Syllabus for 

POLS 317

Judicial Process

            The judicial process presents us with an interesting puzzle. Narrowly conceived, it is a set of specific procedures, specialized personnel, and institutional arrangements with the goal of adjudicating cases filed in courts. A broader view suggests that there are no clear signs to mark the outer edges of the judicial process, as a constant struggle occurs to decide what is and what is not an issue for litigation. Are some things off limits? To what extent should the judicial process be a part of our every-day lives? We are also concerned with the issue of justice in the law. Should law include the concept of justice at all?  Is law simply the struggle over different moral claims, values, and beliefs? Can we agree on a common ideal of justice? Along these lines we’ll ask what does it mean to think like a lawyer or a judge? Is it any different from the way you or I or anybody else thinks?

TH 6:30:00 - 9:45 Oak Brook

Instructor: Artemus Ward
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall, DeKalb Campus
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: T TH 10:45am-12:00pm & by appointment

Required Texts:

O’Brien, David M., Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics, 6th ed. (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).

Maltz, Earl M., ed., Rehnquist Justice: Understanding the Court Dynamic (Laurence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2003).

Comiskey, Michael, Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees (Laurence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004).

In-Class Films:

            The Paper Chase (1973), 111 minutes.

            A Civil Action (1999), 115 minutes.

            Twelve Angry Men

            The Supreme Court’s Visitor’s Film, 25 minutes.


Course Requirements:

Attendance -- all students are required to attend each class.

On-Line Participation -- 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 midterm exam. It will be an objective test consisting of some combination of fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions. There will be 25 questions and you will have 15 minutes maximum to complete the exam once you start. It will be available through Blackboard for a 24-hour period. Make sure you use a reliable computer to take the mid-term. I suggest using a computer on-campus. The mid-term cannot be made up under any circumstances.

Participation in the moot court oral argument exercise - all students are required to participate in the exercise acting as either an attorney or a judge. Failure to attend your scheduled oral argument will result in a failing grade. No exceptions.

Field Observation & Report -  you are required to observe some aspect of the judicial process. It is your responsibility to arrange this. Past students have observed court proceedings, visited law firms and spent the day with an attorney, done ride-alongs with police officers, and visited jails. There are other opportunities as well. If you are unsure whether your field observation will be acceptable, please discuss it with me first.

Final Exam -- the exam is comprehensive and will follow the same format as the mid-term with more questions.

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


Mid-Term Exam


Field Report


Moot Court Oral Argument Exercise


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

The Judicial Process

Week 3
TH Feb 3 Lecture 01:Introduction, syllabus review, using Blackboard: see; Lecture 02: Courts, Politics, and Justice.

Week 4
TH Feb 10 Lecture 3-4: The Legal Profession: Legal Education & Law School, Lawyers & Law Practice. Film: The Paper Chase (1973) – Part I. Reading: Comiskey Ch. 1-4.

Recommended Reading List: Recommended Reading List: John Jay Osborn, The Paper Chase (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971); Scott Turow, One L (New York: Putnam, 1977); Lawrence Dieker, Letters from Law School: The Life of a Second Year Law Student (Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2000); Anthony Lewis, Gideon’s Trumpet; Gerald Stern, The Buffalo Creek Disaster.

Week 5
TH Feb 17 Lecture 05: The Organization of Courts; Lecture 06: Choosing Judges I – State Courts and Lower Federal Courts. Film: The Paper Chase (1973) – Part II. Reading: Comiskey, Ch. 5-8.

Week 6
TH Feb 24 Lecture 07: Choosing Judges II – The Supremes; Lecture 08: Civil Procedure. Reading: Introduction & Ch.1-2 in Rehnquist Justice.

Recommended Reading List: Lincoln Caplan, Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993); Steven J. Kumble and Kevin J. Lahart, Conduct Unbecoming: The Rise and Ruin of Finley, Kumble (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1990).

Week 7
TH Mar 3 Lecture 09: Criminal Procedure. Film: A Civil Action. Reading: Ch.3-4 in Rehnquist Justice.

Week 8
TH Mar 10 Lecture 09: Criminal Procedure (cont.); Lecture 10: Trials & Appeals. Reading: Ch.5-6 in Rehnquist Justice.

Week 9 – Spring Break

Week 10
TH Mar 24 Lecture 11: Appeals. Film: 12 Angry Men. Reading: Ch.7 & 8 in Rehnquist Justice.

Mid-term exam will be available on-line for a 24-hour period starting at the end of class

Week 11
TH Mar 31 Lecture 12: Judicial Decision Making; Reading & Discussion: Loving v. Virginia; Ch.9 & Conclusion in Rehnquist Justice.

Week 12
TH Apr 7 Reading & Discussion: Bowers v. Hardwick; Romer v. Evans; Film: The Supreme Court’s Visitor’s Film (25 min.).

Week 13
TH Apr 14 Reading & Discussion: Boy Scouts of America v. Dale; Lawrence v. Texas.

Week 14
TH Apr 21 Moot Court Exercise Group #1: 30 min. each side (60 min. total); 15 min. for judges to deliberate and vote. Reading: Storm Center, Ch.1-2.

Week 15
TH Apr 28 Moot Court Exercise Group #2: 30 min. each side (60 min. total); 15 min. for judges to deliberate and vote. Reading: Storm Center, Ch.3-4.

Week 16
TH May 5 Field Report Discussion: Be prepared to discuss your experience in class. All Field Report papers are due today. We will also review for the final exam. Reading: Storm Center, Ch.5-6.

Final Exam -- TBA