Syllabus for 

POLS 412

Constitutional Law III

Civil Rights & Liberties:

The First Amendment and the Right to Privacy

            This course focuses on three areas of constitutional interpretation.  Through a review of various U.S. Supreme Court cases and related material, we will examine the concepts of religious liberty, freedom of speech, and privacy.  In each area, we will also study the Court as a political body, paying particular attention to the voting patterns of the justices.  Can Supreme Court justices be classified as “liberal” or “conservative?”  If so, how does this affect their interpretation of the constitution? 

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, the role of the constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court.
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: Rights, Liberties & Justice, 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 student 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 page 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 -- though it is comprehensive, you will be allowed to use your notes and briefs on the final. You may not use the book, web page print-outs or any other materials that you did not personally write. You may use a copy of the syllabus and the U.S. Constitution if you wish.

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



William Brennan

Week 1 Course Introduction & Free Exercise
T Aug 26 Introduction, syllabus review, how to brief a case. For those who feel they need some background information on the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court, read pp. 1-70 in the text.
TH Aug 28 pp. 101-117 including: Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) and Sherbert v. Verner (1963).


William O. Douglas

Week 2 Free Exercise and Establishment
T Sep 2 pp. 118- 133 including: Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) and Employment Division v. Smith “The Peyote Case” (1990).
TH Sep 4 pp. 143-152 and 189-193 including: Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and Abington Township v. Schempp (1963).


Week 3 Establishment
T Sep 9 pp. 157-161 and 180-185 including Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) and Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).
TH Sep 11 Film on Supreme Court.


Week 4 Establishment
T Sep 16 pp. 197-205 and 167-172 including: Lee v. Weisman (1992) and Agostini v. Felton (1997)
TH Sep 18 pp. 18-29 in supplement (or on-line at including: Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002).



Oliver Wendell Holmes

Week 5 Conference and Free Speech
T Sep 23 CONFERENCE DAY I - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.


TH Sep 25 pp. 208-216 including: Schenck v. United States (1919), Abrams v.United States (1919).

Week 6 Speech in Times of Crisis
T Sep 30 pp. 218-234 including Gitlow v. New York (1925), Dennis v. United States (1951). Listen to remarks by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. on his 90th birthday.
TH Oct 2 pp. 236-247 including Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), United States v. O'Brien (1968).


Week 7 Regulating Expression
T Oct 7 pp. 247-257 including Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), Texas v. Johnson (1989).
TH Oct 9 pp. 257-266 including Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), Cohen v. California (1971).


Week 8 Regulating Expression
T Oct 14 pp. 271-277 including R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992) and on-line only: Virginia v. Black (2003), O'Connor and Thomas opinions only.
Draft opinions from Conference I due today.
TH Oct 16 Money as Political Speech: Buckley v. Valeo (1976) Go to for the top 50 “soft money” contributors.  

Week 9 Regulating Expression
T Oct 21 on-line only Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC (2000)[read Souter, Stevens, Thomas only] and pp. 31-37 in supplement including Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez(2001).
TH Oct 23 Obscenity: pp. 348-362 including: Roth v. United States (1957) and Miller v. California (1973).



Week 10 Obscenity
T Oct 28 pp.362-378 including: New York v. Ferber (1982) and Reno v. ACLU (1997).
Th Oct 30 pp. 55-65 in supplement (or on-line at including: Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002).


Week 11 Libel
T Nov 4 pp. 378-386 and 394-398 including New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988).
Final opinions from Conference I due today.
TH Nov 6 CONFERENCE DAY II - Justices meet to deliberate, vote on cases and assign opinions.


Week 12 Reproductive Freedom
T Nov 11 pp. 412-421 including Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). Optional: Listen to 1961 interview with Justice William O. Douglas.
TH Nov 13 pp. 421-438 Roe v. Wade (1973).


Week 13 Privacy: Abortion
T Nov 18 pp. 438-456 including Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Draft opinions from Conference II due today.
TH Nov 20 on-line only: Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), Breyer, Stevens, O’Connor, Scalia, and Kennedy opinions only.



Week 14 Privacy: The Right to Die
T Nov 25 pp. 463-472 including Cruzan v. Missouri Dept. of Health (1990).


Week 15 Privacy: Intimacy
T Dec 2 pp. 457-463 including Bowers v. Hardwick (1986).
TH Dec 4 on-line only: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), read all opinions.

Final opinions due from Conference II

Week 16 Final TBA