A dissent or dissenting opinion is a statement by a judge expressing and explaining disagreement with a Court's majority opinion. In this activity, you will listen to one of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's famous dissents spoken aloud and consider how the media experience of hearing a dissent spoken directly by a justice might influence people's thinking about a political issue.
Each term (the time period from the first Monday in October to late June/early July), the United States Supreme Court decides between 70 and 80 cases and there are dissents in 60% of them.
On notable occasions, dissents are read aloud from the bench by a dissenting justice. The impacts of a read aloud can be far-reaching when made available to the public by the media.
In 1999, Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company on the grounds that she had been receiving lower pay than her male coworkers for 19 years. She won a $3.8 million settlement in federal court. However, the Supreme Court (by a 5 to 4 vote) reversed that decision, saying Ledbetter’s claim had not been made within a 180 day time charging period.
Ginsburg, the only woman justice on the Court at the time, dissented passionately, declaring that the Court “did not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”
Two years later, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that reversed the Supreme Court’s decision. Ginsburg's dissent is credited as providing the political and social momentum needed to enact this major milestone in the quest for equal rights for women.
Activity: Evaluate the Impact of Spoken Words in Supreme Court Dissents
Choose a paragraph from the Ginsburg dissent that you find meaningful and memorable.
Record yourself reading it aloud.
Then, ask friends, neighbors, and/or family members to listen to your read aloud, and then read the text on their own and share with you which one was more influential to their learning.
Based on your assessment, write and draw a children's picture book or young adult (YA) graphic history that starts with the following sentence, "Every evening after supper, Malisha and her family tuned in to hear the latest Supreme Court case dissent read aloud by one of the Justices..."
In this children's book, consider what impact hearing the spoken words in Supreme Court dissents might have on the general public's understanding of law, government, civics, and society as opposed to just reading the text.
Bonus Activity: Make an accessible version of the audio of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent for learners who are deaf or hard of hearing by presenting the text or designing a text-based video in a way that emphasizes tone and emotion and other features that make the read aloud impactful for listeners.
Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example
Evaluate the Impact of Spoken Words in Supreme Court Dissents by Alexa Sortino
Explain the Principle of Judicial Review established in Marbury v. Madison and explain how cases come before the Supreme Court, how cases are argued, and how the Court issues decisions and dissents. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T5.5]