The Constitutional Law of Civil Rights Mr. Kobylka plsc 4337 Fall 2007

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The Constitutional Law of Civil Rights Mr. Kobylka

PLSC 4337 Fall 2007

Potential Topics and General Guidelines for the Term Paper*

You will research, prepare, and write a 10-15 page term paper for this class. You have two choices as to how you can approach this paper: Track A and Track B. Regardless of which “track” you choose, the same general guidelines and expectations apply to all papers. The topics listed below do not define the entire universe of subjects available to you. If you have another idea for a paper topic, check it out with me. Once you select a topic, and I would suggest that this be done promptly, stop by my office to discuss your research endeavor.

Track A: Issue-centered paper.
Those choosing this track will research and write a paper on a specific civil liberties issue. The paper will focus on the Court’s treatment of an issue and competing perspectives on it (both on and off the Court), and provide an evaluation and critique of those perspectives. It will culmi­nate in a defense of its own thesis. Possible topics include:

  • Comparison of the Approach Taken by the Warren, Burger, and/or Rehnquist Court's

Approach to Any Issue Treated in Class: Continuity or Change?

  • The Status and Future of the "State Action" Doctrine

  • The Equal Protection Status of Resident Aliens

  • The Evolution of an Element of the Court's Treatment of Voting Rights Claims

  • The Possible Constitutional Effect of an Equal Rights Amendment

  • The Constitutional Status of Reapportionment

  • The Status of Suspect Classifications

  • The Constitutional Status of Bussing

  • "Comparable Worth" and Equal Protection Analysis

  • Abortion as a Civil Rights (Equal Protection) Issue

  • Are There Limits on the Legislative Power of Congress Under the Fourteenth Amendment?

  • Employment Discrimination-- Gender, Race, or Ethnicity

  • Contemporary Reactions to Warren Court Desegregation Decisions

  • Equal Protection and Discrimination Against Homosexuals

  • "Original Intent" and the Framing of the Fourteenth Amendment

  • The Relationship between First and Fourteenth Amendment Values in Prohibition of

"Discriminatory Speech" on College Campuses

  • "Freedom of Choice" Educational Plans and Their Implications for Desegregation

  • The Rehnquist Court and Racially Motivated Congressional Districting

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in Court

  • Bush v. Gore (2000) Five Years On… Its Effects

  • The Constitutionality of Single Sex Public Schools

  • Equal Protection Issues in Light of the Post-9/11 Fight Against Terrorism

  • The Constitutional Meaning and Future of Gratz, Grutter, and Affirmative Action

  • The Significance of the Replacement of Rehnquist and O'Connor with Roberts and Alito in Terms of Equal Protection Analysis

Track B: Justice-Centered Paper.
Those choosing this track will research and write a paper on a particular justice’s approach to a narrowly defined civil liberties issue. The paper will articulate his or her perspective, examine competing approaches to it (both on and off the Court) assess the justice’s consis­tency or evo­lution on the issue, and evaluate the significance of the justice’s perspective on the development of the relevant legal doctrine. It will culminate in a thorough critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the justice’s perspective. Possible topics include:

  • Justice O'Connor on Affirmative Action

  • Justice Kennedy and Civil Rights

  • Chief Justice Rehnquist on Racial Discrimination

  • Justice Thomas and Civil Rights

  • Justice Souter and Voting Rights

  • Justice O'Connor and Voting Rights

  • Justice O'Connor and Women's Rights

  • Justice Ginsburg and Affirmative Action

  • Justice Ginsburg and Women's Rights

  • Justice Scalia's Understanding of the Equal Protection Clause

  • John G. Roberts and Civil Rights Issues

Note: To do a good job on either Track I or II, you will have to make extensive use of both anal­ysis of the opinions and votes tendered in the area of law under consideration and the scholarly commentary that has developed around it. This is not a task that can be accomplished in a weekend (or even in a week). As such, I recommend that you begin your research immediately and pursue it consistently over the course of the semester until the point at which the paper is due. Failure to do this will, in all probability, result in a sloppy and incomplete effort and a grade lower than that which you desire.
General Guidelines.
1. Papers will be 10-15 pages long and typed.

2. A prospectus (topic, research question, thesis, preliminary outline – the more detailed, the better – and annotated bibliography) will be due in class on Friday, 28 September. The prospectus will be graded and returned to you, with comments, for your consideration in the preparation of the final version of the paper. It must be turned in with the final copy of the paper.

3. Papers will be prepared in standard term paper style (consult Turabian, A Manual for Writers, or the MLA Handbook), and will have a title page on which-- and only on which-- your name will appear with a signed Honor Pledge.

4. Papers will be due Friday, 16 November, at the beginning of class.

5. Late papers will be penalized one third of a grade for each calendar day they are tardy.
Prospectus. A prospectus provides an introduction to your topic, a research question your paper will address, the plan of action you will undertake to assess the research question, and a thesis. It will give you a chance to work out an initial topic and research strategy, and give me an opportunity to assess your project before you are too deeply into it.
There are five elements to a prospectus:
1. Topic. The general area of law and politics that your paper will address (eg., gender discrimination in employment).
2. Research Question. The specific question your paper will address and answer (e.g., Did the Rehnquist Court fundamentally change the constitutional doctrine relevant to affirmative action questions?).

  1. Outlined Plan of Action. The strategy your paper will pursue to evaluate and answer your research question. This refers both to the logic by which you will do your reading and research and the way you structure (using internal section headings to demarcate the descriptive and analytical blocks with which you build your argument - your answer to the research question you posed). Think of these sections of research and writing as the blocks you place, one on top of the other, to build the wall of your argument. Block A leads to and supports block B, and so on. Each block - each section of your paper - will stand on its own as well as lead to the next block. Formally outline your plan of action in the prospectus.

  1. Thesis. The argument your paper will make; the answer to your research question.

  1. Annotated Bibliography. Each bibliographic entry will have a few sentences that describe 1) the argument of the piece, and 2) its relevance for addressing your research question. I do not expect you have read all the citations in your bibliography by the time you turn it in, but you will want to have skimmed them – and read their introductory and concluding sections closely – before you cite them (otherwise, it will be hard for you to determine their relevance to your research). Do not simply restate the titles of the works in your description of proposed sources (see points 1 and 2 above).

The prospectus will be graded and returned to you, with comments, for your consideration in the preparation of the final version of the pa­per. It must be turned in with the final copy of the paper.
The Final Paper

  • Expectations and Structure. In assembling your research and writing your paper, structural concerns become criti­cal. An intelligible and logical structure is needed to convey information and arguments coherently and persuasively. Any well-prepared research paper has three essential sections.

1. INRODUCTION: Frame a topic and a research question. What topic will your paper address? Why is the topic worthy of investigation? What questions, related to that issue, will the paper seek to answer? What is the answer at which you arrive? (The answer to this last question will be your thesis – the argument that will organize and drive your paper.)

  1. BODY:

a. Everything here will directly relate to your thesis. Use the thesis to keep your paper focused and structured.

b. Review a relevant body of literature. (e.g., What has been written – both on and off the Court – about this topic? What arguments have these various authors made? What are the common analytical agreements and disagreements that surface in them? Can you identify schools or patterns of thought in them? On what as­sumptions do they rest and to what conclusions do they come?)

c. Analyze that body of literature in light of the research question you are asking. (e.g., What does that literature say about your research question? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches to your question contained in the literature? What is -- and why is it -- the most intelligent approach to (or explanation of) the topic question you addressed?)
3. CONCLUSION: Discuss your analysis. This should be more than just a “this is what I said above” section. It should note your conclusions and discuss their implications. What is the significance of your conclusion – the answer to the research question that framed your research and analysis?
To do the paper well, you will need to read extensively in both case opinions (NB: read and cite these only from unedited sources; i.e., use no caselaw texts) and secondary materials (e.g., politi­cal science journals, law reviews, and books). The better you organize, integrate, and critique these bodies of literature, the better you will do on your paper.
It almost goes without saying that a well-structured paper is grammatically correct, stylistically clear, and internally coherent. The reader should not be jarred by misspellings, sudden and unex­plained transitions in thought, paragraphs that go on well past the confines of their introductory sentences, and sentences that are fragments, run-ons, or so convoluted as to convey no clear idea at all. Do yourself (and your grade) a favor. Finish a first draft of your paper a week before handing it in. Put it aside for a day or two to let it “rest,” and then return to it and give it a thor­ough edit and rewrite. It will amaze you how much this improves the clarity and quality of the paper’s presentation.
One final suggestion on the organizational front: make judicious use of headings and subheadings to demarcate the analytically and substantively different sections of your paper. The headings provide a rough outline of the terrain your paper will cover and move it over that terrain in a coherent and orderly fashion. The subsections note the particular points of emphasis (importance) within each section. When well done, each section will have an introductory and thesis paragraph, subsections (if needed) to demonstrate and advance that thesis, and a concluding paragraph that pulls the material treated in the section pointedly into the general topic and thesis of the paper. These sections can stand alone: a sort of mini essay on a component of your general topic. You will, in this way, develop the general argument of the paper in an internally coherent and clearly and logically structured fashion.

  • Resources. Book-length sources are available in both Fondren and the Law Library. You will find the micro-filmed New York Times and its printed Index to be of great assistance. They are in Fondren Library. A variety of popular and scholarly journals and magazines may contain articles relevant to your research. Articles in them can be tracked down through the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Social Science Index, America: History and Life (in Fondren Library), The Index to Legal Periodicals (in the Underwood Law Library), and the computer-based Lexis-Nexis or Academic Search Premier (EBSCO) research databases (Fondren Library – check in at the Reference desk – or access through the SMU homepage [], via the “Electronic Resources link”on the “Libraries” page). The U.S. Reports (Supreme Court cases) can be found in either library; the Lawyers' Edition and the Supreme Court Reporter are only housed in Underwood: “” is accessible over the world-wide web; Lexis-Nexus through the SMU homepage.

Studies of the Supreme Court and legal topics will also be useful. Law reviews and journals (e.g., Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal) come immediately to mind, but you may also find articles of relevance in relevant discplinary (e.g., political science, history, and sociology) journals and “middle-brow” journals of opinion and commentary (e.g., The New Republic, National Review, and The Nation). Generally, you would be well served to search them for articles of relevance to your topic. From a computer, these can be found via sources like lexis-nexis, JSTOR, Academic Search Premier (EBSCO) and INFOTRAK. While all of these web-based resources are very useful, do not slight the tried and true reference sources found in Fondren Library (e.g., The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature) and Underwood Law Library (e.g., The Index to Legal Periodicals).

Also, make use of the “Legal Weblinks” link off of the Blackboard page (also on my homepage). Poke around the various sites catalogued there to see if there is anything of interest and relevance to your topic and research question.
Nota Bene: Students often ask me, “How many sources do I need to use?” The honest answer is “As many as you need to flesh out the analysis you want to make. The more the better.” However, I have found that honesty too often provides insufficient guidance: I get skimpy bibliographies that do not allow students to explore the contours of their topic adequately. Thus, here are some general guidelines:
Books: At least one

Law Reviews: At least five articles

Newspapers: At least the New York Times and Washington Post

Magazines/Journals of Opinion: At least five articles

Political Science or

History Journals: At least two articles

Supreme Court Opinions: At least the leading opinions relevant to your topic
It may be the case that you will not find, for example, two articles in political science or history journals on your topic. If you can find no such articles in these journals, just look for more in law reviews, book chapters, or journals of opinion. Where you fall short in one category – because of the nature of your topic or scarcity or irrelevance of some general sources – make up for the shortfall in another category.
Remember, this is a course in constitutional law. As such, your paper will make extensive use of cases and opinions. The cases you use will, of course, depend on the topic you select. How­ever, it is my clear and unambiguous expectation that your research will go well beyond the cases we read for and discuss in class. This paper is an independent analytical project, not a sim­ple regurgi­tation of class material. Supreme Court opinions can be found in the U.S. Reports (U.S.), the Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.), the Lawyer's Edition, United States Supreme Court Reports (L.Ed.), or on the internet at FindLaw. Only the former is housed in Fondren but all three sources are available in the Underwood Law Library. Other information about Underwood’s holdings follows.

  • Assistance (Using Me). Come in to see me when you are narrowing your topic list, trying to frame your research question, and have questions as your research progresses. It really is too late to ask “is this what you wanted?” as you hand in a paper. Similarly, the week before the paper is due is too late to come in and talk about the resources available to help you address your topic and research question. In fact, I will not answer any questions pertaining to how to do research for the paper the week before it is due… you should be well past that stage of your work on it by that time, and if you are not I will not facilitate your procrastination.

I’m not hard to get a hold of – phone, email, office hours – so get a hold of me. I can be helpful, but I have to be asked. It’s your paper and your grade. Take ownership of and responsibility for it.

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