Equal Justice Under Law was a television series that first aired in 1976 and again in 1987, to mark the 200th anniversary of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. A production of the Judicial Conference of the United States and WQED Pittsburgh, The programs were intended “to inform the general public as well as educational and professional audience on the American constitutional heritage as exemplified in the major decisions of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall” (1).
I started the process of creating activities for the Equal Justice Under Law videos. I found the videos and teaching guide sometime ago. The videos I found on YouTube, and the teaching guide I found at archive.org. I am working on United States v. Aaron Burr (The Treason Trial of Aaron Burr). Going through the background section of the teaching guide, I found a mistake. The guide states that Thomas Jefferson Vice President of the United States presided over the House of Representatives (2). That was not the case the United States Constitution Article 1 Section 3 Clause 4 states that the Vice President is President of the Senate.
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.
Finding such an error, I decided to research Aaron Burr because any author or group of authors that would make such a mistake may gloss over or simplify Aaron Burr’s background. As a historian and teacher, I understand the need to condense content at the high school level, but accuracy should not be a casualty of that exercise.
The most recent biography of Burr was published in 2007 by Nancy Isenberg. The next piece “The Real Treason of Aaron Burr” by Gordon S Wood was published in 1999 in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. There are a variety of other articles dating from 1951 to 1896. This information comes from a search of Jstor, search term Aaron Burr. This research may show that except for the one error teaching guide is accurate or it may reveal other flaws in the document.
(1) William F. Swindler, “Justice Under Law,” William and Mary Law School Scholarship Repository, Popular Media. Paper 264 (1977): 1099, http://bit.ly/JusticeUnderLaw1977
(2) Equal Justice Under Law Teaching Guide, (Judicial Conference of the United States, 1976): 19, http://bit.ly/EJULTeachingGuideB