The bulk of the course is devoted to the historical and contemporary development of the law permitting enforcement of federal constitutional and statutory rights against state actors under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Topics include the cause of action under Section 1983, the scope of rights that are enforceable, qualified and absolute immunity for individual government actors, sovereign immunity, governmental liability, defenses including statutes of limitation, preclusion, and abstention, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys fees. Liability against the federal government and federal officers through Bivens claims and the Federal Tort Claims Act will also likely be discussed. In addition to readings from a casebook, students will have the opportunity to study litigation materials in actual constitutional suits, and to interact with occasional practitioner guest speakers.
Generally, the course explores "advanced topics" in Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, and Federal Courts. The course is particularly useful for students with an interest in constitutional litigation, students who contemplate working as government lawyers (and potentially defending such suits), and students who plan to intern or clerk in the federal courts (where dockets include significant numbers of federal civil rights suits).
Students will be evaluated based on class participation, two short writing assignments, and an in-class final exam.