Law and Society

  • 0/5 Stars
Course Length:
15 weeks


This class serves as an introduction to law for several programs. We begin by examining fundamental questions about what law is, when it is legitimate, and why (and under what circumstances) we are obliged to comply with it. In the second part of the semester, we consider several aspects of American constitutional law that raise fundamental questions about the connection between law and morality. We conclude with a case study that illustrates the complexity of the system of civil justice. By the end of the semester, we should be more informed about the nature of law, the relation between law and substantive justice, and the many ways in which law—and thinking about the law--shapes American society.


Required texts

  1. Readings for Law and Society (custom edition available only in bookstore)
  2. Harr, A Civil Action
  3. Readings available on eCourses Vista 4


Course requirements

  • Exams: There will be three exams: two during class and a final. The first exam will include short answer and short essay sections. I reserve the right to substitute a short paper for all or part of the second and third exams.
    • The final exam will be given on the final exam date assigned by the university. It may include objective and essay components.
    • NO make-up exams will be given without prior written permission. All cases of academic dishonesty will result in an F for the course and referral to the Dean of Students.
  • In compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, all qualified students enrolled in this course are entitled to “reasonable accommodations.” It is the student’s responsibility to inform the instructor of any such needs before the end of the second week of class.
  • Participation: Your class participation is essential to the success of this course. Your participation grade will be based on attendance and active class participation.
  • Attendance: Your attendance is mandatory. Consider each class to be a business meeting. You are expected to attend class on time, behave appropriately and keep up with the reading schedule Class sessions will cover material not included in the readings, and this material will be essential for successful completion of required exams and papers. If you have difficulties with class attendance, drop the class now.
    • If you miss more than four classes, your course grade will be dropped by one full grade (i.e. from B to C). And for each additional unexcused absence, your grade will be dropped another half grade. Students who arrive late or leave early will be charged one-half an absence.
  • Class participation: Attendance alone will not give you full points for participation. I assume all students have completed the assigned reading before class and are prepared to discuss the issues raised. Do not hesitate to ask questions or to offer comments based on readings or class discussion. I value quality of participation over quantity: informed comments are especially appreciated.
    • I will also assign short oral reports on some of the readings and cases. Each student will give at least one class presentation over the course of the semester.
    • If class participation is insufficient, I reserve the right to call upon students and to give in-class quizzes. I hope never to have to do either. So come to class prepared and with questions.



  • Exam one 25%
  • Exam two 30%
  • Final exam 30%
  • Participation (including presentation) 15%


Class schedule

  • reading on eCourses Vista 4

Jan. 14 Course introduction: Law as a legal, political and social phenomenon


What is Law?

Jan. 16 Natural law and positivist conceptions of law

  • Aquinas, What Is Law?
  • Austin, Legal Positivism

Jan. 21 NO CLASS

Jan. 23 Later debates over the separation of law and morals

  • Hart, Law as the Union of Primary and Secondary Rules
  • Fuller, Eight Ways to Fail to Make Law

Jan. 28 Why should we obey the law?

  • Smith, Is There a Prima Facie Obligation to Obey the Law?
  • Plato, Crito

Jan. 30 The above continued

  • King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail
  • Kerr, How to Read a Judicial Decision*

Feb. 4 Law and judicial duty

  • Dworkin, The Model of Rules
  • Riggs v. Palmer

Feb. 6 The above continued

  • Scalia, Role of the U.S. Federal Courts in Interpreting the Constitution*
  • Church of the Holy Trinity v. U.S.
  • Fuller, Case of the Speluncean Explorers

Feb. 11 A case study: the right to privacy

  • Declaration of Independence*
  • Griswold v. Connecticut
  • Bork, The Right of Privacy

Feb. 13 The above continued

Feb. 18 EXAM ONE

Feb. 20 Extending the constitutional right to privacy

  • Roe v. Wade
  • Bowers v. Hardwick

Feb. 25 The above continued

  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey*
  • Lawrence v. Texas*

Feb. 27 *Stenberg v. Carhart (2000)

  • Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)*

Mar. 3 Equality and affirmative action

  • Bakke v. California*
  • Gratz v. Bollinger*
  • Grutter v. Bollinger

Mar. 5 The above continued

  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1*


Mar. 17 Freedom of expression and its limits

  • Cohen v. California
  • Village of Skokie v. National Socialist Party of America
  • Texas v. Johnson

Mar. 19 The above continued

  • Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists*
  • Virginia v. Black*
  • Morse v. Frederick*

Mar. 24 Death penalty

  • Furman v. Georgia
  • Gregg v. Georgia*
  • McCleskey v. Kemp*

Mar. 26 The above continued

  • Callins v. Collins*
  • Roper v. Simmons*
  • Baze v. Rees (currently before U.S. Supreme Court)

Mar. 31 EXAM TWO

  • Civil justice: a case study

Apr. 2 Civil law and responsibility

  • Palsgraf v. The Long Island Railroad Co.
  • Summers v. Tice

Apr. 7 Harr, A Civil Action, pp. 1-82

Apr. 9 Harr, pp. 85-146

Apr. 14 Harr, pp. 149-232

Apr. 16 Harr, pp. 235-290

Apr. 21 Harr, pp. 293-376

Apr. 23 Harr, pp. 377-448

  • Pacelle, Contaminated Verdict*

Apr. 28 Harr, pp. 451-492

Apr. 30 The above continued