Civil Rights and American Constitutional Law

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 5417

 This course examines the constitutional bases for protecting civil liberties or rights in the United States. Its focus will be on public law and doctrinal (and not policy) issues. It will concentrate on questions of autonomy versus equality as these are triggered in American constitutional law and filtered through the doctrines of substantive due process and equal protection. Areas covered include: property, race, sex, abortion, euthanasia, religious and cultural rights, political speech, and sexual freedom and gay marriage. Background issues surveyed include: theories of jurisprudence, the ideological origins of the American polity, and comparative constitutional law. The story of the Constitution and its evolving rights doctrines will emerge by tracing a number of animating controversies as these have played out in specific bodies of case law. For instance, how should the tension between popularly enacted law and constitutionally protected rights be resolved in a democratic society? On critical issues like abortion, the regulation of marriage, the protection of free speech, or the incorporation of international into domestic law, has American exceptionalism limited the protection of rights and values when compared with, for instance, Germany, Europe or South Africa? Is civil rights doctrine best viewed as an autonomous discourse that evolves according to its own internal logic and contains the requisite power to shape not only the law of the land but also the structure of effective rights? Or are both the content and the effectiveness of doctrine shaped mainly by exogenous factors? Cases include: Lochner v. NY, U.S. v. Carolene Products, The Amistad, Worchester v. Georgia, Dred Scott, Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board, Regents v. Bakke, Romer v. Evans, Wisconsin v. Yoder, Board of Education of Kyras Joel v. Grumet, Furman v. Georgia, Griswold v. Connecticut, Roe v. Wade, Brandenburg v. Ohio, New York Times v. Sullivan, American Booksellers v. Hudnut, National Socialist Party v. Skokie, RAV v. City of St. Paul, Buckley v. Valeo, and Bowers v. Hardwick. Authors studied include: Ronald Dworkin, Frank Michelman, John Hart Ely, Owen Fiss, Bernard Bailyn, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, John Rawls, Philip Klinker and Rogers Smith, Catherine MacKinnon and Judith Butler.

This course is taught by Visiting Professor Angelia Means



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