Political Science at Huntingdon College
Huntingdon College | Political Science | Booklist | Courses | Dates | Office Hours | Requirements | Special Needs | What's New?

PSC 314: Political Theory & Constitutional Law, Syllabus

Revised 4/5/18; with course-by-conference note by Prof. Jeremy Lewis, Huntingdon College


Catalog description
Western political theory from ancient Greece, mediaeval times and modern. The development of major provisions and leading case law of the US Constitution. Analysis of Supreme Court cases and justices. 200 level PSC course recommended.
Course Objectives
  1. To further develop analysis of US constitutional law and political theory, introduced in PSC 201 and PSC 212
  2. To help prepare students for law schools and masters programs in American Government
  3. To help prepare students for jobs related to American government and law
Learning Objectives
  1. Knowledge of the historical development and process of the US Supreme Court
  2. Knowledge of principles of US constitutional law and Supreme Court opinions
  3. Critical thinking about historical and recent Supreme court cases
  4. Familiarity with, and critical thinking about, major schools of western political thought
Expected Outcomes
  1. Competent exam essays on US constitutional law and judicial politics
  2. Competent exam essays on major schools of western political thought
  3. Critical discussion of US constitutional practice in the light of political theory
  4. A competent research paper on some aspect of the term's material (judged in descending order of importance, by content, research, organization & writing)
  5. A competent oral briefing of this research (judged by content, audiovisual illustration, speaking, and organization of the briefing)
Books
For latest information, see the Booklist page.

1. David M. O'Brien. Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics. (NY: Norton). The leading political science approach to the processes of the contemporary work of the Court. How do the justices select cases, and then decide them?

2. McCloskey, Robert. The American Supreme Court. 4e. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). The classic history of the three eras of the life of the Supreme Court.

Note: Resources in blue are shared with other political science courses:
3. Curtis, Michael (ed). Expanded. Great Political Theories, Vols I and II. A brilliant chronological anthology of excerpted great works, with introductions to each time period comparing the authors. Selections required, others useful for your research papers or essays.  Note: This course assumes you have previously read some Curtis (ed) theory readings; listed here from Curtis are only the advanced readings you have not likely encountered in my other classes.

Further, brief, materials may be linked or provided via electronic dropbox.

Academic requirements
For the current formal requirements, latest course grading formula, and deliverable documents, see the Requirements page.  For the current due dates of tests, paper, exam and presentations see the Dates page. For the current weekly readings and topics of discussion, see the Timetable page for this course (or simply click the PSC course code in the heading of this page.) For the instructor's most recent office hours, click the availability page here.

For a course-by-conference, objectives and requirements are the same, but class participation will be replaced by a combination of tutorial sessions and essays on the readings.
Discussion
In order better to prepare you for graduate and professional schools, this course combines two topics, hence you should expect a full reading timetable. You will be introduced both to the general concepts of political theory, and to the political influences upon the changing interpretations of the US constitution.

You should by the end of the course understand in particular how constitutional understanding has changed since 1803 as well as over a longer time period from 460 BC. You should also develop an understanding both of the development of western political philosophy, and of the comparison of western notions of justice. We shall explore theories of justice via Curtis's anthology. Since some members of the class will come prepared with Curtis readings from previous political science classes, we will be able to concentrate on theorists you have not previously discussed.

We shall read constitutional law through the lens of political science: exploring the processes of decision making in the Supreme Court, and the classic history of the Supreme Court's intervention. You should not expect this course to substitute for a law school course, but rather to prepare you with the background understanding of the judicial process.

Equipment and time permitting, we shall also explore constitutional sources (e.g. at Northwestern University's Oyez online case library) or political theory sources (e.g. the Perseus project on classical Greek authors) on the World Wide Web. We shall occasionally analyze excerpts of documentary films, or recent news coverage where available.

The style of the course will be a reading-based seminar with students contributing essays, presentations and a research paper. You may present from outline notes, but not by reading out of online outlines or the book: that is unparliamentary. Expect to discuss current affairs, such as a Supreme Court case, impeachment and trial, or other constitutional crisis, even where this postpones part of the syllabus.

Behavior
You are expected to comply with the HC Honor Code [read College's statement, August 2009, of procedure for violations] and with specific rules of decorum placed on our Requirements page.  You are also expected to comply with Huntingdon College's Code of Classroom Conduct, August 2009.

My Attendance Policy [read latest details on Requirements page]

While school sanctioned excuses will not count against you, absences reduce your potential contribution to class, and absences in excess of four contact hours will reduce your class participation score.
My specific policy on late completion of in-class work [read latest details on Requirements page]
Late completion of tests or other graded exercises in class will only be permitted in cases with documented, prior notification and documented excuses from a coach, medical doctor or similar authority.
My Class Participation Policy [read latest details on Requirements page]

HC's Accommodation of Special Needs
Faculty at Huntingdon College make every effort to accommodate unique and special needs of students with respect to speech, hearing, vision, seating, or other possible adaptions.  Please notify the Disability Services Intake Coordinator,  as soon as possible of requested accommodations.