Courts & Civil Liberties

L32 344 - Courts and Civil Liberties
Washington University - Fall 2005
Mon/Wed. 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. Eliot 102

Instructor: Denise Lieberman
Office: Eliot 317
Office Hours: M-W: 10-12; T: 11:30-1 or by appointment
Phone: 314-935-9010

Teaching Assistant: Christina Boyd
Office: Eliot 324
Office Hours: Thurs. 1-2:30 p.m. or by appointment

Course Website at:


Course Description

This overview course will study constitutional law principles outlined in the Bill of Rights, along with an understanding of how Supreme Court decisions impact how these rights apply in everyday life. We will examine how the courts have historically interpreted these guarantees, how understanding of these issues has changed over time, and how the Court deals with emerging issues in contemporary society. The course involves study of fundamental Supreme Court cases, interactive discussion of contemporary debates, review of actual cases locally and nationally, and will include guest visits by actual litigants and attorneys. The course will touch on the following issues:

  • Overview of the Supreme Court, Constitution and the Bill of Rights
  • The First Amendment
    • Free Exercise of Religion and the Establishment Clause
    • Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association
    • Obscenity and other exceptions
  • Fourth Amendment, including rights with police
  • Eighth Amendment, including the Death Penalty
  • The Right to Privacy, including Reproductive Freedom & Right to Die
  • Equal Protection, including race, gender & sexual orientation
  • Technology and new and emerging issues for Civil Liberties

Our class meetings will be highly interactive and therefore preparation for each class meeting is very important. Students will learn how to read and understand court decisions, how to "brief" cases, and how precedent affects the Court's rulings. The course includes several short papers analyzing a current civil liberties issue of the student's choosing in light of the precedent we have read, and a longer final paper analyzing a case on the Supreme Court’s docket. Students will learn how to read cases, find briefs and review lower court decisions.

Required Text

1. Epstein and Walker, Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Rights, Liberties and Justice, 5th Ed. CQ Press

2. Additional readings that will be accessible on the class website. You are expected to check the course website each week for updated assignments.


1. Class Attendance and participation (20%): You are expected to be prepared to discuss the readings with your fellow classmates in class and on the online discussion group/chat room. We will discuss how court decisions relate to current controversies and engage in debates on constitutional issues. Discussion and debate on issues raised in the readings is critical to your understanding of the issues in this class. Attendance and participation at each class meeting is expected. Students are expected to participate in class or post to the online discussion group once per week.

2. Case brief (10%): Each student is required to prepare and turn in a case brief on a Supreme Court decision assigned in the readings. This will involve presenting the procedural and substantive history of the case, the facts, the issue before the court, court's holding and reasoning, as well as that of the dissenters, and your opinion on whether the case was properly decided given the precedent before the court. In addition, you should include two questions raised by the case that could be used as a springboard for a discussion on a current debate or the broader constitutional issue raised by your case.

3. Two short papers (20% each): You will be asked to research and prepare two short (3-5 page) papers on current controversies involving civil liberties issues. These may be current cases that we discuss in class or they may be controversies that have not reached any court or may include policies or local, state or national legislation that affects civil liberties (i.e., constitutional analysis of legislation or a policy proposal). The paper should outline the controversy and identify the appropriate Supreme Court precedent (from the course readings) to analyze the civil liberties issues raised by your topic. While you have broad discretion to determine your paper topic, Paper 1 should be on a speech or religion issue and Paper 2 on criminal justice, privacy or civil rights issue.

4. Final Paper (30%): In this longer paper (approximately 10 pages), you will analyze a current case on the Supreme Court's docket. In the role of a Supreme Court justice, you will draft the Court’s ruling, incorporating the legal history of the case, and analysis that will include review of the actual briefs submitted to the Supreme Court on each side, as well as amicus briefs and review of lower court decisions. Your paper should outline the civil liberties issues, apply appropriate precedent, discuss the impact of politics, and conclude with an argument why the court should rule one way or another based on the precedent before it. Paper topics must be approved by the instructor.

Standards on writing papers:

Grades will be based on an average of the above as follows:

100 A+
94-99 A
89-93 A-
86-88 B+
83-85 B
79-82 B-
76-78 C+
73-75 C
69-72 C-
66-68 D+
63-65 D
59-62 D-
0-58 F

Policy regarding academic dishonesty: This course will follow Washington University's policies concerning academic dishonesty. Academic dishonesty will result in failure for the assignment in question and/or referral to the college's Academic Integrity Office, which has discretion to impose a stricter penalty. While academic dishonesty includes cheating on exams and quizzes, it also includes plagiarism in written assignments. Plagiarism is not only passing off someone else's work as your own, but also giving your work to someone else to pass off as their own. It also includes submitting work from another course. While I strongly encourage you to discuss your work with each other in and out of class, and while you may research issues together, your writing should be your own. The papers you submit must be your work alone, and must include citations to all references in your work. Please include the url for internet articles.

Accommodation of disabilities: Washington University is committed to providing accommodations and/or services to students with documented disabilities. Students who are seeking support for a disability or a suspected disability should contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at 5-4062 in Gregg Hall. ( The DRC is responsible for approving and arranging all accommodations for University students.


Aug. 31: Classes Start

Sept. 5: Labor Day – No Class

Sept. 14: Last day to add

Sept. 15: Last day to drop

Sept. 19: Case Brief Due

Oct. 17: Paper 1 Due

Oct. 21: Fall Break

Nov. 21: Paper 2 due

Nov. 18: Final drop deadline; last day for grade option change

Nov. 23: Thanksgiving – No Class

Dec. 12: Final Paper Due

Dec. 12: Last day of class


Remember to review the course website each week for updated assignments and links to articles

Wed. Aug. 31: Introduction & overview of American judicial system

Mon. Sept. 5: Labor Day – no class

Wed. Sept. 7: The Supreme Court & the Constitution; Judicial decision-making

Assignment: Read Ch. 1 (pp. 1- 47)

Mon. Sept. 12: Sources & Limits of Judicial Power, incorporation of Bill of Rights; How to brief cases

Assignment: Marbury v. Madison (1803) (Ch. 2, starting on p. 50)

The 200th Anniversary of Marbury v. Madison

Palko v. Connecticut (1937) (ch.3 starting on p. 84)

Briefing Supreme Court Cases p.869

Wed. Sept. 14: Briefing cases; Research on Supreme Court & Civil Liberties

Assignment: Approaching Civil Liberties, pp. 101-104

Briefing Supreme Court Cases p.869

Miles v. Augusta

Supreme Court Review & Preview

Sept. 19 – Case Brief Due

Sept. 19-21: First Amendment: Free Exercise Clause

Assignment: Ch. 4, 104 – 110

Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) (p. 111)

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) (p. 122)

Employ. Div v. Smith (1990) (p. 130)

City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) (p. 138)

Locke v. Davey (2004)

Sept. 26-28: First Amendment: Establishment Clause

Assignment: ch. 4, pp. 145-146;

Lemon v. Kutzman (1971) (p.157)

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) (p.174)

Sch. Dist. Of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) (p.196)

Lee v. Weisman (1992) (p.196)

McCreary County v. ACLU (2005)

Oct. 3-5: First Amendment: Speech, Assembly & Association

Emergence of law in times of crisis, p. 214

Schenck v. U.S. (1919) and Abrams v. U.S. (1919)

Gitlow v. New York (1925)

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)

Boy Scouts v. Dale (2000)

Oct. 10-12: Regulating Expression & Censorship

U.S. v. O’Brien (1968)

Tinker v. Des Moines Sch. Dist. (1969)

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Cohen v. California (1971)

Oct. 17: Paper 1 Due

Oct. 17-19: Obscenity & Hate Speech

Obscenity: Miller v. California (1973)

Reno v. ACLU (1997)

Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002)

Hate Speech: RAV v. City of St. Paul (1992)

Virginia v. Black

Oct. 24-26: 2nd Amendment, 4th Amendment, Police Powers

Ch. 8, pp. 420-426; U.S. v. Miller (1939)

Sec. III, pp. 503-505

Ch. 10 pp. 510-512

Illinois v. Gates (1983) (p.512)

Terry v. Ohio (1968) (p.532)

Indianapolis v. Edmond (2001)

Ferguson v. Charleston S.C. (2001) (p.527)

Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada (2004)

Illinois v. Caballes (2005)

Guide to Understanding Rights of the Accused

Oct. 31-Nov. 2: 8th Amendment, Death Penalty

8th Amendment/Death Penalty

Gregg v. Georgia (1976)

McClesky v. Kemp (1987)

Atkins v. Virginia (2002)

Roper v Simmons (2005)

Nov. 7-9: Privacy, Reproductive Freedom

Foundations, p. 430; Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) (p. 432)

Reproductive Freedom, p. 438; Roe v. Wade (1973) (p.440)

Planned Parentood v. Casey (1992) (p. 458)

“A Look Back at Abortion’s Legal History”

Reproductive Technologies

Nov. 14-16: Extensions of Privacy: Gay Rights, Right to Die

Applications of Griswold: p.472

Sexual Privacy: Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) p.475

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), p. 479

Right to Die: Cruzan v. Mo. Dept. of Health (1990) p. 489

“Legal Commentary: The Terri Schiavo Case”

Nov. 21: Paper 2 Due

Nov. 21: Equal Protection, Civil Rights

Race Discrimination: Brown v. Board of Education (1954) p. 670, 674

Loving v. Virginia (1967) p. 683

Shelly v. Kraemer (1948) p. 689

Sex Discrimination: Reed v. Reed (1971) p. 671; U.S. v. Virginia (1996)

Sexual Orientation: Romer v. Evans (1996)

Nov. 23: No Class – Thanksgiving Break

Nov. 28-30: Civil Rights, Affirmative Action

Affirmative Action: Regents of the Univ. of Calif. v. Bakke (1978), p. 746

Grutter v. Bollinger; Gratz v. Bollinger (2003) 766

Contemporary Developments in Discrimination Law p.776

Dec. 5-7: Technology & Emerging Issues for Civil Liberties

reading assignments on website

Dec. 12: Final Paper Due

Dec. 12: Last Class – The Future of Civil Liberties

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