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LSJ 360 A: Introduction to United States Constitutional Law

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
BAG 154
Joint Sections: 
POL S 360 A
Scott E. Lemieux

Syllabus Description:

Political Science 360: Introduction to American Constitutional Law

Scott Lemieux,

Gowen Hall: 14

Office Hours: TTh 1:30-2:30 or by appointment.


Section Instructors:

Chelsea Moore (AA & AB)

Paige Sechrest (AC & AD)


Introduction:  This is a course on constitutional powers, civil rights, and the development of American constitutional law.   Because many core rights are linked to our remarkably enduring Constitution, one might think of them as enduring and unchanging.   However, in fact constitutional rights are a contestant site of change and political struggle, and the content of rights and powers has changed considerably even as the formal text of the Constitution remains unchanged.    We will explore these developments – how they occurred, why, and where the law now stands on important questions of constitutional law. We will explore how federal and state powers, capitalism, and civil rights have interacted in their development throughout American history.

The course is designed for students with an interest in American political and legal institutions, legal processes, rights, American political history, or the role of courts in society. No prior knowledge of constitutional law is presumed.

Textbook: The text for the class is Gillman, Graber, and Whittington, American Constitutionalism: Powers, Rights and Liberties (Oxford University Press, 2015). It is available at the University Bookstore and at all major online retailers.

The Constitution of the United States and Amendments. You will need to refer constantly to the text of the Constitution as you read cases, study for exams, and think about the material in this course. There is a copy in your textbook, starting at page 983.


General Requirements and Class Policies:


  • Students are expected to come to class and have completed the assigned cases prior to class. Lectures will assume that students have read the assigned readings.  
  • This course will comply fully with the Americans With Disabilities Act and all relevant university procedures. If you require accommodation because of a disability please consult the university’s procedures here:


  • Exams missed without prior agreement with the instructor or a documented family or medical emergency will not receive a grade, without exception.


  • Incompletes will only be given to students who have completed a substantial amount of the assigned work, and then only in cases of a documented family or medical emergency.



  • Any contestation of grades must be done according to the procedures established by your section leader. Dr. Lemieux will not consider any grade complaints until one has been made in writing and addressed by the the section leader.


Exams: The exams will test your knowledge of the assigned cases and related constitutional controversies and your understanding of constitutional processes and concepts. Exams will consist of multiple choice, short answer and short essay questions. You must take the exams at the scheduled times. Do not take the class is you cannot take the final at the scheduled time. There will be three non-cumulative exams, weighted equally.


Final Assignment: A paper assignment will be put on the Course Canvas page and introduced in class on January 23. Details and the due date will be included in the assignment.


Briefs:  Students will be expected to case briefs over the course of the quarter in section.   A guide for writing a case brief can be found on p.1001 of your textbook.   Briefs will be based on a check/check plus/check minus basis.



to make expectations for the class clear and to set standards that are applied fairly to all the students in the class. It is your responsibility to meet those expectations during the entire semester. This is not a good class for cramming as assignment deadlines approach. We do not allow do-overs for poor grades on assignments. We do not give extra credit under any circumstances.  


PREPARING FOR CLASS. The readings for the class consist mostly of excerpts from judicial opinions in Supreme Court cases. Because judges write in the peculiar legitimating language of the law, these opinions can be difficult to understand. Judges do not write opinions in order to explain the issues in a case clearly or honestly. They are not trying to write so that a college student can study for an exam. They write opinions in an attempt to justify their rulings. They are producing arguments in favor of a particular outcome, not creating an accurate record of their reasoning in the case. Judges will sometimes deliberately obscure important issues in a case, offer misleading justifications, and omit very important facts or considerations.


This class has a fairly light reading load for a 300 level class, but this can be misleading.  Because of the way judges write, you will need to read carefully and read between the lines to develop an adequate understanding of the cases.   This class has light reading in You will need to read each case more than once before you will understand it. For most students, it takes considerable time and practice to learn to read and understand cases. Reading should get easier as the semester progresses.


Grade Breakdown: Your final grade will consist 30% each for two exams, 20% for section participation and assignments, and 20% for the final assignment.


Class Schedule.   Readings refer to chapters in the main text.  



1/4 Class introduction


1/9 Introduction to constitutional law: Ch. 1


1/11-16 The Early National Era: Ch. 4, I, II, III, IV, VII A, IX


1/23 Reading day; Introduction of paper assignment


1/25-30 The Jacksonian Era: Ch.5 I, II, III, IV, V, VII (A), IX


2/1-8 The Republican Era: Ch.7 I, II, IV, V, VII (A), IX




2/15-27 The New Deal Era: Ch. 8, I, II, III, IV, VI, VIII (B), IX


3/1-8 The Post-New Deal Era: Ch. 9, IX; Ch. 10 IV, X (E); Ch. 11 I, II, IV, V, VIII (B); IX


FINAL EXAM: 4:30-6:20 p.m. Wed, March 14








Catalog Description: 
Growth and development of the United States Constitution as reflected in decisions of the Supreme Court; political, social, and economic effects. Offered: jointly with POL S 360.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 7, 2018 - 9:14pm