Syllabus for 

POLS 410
Constitutional Law I

Foundations, Institutions and Powers

This course covers the foundations of American constitutional law.  We examine the concept of “judicial review” and the relationship between the Supreme Court and the elected branches of government: Congress and Presidency.  We explore the issues of war and emergency power, the commerce clause, the power to tax and spend, and most importantly, the concept of federalism.  Through a discussion of a number of Supreme Court cases on these topics, we will determine whether American political and constitutional development is best understood as a series of battles and resultant regime changes from more nationalist-oriented “cooperative federalists” to more states-rights oriented “dual federalists.”

T TH 2:00 - 3:15  DU 246

Instructor: Artemus Ward
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: T TH 12:15-2:00pm & by appointment

Learning Objectives:

1. To think critically about the American form of government.
2. To gain experience and knowledge by thinking critically about and participating in supreme court decision-making exercises.
3. To gain knowledge of the process and politics of constitutional decision-making.

Required Text:

Lee Epstein and Thomas Walker. Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Institutional Powers & Constraints, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2001).

Course Requirements:

·         In Class Attendance and participation -- all students are required to attend each class and be prepared to discuss that day's assigned cases. To ensure that each students has an equal chance to participate, I will randomly call on students to discuss specific aspects of the cases.

·         Participation in the Supreme Court decision-making exercise and paper - all students will participate in the exercise acting as a Supreme Court Justice. Each student is required to write one 5-6 paper written in the form of an opinion (either majority, concurring, or dissenting) on one moot court case. You may write additional opinions for extra credit. For example, one 2-3 page paper is worth 1/3 a grade boost on your main paper grade. See Paper Tips for more information on opinion writing.

·         Final Exam -- the exam is comprehensive and you may use your notes and briefs on the final. You may not use the book or any other material that is not your own work. You may use a copy of the syllabus.

Grading System:

Final grades will be determined by the following scale:

93-100 = A

90-92 = A-

87-89 = B+

83-86 = B

80-82 = B-

77-79 = C+

73-76 = C

70-72 = C-

67-69 = D+

60-66 = D

0-59 = F


% of Total Grade

On-Line Participation (weekly post)


In Class Attendance & Participation


5-6 Page Moot Court Paper


Final Exam




Course Policies

1. Students with Disabilities - Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and the instructor be informed of any disability-related needs during the first week of the term.

2. Extracurricular Activities - It is your responsibility to notify me in advance of any activites that will disrupt your attendance. If your activities make it impossible for you to attend classes each week, you should consider withdrawing from the course. Material is covered in class that cannot be found in the course readings.

3. Late Work - Anything turned in late will be marked down one-third grade for every day it is overdue. Exceptions are made only in the most extraordinary circumstances and I will require some sort of documentation to make any accommodation.

4. Cheating and Plagiarism - Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: "students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university." This statement encompasses the purchase or use of papers written by others. Since this course is offered frequently, it is might policy to retain photocopies of student papers written in previous years. In short, members of the class should do their own work and learn the rules for quoting, paraphrasing, and footnoting.

5. Undergraduate Writing Awards - The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28. All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.

6. Department of Political Science Web Site: Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to

Course Calendar


John Marshall

Week 1 Course Introduction
T Aug 26 Introduction, syllabus review, how to brief a case.
TH Aug 28 Judicial Review: pp. 66-88 including Marbury v. Madison (1803), Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816), and Eakin v. Raub (1825). (Optional Background Information -- Constitutional Interpretation: The Central Questions Epstein & Walker pp. 3-60; The Constitution p. 633)

Institutional Authority


John Paul Stevens

Week 2 The Judiciary & The Legislature
T Sep 2 pp. 91-93 and 105-114 including: Ex parte McCardle (1869), Nixon v. United States (1993) and Flast v. Cohen (1968).
TH Sep 4 Independence and Internal Affairs: pp. 128-141 including Powell v. McCormack (1969), U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995).

Week 3 The Legislature
T Sep 9 pp. 142-156 including Gravel v. United States (1972) and McCulloch v. Maryland (1819).
TH Sep 11 Sources and Scope of Power: pp. 157-166 including McGrain v. Daugherty (1927), Watkins v. United States (1957).

Week 4 The Legislature & The Executive
T Sep 16 Other Legislative Powers: pp. 159-182 including Barenblatt v. United States (1959), United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936) and South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966).
TH Sep 18 pp. 194-205 including In re Neagle (1890) and Clinton v. New York (1998).


Richard Nixon

Week 5 The Executive
T Sep 23 Watergate: pp. 206-213 and 224-229 including: Morrison v. Olson (1988) and United States v. Nixon (1974). Listen to Nixon Oval Office Tapes: "Smoking Gun" Haldeman and Nixon, RA 6:27. Cancer on the Presidency & Blackmail Dean and Nixon, RA 3:33; 29:30.
TH Sep 25 pp.229-233 including Mississippi v. Johnson (1867) and Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982).


Bill Clinton

Week 6 The Executive & Separation of Powers
T Sep 30 pp. 237-242 and 245-247 including Clinton v. Jones (1997) and Murphy v. Ford(1975).
TH Oct 2 pp. 271-282 including The Prize Cases (1863), Ex parte Milligan (1866).

Week 7 Separation of Powers: War
T Oct 7 pp. 282-293 including: Korematsu v. United States (1944) and Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (1952).  Listen to interview with Justice Hugo Black (1968) RA legal reasoning 10:20, conference procedure 17:18.
TH Oct 9 Conference Day I -- Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.

Nation-State Relations


Roger Taney

Week 8 Federalism
T Oct 14 The Doctrinal Cycle: pp. 305-321 including McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857).

TH Oct 16 pp. 321- 333 including: Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), United States v. Darby Lumber (1941), National League of Cites v. Usery (1976).  

Week 9 Federalism
T Oct 21 pp. 333-343 including: Garcia v. San Antonio (1985), New York v. United States (1992).
TH Oct 23 pp. 344-359 including: Printz v. United States (1997) and Alden v. Maine (1999). Draft opinions from Conference I due today.



William Howard Taft

Week 10 Commerce
T Oct 28 Commerce - Foundations: pp. 385-399 including Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), United States v. E.C. Knight (1895), Stafford v. Wallace (1922).
TH Oct 30 The New Deal: pp. 399-411 including Schechter Poultry v. United States (1935), Carter v. Carter Coal (1936).  

Week 11 Commerce II
T Nov 4 pp. 411-425 including the Court-Packing Plan, N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin (1937) and Wickard v. Filburn (1942).
TH Nov 6 Modern Limits: pp. 425-436 including United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000).

Week 12 Commerce III
T Nov 11 Federal Police Power & State Power: pp. 436-444 including: Champion v. Ames (1903), Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964).
TH Nov 13 Conference Day II - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.  Final opinions from Conference I due.

Week 13 Taxing and Contract Clause
T Nov 18 Taxing as Regulatory Power pp. 462-471 & 481-488 including Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust (1895), McCray v. United States (1904), Bailey v. Drexel Furniture (1922).
TH Nov 20 Contract Clause -- Foundations: pp. 521-533 including Fletcher v. Peck (1810), Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819).

Week 14 Contract Clause
T Nov 25 Contract Clause -- Decline: pp. 533-541 including Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) and Stone v. Mississippi (1880).
Draft opinions due from Conference II.

Week 15 Contract Clause and The Disputed Election of 2000
T Dec 2 Contract Clause -- Revitalization: pp. 541-549 Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaidsdell (1934), United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey (1977).
TH Dec 4 The Disputed Election of 2000: pp. 647-654 including: Bush v. Gore (2000).

Week 16 Final TBA
Final opinions from Conference II due the day of the final exam.