FDR's Court Packing Lesson Plan

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson plan will arm you with discussion topics and questions, key terms, a quiz, and an activity that will help students understand the topics surrounding FDR's court packing scheme.

Learning Objectives

Once students have finished this lesson, they need to, at minimum:

  • Define court packing
  • Discuss the reasons for why FDR wanted to manipulate the Supreme Court
  • Understand the reasons for why court packing is so dangerous


45-90 minutes without the activity


Curriculum Standards


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Key Vocabulary

Write down the following key vocabulary terms for the class on the class board alongside their definitions. Ask students to copy these words and their definitions. Students should be encouraged to ask questions during this process if they don't understand something.

  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • Supreme Court
  • Great Depression
  • New Deal
  • Unconstitutional
  • United States Constitution
  • Court packing

Warm Up

  • To gauge how well-informed students are about this topic, ask them to briefly answer the basics of:
    • Who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt?
    • What was the New Deal about?
    • What is the purpose of the Supreme Court?

Instructions & Discussion Questions

  • Pass out the text of the lesson on Court Packing: Definition, Scheme & Bill, one for each student. Have the students read this during class and take notes as they do so. Encourage them to ask questions while they read if they do not understand something, but to reserve the majority of the discussion for after everyone has finished reading.

Once everyone has finished reading and taking notes, read the entire lesson again as a class for added retention, understanding, and delineation of important topics and consequences surrounding this lesson. Pause after the following sections for the recommended questions and topics.

  • Pause after the 'The Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937' section:
    • Who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Briefly describe this president's impact on American history in general.
    • What was the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill commonly known as?
    • What responsibilities and powers does the U.S. Supreme Court carry?
  • Pause after the 'New Deal Reforms Shot Down by the Supreme Court' section:
    • Describe the Great Depression for the students.
    • What was the purpose of Roosevelt's New Deal?
    • Who was opposed to Roosevelt's domestic agenda? Discuss why this was the case.
    • Discuss with students whether the Supreme Court's decisions were based on legal grounds or more on political ones.
  • Pause after the 'Roosevelt Makes Plans to Change the Supreme Court' section:
    • Briefly discuss the way a Supreme Court Justice becomes one and how long they serve for.
    • How many judges are on the Supreme Court? How many are allowed to be on the Supreme Court?
  • Pause after the 'The Court Packing Plan' section:
    • Discuss the way Roosevelt planned to not only quantitatively pack the court but to also qualitatively influence its decisions.
    • How did Roosevelt try to scare the American public into accepting his plan?
  • Pause after the 'The Fate of the Bill' section:
    • What was the ultimate fate of Roosevelt's plan?
    • How/why did Roosevelt ultimately prevail despite this?

After finishing this discussion, students should take the lesson quiz as an in-class activity. After everyone has finished the quiz, review the questions and answers for further retention and to clear up any questions or misconceptions.


Split the class up into the following groups:

1. Someone should be the President of the United States.

2. 9 students should represent 'original' Supreme Court Justices (group 2). These will always vote against the president.

3. The rest of the class can be the new, younger justices (group 3). Once appointed, these will always vote for the president's ideas.

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