Syllabus for 

POLS 412

Constitutional Law III

Civil 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 institution, paying particular attention to the voting behavior 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 459

Instructor: Artemus Ward
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: T TH 1:00-2:00pm & 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, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2004).

Course Requirements:

Attendance and Participation -- all students are required to attend each class and participate when called on. Therefore, you must come to each class and be prepared to discuss that day's assigned cases. I will randomly call on students so that everyone has an equal chance to participate. Your participation grade is primarily based on those instances in which you are called on. Being unprepared or absent on those days will severely hurt this part of your grade. Though it is no substitute for being absent or unprepared on the days you are called on, you can help your participation grade by volunteering as often as you wish.

Also, each student is required to go on-line each week through Blackboard, read the messages posted to the discussion board, and post at least one (and not more than two) messages of your own about that week’s course material and/or current events that relate to the course such as developments in the U.S. Supreme Court. Toward that end, you may want to regularly consult the leading Supreme Court blog at

Mid-Term -- There will be one in-class midterm exam. It will consist of some combination of fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions. Please bring a blue-book. During the exam, you may use only those materials that you have written such as your notes. You may not use the book or any other material not written by you with the exception of the syllabus and a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Participation in the Supreme Court decision-making exercise and paper - all students are required to participate in the exercise acting as a Supreme Court Justice. Failure to attend a conference day will result in a reduction of one full grade on your overall course participation grade. No exceptions. Each student is required to write one 5-6 pp. 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 the course documents section for further details.

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 with the exception of a copy of the syllabus and the U.S. Constitution.

Graduate Students -- students taking the course for graduate credit must complete a 15-20pp. research paper in addition to the course requirements. See me as early in the semester as possible to discuss this.

Grading System:

Final grades will be determined by the following scale:

90-100 = A

80-89 = B

70-79 = C

60-69 = D

0-59 = F


% of Total Grade

Participation & Attendance


Mid-Term Exam


5-6 Page Moot Court Paper


Final Exam




Course Policies

1. Extracurricular Activities - It is your responsibility to notify me in advance of any activities 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.

2. 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.

3. Cheating and Plagiarism - Students cheating and plagiarizing will fail the assignment on which they have committed the infraction and will be referred to the appropriate judicial board for disciplinary action. The submission of any work by a student is taken as guarantee that the thoughts and expressions in it are the student's own except when properly credited to another. Violations of this principle include giving or receiving aid in an exam or where otherwise prohibited, fraud, plagiarism, or any other deceptive act in connection with academic work. Plagiarism is the representation of another's words, ideas, opinions, or other products of work as one's own, either overtly or by failing to attribute them to their true source.

4. 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 the end of February. 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 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.

5. Statement Concerning 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 and 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 instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.

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


Week 1 Course Introduction & Free Exercise
T Aug 24 Introduction, syllabus review, how to brief a case, using Blackboard: see
TH Aug 26 Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940) and Sherbert v. Verner (1963). (Optional Background Information – Epstein & Walker pp. 3-49; The U.S. Constitution p. 839).

Week 2 Free Exercise and Establishment
T Aug 31 Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) and Employment Division v. Smith “The Peyote Case” (1990).
TH Sep 2 Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and Engel v. Vitale (1962) (on-line only).

Week 3 Establishment
T Sep 7 School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963) and Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).
TH Sep 9 Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and Lee v. Weisman (1992).

Week 4 Establishment
T Sep 14 Agostini v. Felton (1997) and Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002).
TH Sep 16 Locke v. Davey (2004) (on-line only; read all opinions) and Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (2004) (on-line only; read all opinions).

Week 5 Conference and Free Speech
T Sep 21 CONFERENCE DAY I - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.


TH Sep 23 Schenck v. United States (1919) and Abrams v. United States (1919).

Week 6 Speech in Times of Crisis
T Sep 27 Gitlow v. New York (1925), Dennis v. United States (1951). Listen to remarks by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. on his 90th birthday.
TH Sep 29 Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), United States v. O'Brien (1968). 

Week 7 Regulating Expression
T Oct 5 Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), Texas v. Johnson (1989).
TH Oct 7 Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), Cohen v. California (1971).

Week 8 Regulating Expression
T Oct 12 Hill v. Colorado (2000) and Virginia v. Black (2003) (on-line only).
TH Oct 14 Mid-Term Exam. Final opinions from Conference I due today.

Week 9 Regulating Expression
T Oct 19 Money as Political Speech: Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and McConnell v. FEC (2003) (on-line only).Go to to find out who gives what to whom.
TH Oct 21 Obscenity: Roth v. United States (1957) and Miller v. California (1973).

Week 10 Obscenity
T Oct 26 New York v. Ferber (1982) and Reno v. ACLU (1997).
Th Oct 28 Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) and Ashcroft v. ACLU II (2004) (on-line only; read Kennedy and Breyer opinions only).

Week 11 Libel
T Nov 2 New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) and Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988). View the Hustler parody.
TH Nov 4 CONFERENCE DAY II - Justices meet to deliberate, vote on cases and assign opinions.


Week 12 Reproductive Freedom
T Nov 9 Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).
TH Nov 11 Roe v. Wade (1973).

Week 13 Privacy: Abortion
T Nov 16 Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).
TH Nov 18 Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) (on-line only) plus O’Connor’s concurrence (on-line only).


Week 14 Privacy: The Right to Die
T Nov 23 Cruzan v. Missouri Dept. of Health (1990).
TH Nov 25 No Class.

Week 15 Privacy: Intimacy
T Nov 30 Bowers v. Hardwick (1986). Final opinions due from Conference II
TH Dec 2 Lawrence v. Texas (2003).

Week 16 Final Exam