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LSJ 361 A: United States Courts and Civil Liberty

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
to be arranged
* *
Joint Sections: 
POL S 361 A
Scott E. Lemieux

Syllabus Description:

POLS 361: American Constitutional Law and Civil Liberty

Scott Lemieux, [No campus meetings this quarter]

Virtual Office Hours: By appointment over Zoom,  available most weekdays 11-7 


Introduction:  This is a course on civil liberties 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 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 civil liberty such as freedom of speech, religion, and freedom against unreasonable search and seizure.

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 primary reading for this class will consist of excerpts from prominent Supreme Court cases.  These can be found in our casebook, David O’Brien and Golden Silverstein, Constitutional Law and Politics: Civil Rights and Liberties (11th ed.)

Reading cases. Although political scientists treat case law somewhat differently than law professors -- we tend to focus more on the reasoning in opinions and less on the particular facts of cases -- this is still a very useful guide to the basic terminology in legal opinions and strategies for reading them.

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, pages 1‐21.

How the remote class will work:

Lecture:  The main lecture will be asynchronous; that is, you will not be expected to livestream it or be available at the precise previously listed time for the class. Every Tuesday and Thursday except on school holidays, lectures (generally two or three mini-lectures covering the material for the class) will be posted at the "Panopto Recordings" link to the bottom left of the course page. I will also create a discussion forum for each week of lecture that you can use to ask questions or make comments while you watch the lectures.

Please feel free to email questions or schedule a virtual meeting at any time!

General Requirements and Class Policies:


Exams:  The take-home 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. There will be three non-cumulative exams, weighted equally. They will be open-book exams but collaboration between students is forbidden.

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 can be unreliable narrators; they do not always 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.   In some cases 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 quarter progresses.

Grade Breakdown: Your final grade will consist of three virtual exams weighted equally.

Class Schedule.   Readings refer to chapters in the main text.  Readings posted on Canvas are denoted with an asterisk (*).

Class Schedule.   Readings refer to chapters in the O’Brien book. Cases with an asterisk* will be excerpted on Canvas. You are responsible for the introductory text and specific cases assigned, but not any cases not listed here. Note: case lists are approximate, based on predications on how extensive discussion will be for each case, and events may compel a case substitution. Updates will be provided on Canvas, and an updated case list will be provided on Canvas prior to each exam.



  1. Introduction and Basic Concepts


6/23: Class Introduction 

6/25:  Incorporation (and the 2nd Amendment) (4A):  Barron v. Baltimore, Adamson v. CA, Rochin v. CA, Duncan v. LA, McDonald v. Chicago


The First Amendment


6/30:  Free speech (5A): All cases


7/2-9 Obscene and offensive speech (5B):  Roth v. US, Miller v. CA, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, Virginia v. Black, Rust v. Sullivan, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assoc.

Libel (5C): New York Times v. Sullivan

Symbolic speech (5H):  W.V. v. Barnette, Tinker v. Des Moines, Morse v. Frederick

Freedom of Association (5I):  NAACP v. Alabama, Boy Scouts v. Dale

Freedom of the Press (5E):  NY Times v. United States


7/16-23 The Establishment Clause (6A):  Everson v. Ewing, Engel v. Vitale, Lemon v. Kurtzman, Van Orden v. Perry/McCreary v. ACLU, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris,  Lee v. Weisman

The Free Exercise Clause (6B): Employment Division v. Smith, City of Berne v. Flores, Locke v. Davey, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (*) Craig v. Masterpiece Cakeshop, Espinoza v. Montana (*)   

The Fourth Amendment

7/27The Warrant Requirement (7A/B) Chimel v. CA, Terry v. Ohio,

Searches and the Administrative state (7D):  All cases

7/29 Wiretapping (7E):  Olmstead v. U.S, U.S. v. Jones, Carpenter v. US.

The Exclusionary Rule (7F):  Mapp v. Ohio, Nix v. Williams, Davis v. U.S., Hudson v. Michigan (*), Utah v. Streiff



Other Constitutional Issues

 8/6 The Fifth Amendment (8A):  Miranda v Arizona, Arizona v. Fulminante, Dickerson v. U.S.

 The Sixth Amendment (A/B)  Powell v. AlabamaGideon v. Wainwright, MO v. Frye

8/11 The Eighth Amendment (10A/B):  Ewing v. CA, Furman v. Georgia, Roper v. Simmons(*), Glossip v. Gross (*) 

8/13-18 The Right to Privacy (11A/B): Buck v. Bell, Griswold v. CT, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, June Medical Services v. Russo(*), Lawrence v. Texas

The intersection of privacy and equality (12D): Obergefell v. Hodges 

 FINAL EXAM: Due Friday August 21 through Canvas at 6PM.



Catalog Description: 
Cases and literature bearing on protection of constitutionally guaranteed private rights, with particular reference to the period since 1937. Offered: jointly with POL S 361.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Include in front page slideshow: 
Last updated: 
June 5, 2020 - 2:40am