Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Syllabus Archive

The following syllabi come from a variety of different terms. They illustrate the evolution of this course over time, and are intended to provide alternate views into the instruction of this course.

Spring 2003, Christopher Capozzola (PDF)

Course Description

As events of the last few years have shown, the Supreme Court has played a crucial role in American political life. There is practically no issue of social significance in the American past that did not at some point end up in the nation's courtrooms, yet much of the workings of the constitution remain obscure. This subject is designed to introduce students to the main themes and events of American constitutional law since 1787. It introduces terms and concepts of law and legal history, focusing on three recurring themes in American public life: liberty, equality, and property. Readings consist mostly of original court cases, especially from the U.S. Supreme Court, but the focus of the class is on the historical connections between those cases and broader social, political, and cultural trends.


The success of this class depends on the active participation of all students. Classroom participation (15%) represents a substantial portion of the grade, and will be evaluated in terms of preparation, participation in large and small group discussion, active listening, collaboration, and overall contributions to the class experience during the term. Needless to say, if you do not attend a class it is impossible for you to contribute to it. Students are expected to keep up with the readings and attend class regularly, as classroom discussions and readings do not always overlap.

Writing assignments are frequent, but short. All students will submit a case brief on one of the assigned cases (10%). All students will submit position papers (5-6 pp.) on two of the three class themes (25% each), and take the final examination (25%). Writing assignments are generally due on paper in person at the beginning of the class in which they are due. If the due date is set for a Friday, papers may be submitted by attachment, on the condition that you keep a backup paper copy of the paper in case there is difficulty reading the attachment. Extensions will be granted only for good reasons explained well in advance; computer malfunctions are never an acceptable excuse for a late submission. Adherence to standards of academic honesty is required; if you have any questions about how to go about your writing or cite your sources, don't hesitate to ask.


Copies of all required books have been placed on reserve in the Humanities Library. Most of the cases listed are included in Hall et al., eds., American Legal History. Recent cases can be found online at Readings should be completed by the beginning of the class under which they appear, unless otherwise stated.

  • Hall, Kermit, et al., eds. American Legal History: Cases and Materials. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Garraty, John A., ed. Quarrels That Have Shaped the Constitution. 2nd ed. New York: Perennial Library, 1987.
  • Horwitz, Morton J. The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.
  • Greenberg, Ellen. The Supreme Court Explained. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.