Instructor: Erin Adam, JD
Office Hours: TBD
Office: GWN 142
University of Washington
Department of Political Science/Law, Societies, and Justice
POLS/LSJ 361: US Courts & Civil Liberties
Course Description: How has the US Supreme Court constructed our social and political understanding of rights? In this course we will explore the political and legal development of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States. The selected topics include: freedom of speech (including an in depth discussion of speech as political protest and the recently decided Citizens United v. FEC); civil liberties and the criminal process (from police stop-and-frisks to searches and seizures of cell phones); the elementary school desegregation cases (i.e., Brown v. Board of Education and the anti-school busing cases); the privacy rights cases (including the contraception and abortion, the sodomy, and same-sex marriage cases); and, finally, religious freedom (from the formation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the controversial Hobby Lobby case).
This course is designed to introduce students to civil rights and civil liberties in the American constitutional system. The primary goal of this course is to assist students in understanding the legal and political processes that shape constitutional protections for civil rights and civil liberties in the United States. As a result, the readings for this course will consist of excerpts from the US Supreme Court’s opinions in several important areas of constitutional law and select readings that place these opinions in political context.
Rights are a crucial component of American politics. Because rights are linked to our old and remarkably resilient Constitution, people often view rights as unchanging, automatic, and deeply rooted in tradition. However, throughout this course we will discover that the constitutional protections granted to core rights have changed dramatically over time and remain the subject of continuous struggle and negotiation. This course will delve into how rights in American politics have changed over time by using a broad historical framework to illuminate the institutional and political processes that have shaped and continue to shape rights protections.
This course is intended for students with an interest in American political and legal institutions, rights, American political history, or the role of courts in society. No prior knowledge of constitutional law is presumed.
Readings: The readings for the course will be available as PDF files through electronic course reserves at the university library website. 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.
1st Written Assignment: 10%
Midterm Exam: 25%
2nd Written Assignment: 20%
Final Exam: 35%
Class Participation: 10%
Your final grade will be calculated based on the above percentages and you must receive a grade of at least 50 points (out of a possible 100) on each of the two written assignments in order to pass the course.
Exams: 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 Assignments: Each written assignment will ask you to write one or two analytic essays on the assigned topics. 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 assignments. The first assignment will consist of a short essay around three pages, double-spaced in length and the second will consist of a longer essay about five pages, double-spaced in length.