Teaching the Great Case

The Legal History Blog has an entry by Dan Ernst about teaching In re Debs at the high school level.  What makes the entry interesting is the questions it raises about what makes something a “great case.”

From the entry:

  • The challenge came when I tried to present Debs‘s significance for the history of American labor law in a way that wouldn’t make everyone’s eyes glaze over. Here I ran up against the problem of teaching a Great Case. A case becomes “great” because in part because it has consequences for a wide range of cases of a particular sort. But it is also great some unique aspect that sets it apart from the typical and makes it a class by itself. This uniqueness can make it perilous to generalize from a Great Case to a typical one; the extrapolation is bound to distort in varying degrees. Bush v. Gore is a Great Case, but if legal historians from some far distant future only had it to go on they would construct from it a very different body of election law than actually prevailed.

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