to your
legislator how you think he or she should take action. For
example, do you want the legislator to propose a new bill,
or vote a certain way on an existing one? Do you want the
legislature to hold hearings to investigate a problem? Explain
your opinion clearly and respectfully. (You might even get