Instructor: Erin Adam, JD
Office Hours: TBD
Office: GUG 204
University of Washington
Department of Political Science/Law, Societies, and Justice
POL S/LSJ 360: Introduction to United States Constitutional Law
M-F 12:00-2:10PM, GUG 204
Course Description: How do political and social dynamics influence constitutional development in the United States? In this course we will explore the political and legal development of American constitutionalism. Because this course will take place as the US Supreme Court releases its opinions on the most controversial cases from the current term, we will have an in-depth analysis of select cases from the Court's current term in the course. In particular, we will examine the Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which challenges the constitutionality of a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”). We will also connect the Court’s decision in this case to its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, one of the most controversial cases from last term, which applied the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to for-profit companies, enabling them to deny employees healthcare coverage of contraception based on an employer’s religious objections. Finally, we will analyze the Court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which explores whether the 14th Amendment encompasses same-sex marriage at the end of the course.
This course examines how American constitutionalism structures the foundations of the United States political system. We will look at some of the political and legal processes that have shaped constitutional development from the founding to the present. The course focuses on issues related to the two most important features of the American constitutional system: separation of powers and federalism. Particular attention is paid to the way constitutional development has been shaped by efforts to regulate economic activity. We consider the political context in which the Supreme Court makes constitutional law and the effect of Supreme Court power on democratic processes and electoral accountability. The course also covers some basics of the Supreme Court process.
This course is designed for students with an interest in American political and legal institutions, legal processes, the politics of law, American political history, and the role of courts in society. No prior training in constitutional law is expected.
Readings: The readings for the course will be available as PDF files through electronic course reserves on the course's Catalyst website (which will be created before the start of the term). Most of the readings are excerpts from opinions written by Supreme Court justices (i.e., excerpts of Supreme Court cases). Some of the excerpts come from constitutional law textbooks. Either the course instructor or other professors in the political science department prepared other case excerpts. Using excerpts of cases makes Court cases more readable and focuses the student’s attention on materials that are most relevant for course assignments. Students must read from the excerpts on the course reserve page rather than from some other source. If students read from another source, they may miss important information highlighted in the excerpts and will almost certainly be distracted by information that is not relevant to the course. Furthermore, students are required to read the United States Constitution for this course. It is strongly recommended that students refer to the text of the Constitution as they read cases, study for the exam, and think about the course material.
Grading: Grading for this course will be based on two exams, two written assignments, and in-class participation. Your final grade will be calculated based on the below percentages.
Class Quiz: 25%
Written Assignment: 20%
Final Exam: 35%
The assignments listed here are the only assignments for the class. There will be no extra-credit assignments. Grading for all assignments will be on a 100-point scale with 60 points the lowest passing grade. There will be a page linked to the course website that explains how points between 60 and 100 correspond to the UW 4 point grade scale.
Class Quiz & Final Exam: The exams will test your knowledge of the assigned cases, related constitutional controversies, and your understanding of constitutional processes and concepts discussed in lecture. The exams will consist of short answer and short essay questions and must be taken at the scheduled times.
Written Assignment: The written assignment will ask you to write one analytic essay. You will also be asked to construct and explain constitutional arguments in your own words. You will not be required to complete outside research for the written assignments. Clear and effective writing are essential for receiving a good grade on the assignment. The written assignment will consist of a short essay around two to three pages, double-spaced in length.