LSJ 360 A: Introduction to United States Constitutional Law

Spring 2024
TTh 2:30pm - 3:50pm / HCK 132
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
POL S 360 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

LSJ/Political Science 360: Introduction to American Constitutional Law

Scott Lemieux

Gowen Hall 114


Virtual office hours: by appointment

Office hours: T 1:15-2:15, or by appointment.


Yulenni Venegas-Lopez:

  • Sections: AA 09:30–10:20am & AB 10:30–11:20am, Johnson Hall 111
  • Office Hours: Th 12:00–2:00pm in Gowen 42, or by appointment on Zoom
  • Email:

Mykhail Lembke:

  • Sections: AC 11:30AM-12:20PM & AD 12:30-1:20PM, Smith Hall 405
  • Office Hours: Tuesday 1:00-2:00PM, Friday 10:00-11:00AM in Gowen 30 & Zoom
  • Email:

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, and/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: Volume I: Structures of Government  (3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2021). It is for virtual order and rental at University Bookstore and at all major online retailers. In addition, some cases will be posted as PDF/Word files on Canvas.

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.


General Requirements and Class Policies:


  • 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 virtual exams will test your knowledge of the assigned cases and related constitutional controversies and your understanding of constitutional processes and concepts. The exams will consist of short essay questions. There will be three non-cumulative exams, weighted equally. They will be open-book exams but collaboration between students is forbidden.


Briefs:  Students will be expected to submit case briefs online over the course of the quarter as part of your section work.  Your TA will provide further instruction.  A guide for writing a case brief can be found on p. 713 of your textbook, and I will also post a video lecture explaining the process.   Briefs will be based on a check/check plus/check minus basis.


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 semester progresses.


Grade Breakdown: Your final grade will consist 25% each for three exams and 25% for section participation and brief assignments.


Class Schedule.   Readings refer to chapters in the main text.  Readings posted on Canvas are denoted with an asterisk (*). I will generally put up a Canvas Announcement outlining the specific cases I expect to cover in each particular lecture that week.


3/26 Class introduction

3/28-4/2 Introduction to constitutional law: Ch. 1, Bostock v. Clayton County (*)

The Early National Era: Ch. 4, I, II, III, IV

4/4-11 The Jacksonian Era: Ch.5 I, II, III, IV, VII (A)*, IX* (Note: the Dred Scott decision is excerpted both in Section III and Section VII, which is in the excerpts uploaded under the "civil rights cases" in the "Files" section.)

FIRST MIDTERM EXAM DUE VIA CANVAS 6 PM TUESDAY, APRIL 16. Class will not be held that day.

4/18-4/25 The Republican Era: Ch.7 I, II, III, IV, VIII (B)*, IX*, In Re: Debs (*), Lochner v. NY (*). 

4/30-5/9 The New Deal Era: Ch. 8, I, II, III, IV, V (A,D), VIII (B)*, IX*


5/16-30. The Post-New Deal Era: Ch. 9, V(B), IX*; Ch. 10 II, III(B), IV, X* (E); Ch. 11 I, II, III, IV (A-C), V, VIII (B)*; IX,* Miliken v. Bradley,* Gonzales v. Raich, Trump v. Hawaii, Rucho v. Common Cause,* Brnovich v. DNC, SFFA v. Harvard,* Biden v. Nebraska.* Additional cases may be found in "Files" and noted in the "Announcements" section depending on current developments on the Court. 


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 Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
July 11, 2024 - 5:58 am