The Last Abortion Clinic

Discussion Questions

  1. What is federalism?

    Teacher's notes:

    • The framers of our Constitution created a federal system with two separate levels of government. Since the Constitutional Convention in the 18th century, Americans have safeguarded against a federal government that is too powerful.
    • The Constitution negotiates a balance of power between the states and the national government; sometimes power is shared, and other times it is specifically delegated to one level over the other.
  2. Why might laws vary from state to state in terms of the range of abortion laws and restrictions across the country? What happens if a state law conflicts with a federal law?

    Teacher's notes:

    • In state legislatures, representatives will pass laws that are important to their constituents -- the voters in their state.
    • Some states allow their voters to directly weigh in on important issues with ballot measures such as initiatives or referenda, where each voter can support or oppose proposals that they want to see addressed by the state legislators.
    • Recent ballot measures pertaining to the abortion debate include: parental notification for minors and mandatory waiting periods before obtaining an abortion. Teachers can find ballot measures from the 2004, 2002, 2000 and 1998 elections at [URL: www.ballotwatch.org]
    • If there is a conflict between state and federal law, the Supreme Court can have "original jurisdiction" over a case.
  3. What process does the Constitution provide for the selection of United States Supreme Court justices?

    Teacher's notes:

    • While federalism is one way the framers created a balance of power, the separation of powers is another. In our system of checks and balances, the executive, legislative and judicial branches are independent of each other and interdependent.
    • Supreme Court justices, who are appointed for life, are nominated by the president. The Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings and has the opportunity to ask the nominees about their legal perspectives and experiences. After an affirmative vote by the 18-member committee, the entire Senate holds a vote to confirm or reject the nominee.
    • Teachers may want to discuss recent Supreme Court nominations to illustrate the nomination process.

    A lesson about the process of confirming a Supreme Court justice is available at:
    The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

  4. What kinds of factors might a president consider when selecting nominees? What factors might be important to President Bush in his nominations?

    Teacher's notes:

    • By nominating a Supreme Court justice, a president can have the opportunity to leave his/her mark on the high court for decades.
    • Presidents try to nominate jurists who share their ideology but there is no guarantee for ensuring this. For example, President Eisenhower, a conservative, professed that his worst mistake was nominating Earl Warren to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Warren presided over one of the most liberal courts in our nation's history.
    • President Bush has expressed that he will not impose a "litmus test" on his judicial nominees. He has also stated that he admires Justices Scalia and Thomas for their strict interpretation of the Constitution.