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 9:30 - 10:45 DU 246

Instructor: Artemus Ward
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: T TH 10:45-12:00pm & 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, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2004).

Course Requirements:

Attendance and In-Class 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 in-class 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.

On-Line Participation -- 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

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 a maximum of one full grade extra credit on your paper grade. For example, one 2-3 page paper is worth 1/3 a grade boost on your main paper grade. Three 2-3 page papers can get you the maximum full-grade boost. Also one full-length 5-6 page paper can also be worth one full-grade extra credit. 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



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 1 Course Introduction
T Jan 18 Introduction, syllabus review, how to brief a case, using Blackboard: see
TH Jan 20 Judicial Review: Marbury v. Madison (1803), Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816). (Optional Background Information – Epstein & Walker pp. 3-62; The U.S. Constitution p. 661)

Institutional Authority

Week 2 The Judiciary & The Legislature

T Jan 25 Constraints on Judicial Power: Ex parte McCardle (1869), Nixon v. United States (1993).
TH Jan 27 The Legislature: Independence and Internal Affairs: Powell v. McCormack (1969), U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton (1995).

Week 3 The Legislature
T Feb 1 McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and McGrain v. Daugherty (1927).
TH Feb 3 Watkins v. United States (1957) and Barenblatt v. United States (1959).

Week 4 The Executive
T Feb 8 Mississippi v. Johnson (1867) and In re Neagle (1890).
TH Feb 10 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; and Murphy v. Ford (1975).

Week 5 The Executive
T Feb 15 Nixon v. Fitzgerald (1982) and Morrison v. Olson (1988). Go to for an article on the current status of "independent counsels" and "special prosecutors."
TH Feb 17 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).

Week 6 Separation of Powers: War
T Feb 22 The Prize Cases (1863) and Ex parte Milligan (1866).

TH Feb 24 WWII: Listen to FDR ask Congress to Declare War on Japan; Ex parte Quirin (1942) and Korematsu v. United States (1944).

Week 7 Separation of Powers: War
T Mar 1 Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer (1952) and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004). Read all opinions; On-line only.
TH Mar 3
Conference Day I -- Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.

Nation-State Relations

Week 8 Federalism I
T Mar 8 The Doctrinal Cycle: McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) and Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). In-Class: watch excerpt from Africans in America, on slavery and the constitution, 5 min.
TH Mar 10 Lochner v. New York (1905) and Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918).

Week 9 Spring Break

Week 10 Federalism II
T Mar 22 West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937) and United States v. Darby Lumber (1941).
TH Mar 24 New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997).

Week 11 Commerce
T Mar 29 Commerce - Foundations:Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), United States v. E.C. Knight (1895), Stafford v. Wallace (1922).
TH Mar 31 The New Deal: Schechter Poultry v. United States (1935) and Carter v. Carter Coal (1936).
Final opinions from Conference I due.

Week 12 Commerce II
T Apr 5 The Court-Packing Plan: Listen to FDR's Fireside Chat; N.L.R.B. v. Jones & Laughlin (1937) and Wickard v. Filburn (1942).
TH Apr 7 Modern Limits: United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000).

Economic Liberties

Week 13 Contract Clause
T Apr 12
Conference Day II - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.
TH Apr 14 Foundations: Fletcher v. Peck (1810) and Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819).

Week 14 Contract Clause II
T Apr 19 Decline: Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge (1837) and Stone v. Mississippi (1880).
TH Apr 21 Revitalization: Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell (1934), United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey (1977).

Week 15 The Takings Clause
T Apr 26 United States v. Causby (1946) and Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York (1978).
TH Apr 28 Berman v. Parker (1954) and Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987).

Week 16 The Disputed Election of 2000
T May 3 Bush v. Gore (2000). Read Majority and Concurring Opinions only.
TH May 5 Bush v. Gore continued. Read all dissenting opinions.
Final opinions from Conference II due.

Week 17 Final Exam Thursday May 12, 10:00am-11:50am.