Ams 1a fall 2014 Profs. Guenter, Jackson, Lo Paper #1: The Role of the Supreme Court Due: October 29, 2014 in seminar



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AMS 1A Fall 2014 Profs. Guenter, Jackson, Lo

Paper #1: The Role of the Supreme Court

Due: October 29, 2014 in seminar

In the first paper we will assess and evaluate the role of the Supreme Court past and present, combining American Institutions and Social Issues categories, and the text of the essay itself will be approximately 5-6 pages in length. Compare and contrast two Supreme Court cases. One case should be from the antebellum period we are studying this semester and the other a contemporary case representing our own time period. Situate your cases in historical context.  


* There are scheduled lectures that will offer scholarly analysis on the role of the Supreme Court and could serve as valuable sources for this paper.  In particular we have a rare opportunity to utilize a visit by a sitting Supreme Court justice.  Such insight could serve as prompts for research questions and evidence for arguments regarding the role of the Court. For instance, consider the significance of the justices themselves to the significance of the Court.  In what ways does membership on the Court reflect or not reflect the society it represents?  How do the justices reflect the time period of which they are a part? What impact does the makeup of Court justices have on the decisions of the Court?  Think about Professor Guenter’s social markers in considering the makeup of the Court, the makeup of the litigants, and the makeup of the society impacted by the Court’s decisions.

Researching the Paper

Keep in mind that you can only choose two cases, so be selective and look for cases that you find particularly representative of their time or complimentary to one another as a story to be compared and contrasted. PBS did a series on the Supreme Court that includes a link of what they refer to as “landmark cases.” The link often has synopses and transcripts of the cases. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/antebellum/landmark.html

In addition, you are encouraged to visit the Supreme Court’s website: http://www.supremecourt.gov/
Things to consider in choosing your cases and developing your argument:


  • In what ways have Supreme Court decisions restricted and expanded citizenship in the U.S.?

  • Political Scientists discuss the Supreme Court as part of a checks and balances system comprising three branches of government.  Discuss the ways in which the Court has served as a check to the other branches.  Discuss historical moments in which the actions of the Court resulted in or were a significant part of a social paradigm shift.

  • What social crises do the cases reflect and what is the Court’s impact on those crises?

For this research paper you will need to consult relevant sources on your topic that allow you to consider the findings of other scholars who have examined your question. You will need relevant material from class, lectures, Foner, Norton and other primary sources we have studied, as well as at least 3 outside sources. These may include the on campus lectures and interviews surrounding the Justice Sotomayor visit (see the MLA style guide referenced below on how to cite oral sources).



Writing the Paper

Here is a suggested general outline for papers:



  • Begin with a clear introduction that states your argument/thesis and why your topic is important.

  • In the body link your sources to your argument. What are the main reasons you believe your cases support your argument? Include a review of secondary sources that demonstrate that you have considered the findings of other scholars who have examined this question. (*Do not be afraid of counterevidence, it demonstrates that you have considered the opposing view and are prepared to argue against it.)

  • Support all general claims and assertions with well chosen evidence or details.

  • Present a smooth conclusion that underscores your argument development over the course of the paper.

  • Don’t forget to give your paper a title!

The paper should be 5-6 typed, double-spaced pages. Use 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and sides, and use Times New Roman 12-point font. Papers should be in MLA format. Make sure to include proper citations (MLA Style calls for in text parenthetical citations) and a bibliography. Purdue offers a valuable online MLA style resource: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/


Two Sotomayor related options for inclusion as an outside source:

  1. Thursday, Sept. 18, 3 p.m. at MLK Library 225-229:Lecture--"Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Making the Constitution Safe for Democracy." Prof. Kenneth Nuger of the Political Science Department will share some reflections and insights about this justice's approach and rationale in interpreting the law of the land. This event is held in recognition of Constitution Day as well, which comes every year on September 17 to honor the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787.




  1. Monday, Oct. 20, 4 p.m. at Student Union: SOTOMAYOR Interview--Justice Sonia Sotomayor will come to San Jose State to share more of her thoughts and experiences in an interview conducted by her former clerk, UC Berkeley Law Professor Melissa Murray. Seminar is cancelled for that day to give you the opportunity to attend the event. If you did not already secure a ticket to the event, get the info on overflow room location for livestream viewing, or the URL to connect, in class in the week prior from your instructors or from the Campus Reading Program website: www.sjsu.edu/reading (look under “Events & Discussions”)


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