Constitutional Law II, Civil Rights and Liberties: Home

Course Information

POL 395 001 Constitutional Law: Civil Rights and Liberties

2:30-4:20 Monday, Wednesday
Old Main 04

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to give the student an understanding of constitutional rights and liberties as the interpretation of them has evolved over time. It will treat the Constitution and the Supreme Court not as abstract islands unto themselves but as real entities shaping and being shaped by the times and the institutional context in which they exist.

Part 1 of this course examines the invention and development of American constitutional principles, specifically focusing on the relationship between the Supreme Court and the rest of the political system in the definition of political rights and liberties. We will focus on the overtly political rights and liberties protected by the Constitution and give primary attention to First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and privacy concerns.

Part 2 of this course focuses on the Fourteenth Amendment and related case law. We will study the variety of specific guarantees for groups as well as the emergence of protection for fundamental rights. In particular, we will investigate the framework of equal protection for people of color, women, and the regulation of sexuality.

For the most part we will be reading and discussing written opinions of the United States Supreme Court. Your textbook also contains excellent explanatory material that provides the historical, political, social, and economic context for these opinions. Law schools typically focus on the doctrines and rationales of the opinions, and so will we, but we will also spend a good deal of time on their context, and their social and political effects. This enables us to have a more informed and realistic picture of the Supreme Court as a political institution.

Course Objectives

By the end of the semester, students will:

  • Discuss the relationship between the Court's political context and its constitutional decisions;
  • Understand legal concepts used by the Court in its constitutional jurisprudence;
  • Discuss recent trends in constitutional decision-making;
  • Understand the philosophical and legal foundations of the Constitution;
  • Understand and articulate current and historical standards and legal tests used by the Court;
  • Brief court decisions and engage in appellate court research.