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 6:30 - 9:10 NIU-Hoffman Estates

Instructor: Artemus Ward
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: NIU-main campus: T TH 11:00am-2:00pm & by appointment. Hoffman Estates: Before and after class.

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, 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 by Friday night each week. Through Blackboard, you must read each message 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

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. One quality 2-3-page paper that covers 1/3 of the required opinions is worth 1/3 a grade boost on your main paper grade. A quality 4-page paper that covers 2/3 of the required opinions is worth 2/3 a grade boost on your main paper grade. A quality 5-6-page paper that covers all of the required opinions is worth 1 full grade boost on your main paper grade. The maximum amount of extra credit you can gain is one full grade boost—that means one 5-6 page paper, or one 2-3 page paper and one 4 page paper, or three 2-3 page papers. 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. There are several options. You may expand the required paper using additional cases, law review and other journal articles, and books. If you choose this option, this is the only paper you need to hand in. You may also do another type of research paper that is related to the course material such as an annotated bibliography, research proposal for a Master’s Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation, or another type of original research. If you choose any of these options, you will hand in this paper in addition to the required 5-6 page paper. See me as early in the semester as possible to discuss your choice.

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

On-Line Participation




In-Class Participation


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 3 Course Introduction
T Sep 6 Introduction, syllabus review, how to brief a case, using Blackboard: see

Institutional Authority

Week 4 The Executive & The Legislature
T Sep 13 Judicial Review: Marbury v. Madison (1803), Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816). (Optional Background Information – Epstein & Walker introductory material, the U.S. Constitution in back of book). Constraints on Judicial Power: Ex parte McCardle (1869) and Nixon v. United States (1993). Legislative Power: U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995) and McCulloch v. Maryland (1819).

Week 5 The Executive
T Sep 20 Foundations: Mississippi v. Johnson (1867) and In re Neagle (1890). Watergate: 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. Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982) and Morrison v. Olson (1988). Go to for an article on the current status of "independent counsels" and "special prosecutors."

Week 6 The Executive & Separation of Powers: War I
T Sep 27 Clinton v. Jones (1997). Listen to Clinton's comments on the Jones Affair. For more on the women in Bill Clinton's life:; and Clinton v. New York (1998). The Civil War: The Prize Cases (1863) and Ex parte Milligan (1866).

Week 7 Separation of Powers: War II
T Oct 4
WWII: Listen to FDR ask Congress to Declare War on Japan; Ex parte Quirin (1942), Korematsu v. United States (1944), and Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (1952). War on Terror: Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) (on-line only: abridged, full).

Nation-State Relations

Week 8 Conference Day I & Federalism: The Doctrinal Cycle I
T Oct 11
Conference Day I -- Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases. From Cooperative to Dual Federalism: McCulloch v. Maryland (1819),  Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), and Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895).

Week 9 Federalism: The Doctrinal Cycle II
T Oct 18 Dual Federalism Regime: Lochner v. New York (1905), Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923). Cooperative Federalism Regime: West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937), United States v. Darby Lumber (1941), and Williamson v. Lee Optical Co. (1955).

Week 10 Federalism: The Doctrinal Cycle III & Commerce I
T Oct 25 Dual Federalism Returns: New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997). Commerce Foundations: Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), United States v. E.C. Knight (1895), Stafford v. Wallace (1922).

Week 11 Commerce II
T Nov 1 The New Deal: Schechter Poultry v. United States (1935), Carter v. Carter Coal (1936), and N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin (1937). The Court-Packing Plan: Listen to FDR's Fireside Chat. Expansion: Wickard v. Filburn (1942). Retraction: United States v. Lopez (1995).
Final opinions from Conference I due.

Week 12 Commerce Clause III & Conference Day II
T Nov 8 Modern Limits: United States v. Morrison (2000) and Gonzales v. Raich (2005) (on-line only: abridged, full). Conference Day II - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.

Economic Liberties

Week 13 Contract Clause
T Nov 15 Foundations: Fletcher v. Peck (1810) and Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) and Stone v. Mississippi (1880). Revitalization: Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell (1934).

Week 14 The Takings Clause
T Nov 22 United States v. Causby (1946), Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York (1978), Berman v. Parker (1954), Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff (1984) and Kelo v. City of New London (2005) (on-line only: abridged, full).

Week 15 The Disputed Election of 2000
T Nov 29 Bush v. Gore (2000).

Final opinions from Conference II and all extra credit opinions due.

Week 16 Final Exam