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We can celebrate the historic confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and educate our students about many subjects at the same time! My favorite arguments from the newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice are not from any of the important cases she decided as a U.S. Court of Appeals judge or any of her prior positions. Instead, they come from her presiding over the 2016 “Romeo and Juliet: Wrongful Deaths?” case by The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Bard Association. Each year the company holds a mock trial and invites an audience to a blend of classical theater and modern law. The trial is presided over by prominent figures like the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
As a high school Language Arts Teacher who dabbles in politics, I have the rare ability to belly laugh at a CSPAN video. But, I think that some of our more mature students could get some connections from actual justices arguing whether the Friar is culpable in the deaths of the most famous star-crossed lovers in all of recorded history. This mock trial can bring levity to both current events and classics with difficult themes. Some students could meet Justice Jackson in this video for the first time. Others who may be familiar with her from the confirmation process could see a more human and funny side of her than we otherwise get to see of public figures – all while reviewing key plot points and themes from Romeo & Juliet.Justice Jackson and Romeo & Juliet (and Taylor Swift too!) Click To Tweet
Throughout, the mood is jovial. The “lawyers” arguing the case have practiced laugh lines to engage the audience and hit highlights of the ubiquitous teen romance. Justice Jackson has her own laugh lines about fickle youth love, Facebook, and Taylor Swift songs. Jackson is only a part of this proceeding. If you want to focus on her, definitely look for clips throughout instead of the whole video. At the 27-minute mark, for example, Jackson discusses how teens relate to their parents. That can be a nugget for student reflection. Another treat awaits Bard lovers at the 22-minute mark when the lawyer for the Montagues and Capulets lists off many of Shakespeare’s plays in his opening statements.
How this video may connect to your classroom:
- As a fun way to showcase Ketanji Brown Jackson in action
- Examine legal arguments for law or speech class
- Look at Romeo and Juliet in light of modern morals and culture
- Discuss the role of parents in a teen’s life versus other influences, such as the church and peers
- Debate who is responsible for ending a destructive rivalry.
Romeo and Juliet is not the only play that justices have presided over. You can search CSPAN for more mock trials, more Justice Jackson, and other plays, including Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. If you have never taught Shakespeare before, but this inspired you to start, “Shakespeare Doesn’t Have to be Scary! Six Tips to Help You Start Teaching Shakespeare and be Glad You Did!” is a good jumping off point. It defuses some of the potentially intimidating aspects of teaching older content and shows their relevance; this mock trial demonstrates that classic themes appear in modern life.
Although Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, the judges take this exercise lightly and sit among one another with no heated disagreements or harsh tones. It's a rare sight to behold in today's rancorous partisan environment. At the same time, many serious issues face our society and surround the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. This video provides a refreshing, human perspective of the Supreme Court justices, including our newest justice, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. And if students take nothing else from this mock trial, they will know that the reach of the tragic misadventures of Romeo and Juliet extend far beyond the classroom walls.
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