Core Readings in Public Law

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
MON 3:30 - 6:30 pm BAT 1.104


This course provides an overview of the field of public law in political science. Because the focus is political science, most readings are by political scientists even though public law is an interdisciplinary field. A one semester course cannot include all topics in the field, nor can it assign all the "classics" or important works on the topics that are covered. (Short shrift is given to works on jurisprudence, legal theory, and Constitutional interpretation and history. These topics are considered more fully in other courses.) Nevertheless, this course attempts to do some of both. The reasons for selecting particular readings vary. Some of the reasons include: 1) the reading is a classic, or it is familiar to most students of public law, or it is part of the intellectual history of the field; 2) the reading is seen as important by the profession; e.g., it has recently been published in a major journal, or it has won the American Political Science Association's award for the best book or article in public law; 3) the reading is an example of an area of substantive interest; the reading is an example of method of research. Given these criteria, all readings are not equally good or interesting; indeed, you may consider some dreadful, but it is important to be aware of them. Topics are selected because they are (or have been) considered important in the public law field or because they might be important in the future. The course should provide students with a good sense of this very broad field and highlight opportunities in research and teaching.(Familiarity with the literature and topics assigned in this course is a necessary though not a sufficient condition for preparation for the preliminary examination in public law. For example, public law concentrators are required to have a basic knowledge of Constitutional law among other things that are not covered in the course.) The course has two basic organizational rubrics. The first part of the course is a brief examination of the evolution of the field, which has frequently been driven by methodological approaches. The second part of the course is a more question or topic driven approach. Reading assignments are in a separate document. Most will be materials that can be accessed online or a copy is on reserve. Some will want to purchase some of the books for convenience and for your library. Requirements(The requirements and readings are subject to change depending upon class size, composition, or pedagogical considerations.) Class participation (≈50%) You are expected to read all assigned materials and to participate actively in class discussions. You will be asked to write nine one-page single-spaced papers that focus on the readings for the week. You may choose the weeks with a few exceptions. You must make copies of your paper available to your classmates and me no later than 7 p.m. on the day before class. Late papers are not accepted. These papers will not be graded per se, but they will serve as part of my evaluation of you. More details will be given in class. A student or a group of students may be asked to lead part of the weekly discussion. Each week, a pre-selected group of students will initiate the discussion. Each student in the group will prepare a discussion guide that must be distributed to the entire class via Blackboard no later than 5 pm the day before the discussion so as to give everyone time to reflect on it. It should under no circumstances exceed 5 pages (and will usually be much shorter than that). These guides will not be graded per se, but they also will serve as part of evaluation of your class discussion. Your discussion guide should very briefly summarize the main argument(s) in the readings (note that there is a difference between summarizing the argument and summarizing the entire reading) then turn to their critical examination. It should include a list of no fewer than 5 and no more than 10 questions that will provoke a comprehensive discussion of the readings. The questions should include ones related to theoretical frameworks, the strength of arguments, substantive importance, and overall quality. By the end of each discussion we should all know at least the following: what question(s) does this set of readings purport to answer? What explicit and implicit assumptions regarding the nature of courts and law does each author embrace? How good are the arguments and the evidence? What can we learn from these readings? What have the authors failed to teach us? Research project (≈50%) You will submit either a research prospectus or a research paper of approximately 12-20 pp on a topic of your choice, though it must be related to the issues raised in the course. A prospectus should be a proposed plan of study for either a dissertation or a major article. A successful prospectus will address the existing literature, lay out a problem and a theory, and propose a feasible plan to answer the problem in light of the theory. A research paper should be one that would be of the quality that might be published if expanded. Publications are supposed to make an original contribution (though one may question how close we come to that ideal). Thus, you will need to make some original claim in your paper, not just repeat in re-processed form what is already in the literature. The research paper is intended to be empirical, though we can discuss exactly what this means during the course of the semester. You will be required to discuss your project with at least one of the professors before beginning work on the paper. More details on both these options will be given in class. Prerequisites : Graduate or Law School standing.