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For Grades 9-12 , week of Jan. 15, 2024


The death penalty is a controversial and highly debated legal consequence still used in 27 states and at the federal level. One of the biggest debates on the subject, after whether it should be used at all, is the method of execution, which has changed over the years in United States history but is still largely imperfect. The current method, lethal injection, involves the injection of one to three drugs to stop a person’s heart. However, there have been reports of people surviving the injection or autopsies revealing troubling effects that indicate suffering and eventual organ failure instead of the quick death that is intended. Because of the controversies, the drugs intended for lethal injection have become very difficult to obtain, which has led to a lengthy pause in executions in most states. However, a federal judge recently ruled that Alabama can proceed with a new method: nitrogen gas. Kenneth Smith survived lethal injection and could be the first person put to death by nitrogen hypoxia, a depravation of oxygen in the body. The case could end up before the US Supreme Court to decide if the method is acceptable for use in death row cases. Research the history of capital punishment in the US and specifically in your state. Then, write an article summarizing the issues and controversies surrounding it and how this new method fits into that context.


South Africa has formally accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in the war in Gaza and has taken the matter to the United Nations, urging them to issue an immediate cease to the military operations there. Israel strongly denied the claims as the case began at the International Court of Justice. The full case will likely go on for years, but an order for a provisional cease-fire could be issued in a matter of weeks if the court agrees with South Africa’s argument. While the court’s findings are binding for any UN country, it’s unclear whether Israel would obey such an order. Any sanctions imposed by the UN on Israel as a result of not obeying a cease-fire order could be vetoed by the United States, which has allied itself with Israel in the war. Israel was established as a state following the Holocaust’s mass genocide of Jews, so the country has reacted strongly to allegations it’s doing the same to Palestinians. But the era that established the State of Israel also expelled more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from the area. Read more about the history of Israel and Palestinians in the late 1940s to understand more about the ongoing conflict. Then, write an article that includes a brief summary of what you’ve learned and how the accusations of genocide against Israel fit into that context.


In the closing arguments for his civil fraud trial in New York, former president Donald Trump defied the judge and gave an impassioned speech to the courtroom. Trump was originally allowed to give closing arguments on his own behalf, but the judge reversed that decision as the case reached its conclusion after Trump’s lawyers wouldn’t agree to the condition that he stick to relevant matters and avoid personal attacks or introducing new evidence. Still, the former president addressed the court for six minutes before he was cut off by the judge. Judge Arthur Engoron has said he intends to have a decision on the six undecided charges of conspiracy, insurance fraud, and falsifying business records by January 31. It’s highly unusual for a defendant to give closing arguments at their own trial; write an opinion article about whether you think Trump should have been given the chance or whether the rules put in place—that he wouldn’t agree to—were reasonable enough to justify barring him from speaking.


Another impeachment inquiry is moving forward in the House of Representatives. House Republicans are holding impeachment hearings about homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, accusing him of willfully failing to enforce immigration laws. This ties back to the migrant crisis at the southern border of the United States, which Republicans are accusing Mayorkas of allowing or making worse by failing to employ laws that could have helped prevent it. There has been no evidence that this is the case, and constitutional experts testified in the first day of the hearing that there was no case. “Based on all the information available to me, I have not found any indication that he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors,” Frank Bowman III, an impeachment expert, said at the hearing. Read accounts of the accusations against Mayorkas from at least two different sources. Then, write an opinion article explaining whether you think this is an appropriate use of impeachment procedures.


France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has forced out his prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, and given the position to Gabriel Attal, who is now the country’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister. Macron’s second term as president has been highly contentious after he introduced new legislation that raises the retirement age in the country from 62 to 64 and a bill that heavily restricts immigration in the country. Macron was only 39 when he became the youngest president in French history, and Attal has made similar history at 34. One political commentator in the country called Attal “the most popular figure in an unpopular government.” Read more about Attal and his policies, including his declaration as education minister that banned the wearing of the abaya, a full-length robe worn by some Muslim, in middle and high schools. Then, write a brief profile on the new prime minister.