“It is emphatically theprovince and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”
— John Marshall
If you thought the Supreme Court couldn’t be fun, think again. This course is designed for students who want to learn about the Supreme Court but are not politics majors, do not have the time to devote to a 3-credit graded course on constitutional law and interpretation, and/or do not want to bury themselves in a textbook in order to learn about our nation’s highest court. The purpose of the course is to give students a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Supreme Court by allowing them to engage with actual cases that have come before the Court. The first few weeks of the course will consist of readings from A History of the Supreme Court (1993), which will give valuable background to the constitutional, historical, and judicial issues at play in the casework.
However, the core of the course is a mock court scenario, in which students argue out seminal cases from Supreme Court history. Everyone in the class will have the opportunity to act as petitioner or respondent on two different cases, which means by the end of the semester we will go through forty important Supreme Court cases. The rest of the class will act as the sitting justices and will evaluate the oral arguments made by their peers, eventually voting on the case, much as the justices themselves would. Students will use independent reasoning—informed by the Constitution and judicial precedent—to vote on the merits of the case, rather than impersonating past or current justices. In some instances, we will mirror the actual decisions of the historical Supreme Court; in others, we will make radical departures. Either way, you will learn more than you ever thought you would about the Supreme Court and the many ways it has shaped the development of the United States. Through the highly interactive mock court scenario, you will gain intimate knowledge of the most important cases to come before the Supreme Court—and occasionally rewrite history.
The course will involve a fair amount of reading in the first five weeks. For the rest of the semester, during the mock court scenario, the workload will vary significantly per student. Researching and preparing for oral arguments on a case will be a significant time expense; however, each student will only do this twice in ten weeks, so the overall workload will not be heavy. For the mock court, a willingness to do independent research and speak publically before one’s peers will be essential. Above all, this course will involve argumentation, debate, and discussion. Be critical, but respectful!