Judicial Politics

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Course Length:
15 weeks

This course examines the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court on American politics, government and society. We begin by reviewing the political, legal and institutional influences on the decision-making process of the Supreme Court. In the second part of the semester, we will closely analyze the political consequences of landmark Supreme Court decisions in areas such as school desegregation and abortion. We conclude by evaluating the scope and limits of judicial power within our constitutional system.

  • Prerequisite: POL 101


Required texts

  1. O’Brien, Storm Center (an earlier edition will suffice)
  2. Patterson, Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy
  3. Hull and Hoffer, Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History
  4. Rosen, The Most Democratic Branch
  5. Course readings on eCourses Vista 4



  • Exams: There will be two exams: a midterm and a final. The midterm will test your understanding of the institutions, actors and processes involved in the American legal system. It will include objective and essay components.
    • The all-essay final exam will be held at the time scheduled by the university. I reserve the right to substitute a paper for an in-class final exam.
    • 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 special needs before the end of the second week of class.
  • Book review: You will write a 5 to 7 page review of one of the two books assigned during the second half of the semester (Patterson or Hull and Hoffer). You will be expected to summarize the argument of the book and evaluate its lessons about the scope and the limits of judicial power.
    • I will provide more information about this assignment before the midterm exam.
  • Participation: Your class participation is essential to the success of this course.
  • Attendance: Your attendance is mandatory. Consider each class session 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 class sessions, 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 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.



  • Midterm exam 25%
  • Book review 30%
  • Final exam 30%
  • Participation (including presentations) 15%


Class schedule

  • reading available on eCourses Vista 4

Jan. 14 Introduction

  • Structure and composition of the American judicial system

Jan. 16 *Federalist 78

  • Dahl, Decision Making in a Democracy*

Jan. 21 NO CLASS

  • Selection of federal judges

Jan. 23 O’Brien, chapter 2

Jan. 28 O’Brien, chapter 4

Jan. 30 O’Brien, chapter 5

  • Cases : Marbury v. Madison, Eakin v. Raub*
  • Perspectives on Judicial Decisionmaking
  • Legal reasoning and precedent

Feb. 4 *Levi, Introduction to Legal Reasoning

  • Carter, Reason in Law*
  • Powell, Stare Decisis and Judicial Restraint*

Feb. 6 *Spaeth, Attitudinal Model

  • Segal and Spaeth v. Knight and Epstein (in CJP)*
  • Rosen, Superprecedent*
  • Theories of constitutional interpretation

Feb. 11 *Bork, Tempting of America

  • Scalia, Originalism: The Lesser Evil*
  • Rehnquist, Notion of a Living Constitution*

Feb. 13 *Marshall, Reflections On the Bicentennial

  • Brennan, Georgetown address*
  • Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously*

Feb. 18 The above continued


  • Cases studies in judicial policymaking
  • School Desegregation

Feb. 25 *Canon, Judicial Policies: Implementation and Impact

  • Patterson, pp. 1-21

Feb. 27 Patterson, pp. 21-69

  • Cases: Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown I*

Mar. 3 Patterson, pp.70-117

  • Cases: Brown II, Cooper v. Aaron*

Mar. 5 Patterson, pp. 147-170

  • Case: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg County, Milliken v. Bradley*


Mar. 17 Patterson, pp. 170-225

  • Case: Freeman v. Pitts
  • Rosenberg, The Hollow Hope*

Mar. 19 *Case: Seattle School District No. 1 v. Parents Involved in Community Schools

  • Abortion

Mar. 24 Hull and Hoffer, pp. 49-89

  • Case: Griswold v. Connecticut*

Mar. 26 Hull and Hoffer, pp. 135-180

  • Cases: Roe v. Wade, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services*
  • Rosenberg, The Supreme Court and the Abortion Cases*

Mar. 31 Hull and Hoffer, pp. 225-259

  • Case: Planned Parenthood v. Casey*
  • O’Brien, Chapter 1

Apr. 2 Hull and Hoffer, pp. 259-281

  • Case: Stenberg v. Carhart*
  • Ginsburg, Reflections on Roe v. Wade*
  • The Most Democratic Branch?

Apr. 7 *Case: Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)

  • Rosen, pp. 1-17


Apr. 14 Rosen, pp. 17-45

Apr. 16 Rosen, pp. 45-81

Apr. 21 Rosen, pp. 81-115

  • Cases: Bowers v. Hardwick, Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas*

Apr. 23 Rosen, pp. 115-185

  • Cases: Bush v. Gore; Hamdi v. Rumsfeld; Al Odah v. Bush*

Apr. 28 Rosen, pp. 185-211

Apr. 30 The above continued