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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Fall 2004

GOV 357M • 5 - Constitutional Interpretation

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
37365 MWF
2:00 PM-3:00 PM
CMA A2.320

Course Description

Course number may be repeated for credit when topics vary. This course requires a substantial time commitment. Politics is often defined as the authoritative allocation of values. In the American political system, the Constitution is an important source of authority, and it gives preference to certain values. Determining what the Constitution means, determining how to determine what it means, and determining who should determine what it means are fundamental tasks for participants in the American political process and for the students of it. The course may be of interest to those thinking about attending law school, but it is equally valuable to those who have no such interest. Given the nature of our society, understanding the Constitution and Constitutional Law is part of a liberal arts education. For the most part, the course does not focus on the civil liberties provisions in the Constitution or judicial behavior; those important subjects are left to other courses.

One objective of the course is for the student to ebcome a constitutional interpreter who contributes intelligently to this ongoing process. Judges have never been, nor should be, the only ones engaging in constitutional interpretation. Judges have, however, been the most prolific interpreters. As such, it is important to learn what judges have said the Constitution means and to understanding how they came to such conclusions. This necessitates learning how to read and analyze judicial opinions. The students should develop a sufficient comfort level with legal analysis so that she or he can evaluate intelligently, some important interpretations of the justices and ask the questions that a student of politics should ask. Prominent among such questions are those concerned with the proper role of courts and judges in the American political system. Though we read some scholarly commentary on interpretation and judicial behavior, we concentrate on the primary material-- the Constitution and cases--so that the student can begin to develop his or her own ideas without undue influence. Another objective of this course is to improve reasoning and communication skills. Engaging in constitutional reasoning can assist in developing intellectual precision and political persuasiveness. As in most courses, good writing is demanded, but it is also important to develop the capacity to think and speak on one's feet. Mastering the use of language, orally and in writing, increases the ability to think and communicate clearly. Moving toward such mastery is a vital part of education.

Grading Policy

Students are expected to attend class and participate. I call on students and expect them to be well-prepared. Being prepared means that one has read and thought about the material; it does not mean that one must fully understand the material or have the right answers. If a student is not prepared, he or she must put a note on the lectern before class. Repeated lack of preparation will hurt one's grade. It is also in one's long-term interest to prepare thoroughly for each class because the material is cumulative, and the workload in this course increases dramatically as the semester proceeds. Repeated absences will hurt one's grade. The method of teaching presumes that students heard prior discussions. When a student did not hear prior discussions and then participates, it generally wastes the time of others.

Class attendance and participation are expected and constitute part of the evaluation. Midterm Final Exam


Assignments will be given each class period. The day's assignment depends on how far we get in any given day; therefore, it is impossible to know specific daily assignments in advance. If you have to miss class, it is your responsibility to find out what was covered and what has been assigned. Do not call the professor or the teaching assistant for the assignment; call a classmate. 1) Most readings will be U. S. Supreme Court opinions, and most will be in the casebook: Constitutional Law, 14th ed., by Kathleen Sullivan and Gerald Gunther. You must bring your casebook to class. 2) Deciding to Decide, H. W. Perry, Jr. 3) Additional reserve readings will be required.


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