Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science


POLS 411
Constitutional Law II

Civil Rights: Race, Sex, & Sexual Orientation Discrimination

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

—Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), January 31, 2007.


“Things will change most hastily. Tell those niggers to go home. ME/OUT ... Die Sem Burr 10thHmz Sdn. Cr. What time? The VA Tech shooters messed up w/having only one shooter…”

Anonymous message written in black ink on the wall of a women’s restroom in Grant Hall Tower D, Northern Illinois University, December 8, 2007.


Black students from Northern Illinois University gathered for a press conference at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in DeKalb on Monday December 10, 2007 to decry the way the university responded to racist threats found at a residence hall. NIU President John Peters declined to meet with the group Sunday but did attend their Monday press conference. The University cancelled scheduled finals and closed campus that day. African-American compose nearly 13% of the university’s 19,000 undergraduates. Leroy Mitchell, New Hope’s pastor, said many African-American students expected racism to end when they set foot on a college campus. “They believe they are coming to a type of utopia,” he said. “That’s a myth. Wherever you go, that’s going to happen.” (Chicago Tribune photo by Tom Van Dyke / December 10, 2007).

Civil rights and civil liberties are distinct concepts. Civil rights emanate from the concept of equality. Unlike civil liberties which are personal freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights (such as religious freedom, free speech, privacy, etc.), civil rights issues involve the status of persons with shared characteristics who have been historically disadvantaged in some way. Therefore, issues of race, sex, and sexual orientation will be the primary focus of our discussion, though we will touch on other issues such as economic status and genetics. We will read representative Supreme Court cases and other material in order to understand how civil rights have developed in American political history. In addition to our readings and in-class discussions, students will participate as justices in moot court decision-making exercises. In the end we will critically assess the role of the Supreme Court. Have the justices done too little or gone too far in the area of civil rights? Is discrimination a thing of the past?

Spring 2008

T TH 3:30 - 4:45 DU 461

Instructor: Artemus Ward
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: T TH 12:30-1:45pm; T 5:00-5:45 & by appointment

Learning Objectives:

1. To think critically about the American form of government, particularly the 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, 6th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2006).

Course Requirements


All students are required to attend each class. A sign-in sheet will passed around at the start of each class. It is your responsibility to LEGIBLY sign the attendance sheet each day. If I can’t read it, you weren’t there.

In-Class Participation

All students are required to participate when called on in class. 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.

On-Line Participation

All students are required to go on-line each week through Blackboard. You are required to read each message posted to the discussion board, and by Friday post at least one (and not more than two) quality 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 as well as C-SPAN’s regular “America & the Courts” coverage, which generally airs Saturday’s at 6pm CST.

Moot Court and Paper

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. IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT YOU FOLLOW THE SUGGESTIONS ON THE “PAPER TIPS” DOCUMENT located in the “course documents” section of Blackboard.

Extra Credit

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 final exam is a comprehensive essay covering the entire course. You will be asked to answer an overall question based on specific opinions in the cases we have read. You may use your notes, briefs, or anything that is your own work. 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. Can your notes/briefs be typed? Of course they can. The final will take the entire exam period so managing your allotted time well is essential. Bring a blue book or two and something to write with. Write legibly. If I can’t read it, I can’t grade it.

Graduate Students

Students taking the course for graduate credit ONLY have to complete a 15-20pp. research paper. Graduate students have no other course requirements. Of course it is understood that at the graduate level you will do all of the assigned readings, attend every class, and consistently participate in class discussions and the moot courts. There are several options for the required paper. You may expand the required undergraduate paper using additional cases, law review and other journal articles, and books. 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 other type of original research. See me as early in the semester as possible to discuss your choice. Graduate students do not need to write the 5-6 pp. paper required of all undergraduates nor take the final exam, unless of course you want to for fun! Your grade will be based 70% on your paper and 30% on participation.

Grading System

Final grades will be determined by the following scale:



General Grading Definition



High participation, submits high quality work, shows interest in the course



Participates actively, submits good quality work consistently



Some participation, submits average quality work



Lack of participation, below average quality work



Little or no participation, submits unacceptable quality of work

Grade Breakdown:


% of Total Grade



In-Class Participation


On-Line 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 - PLAGIARISM, SIMPLY DEFINED, IS TAKING SOMEONE ELSE'S WORDS OR IDEAS AND REPRESENTING THEM AS BEING YOUR OWN. It is specifically prohibited by University regulations, which state:

Good academic work must be based on honesty. The attempt of any student to present as his or her own work that which he or she has not produced is regarded by the faculty and administration as a serious offense. Students are considered to have cheated if they copy the work of another during an examination or turn in a paper or an assignment written, in whole or in part, by someone else. Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging those sources or if they paraphrase ideas from such sources without 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. (Undergraduate Catalog)

4. 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 (753-1303). 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.

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 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.

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

Race Discrimination

Week 1 Introduction & 19th Century Racial Discrimination
T Jan 15 Introduction, syllabus review, how to brief a case.
Read optional background information: introductory material in Epstein & Walker, the Constitution in the back of the book, and Kerr’s “How to Read a Legal Opinion” in the course documents section of Blackboard.
TH Jan 17 Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
(on-line only: abridged; full: Taney only); Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Week 2 Early 20th Century Racial Discrimination
T Jan 22 Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) (on-line only: abridged; full); Shelley v. Kraemer (1948); In-class film excerpt: New York: Episode Six (1929-1941)—section on racial segregation in housing, “racial redlining” (10 minutes).
TH Jan 24 Sweatt v. Painter (1950); McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) (on-line only: abridged; full).

Week 3 Racial Discrimination and the Warren Court
T Jan 29 Brown v. Board of Education (I) (1954), Brown v. Board of Education (II) (1955), Bolling v. Sharpe (1954) (on-line only: abridged; full).
TH Jan 31 Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority (1961); Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964) (on-line only: full).

Week 4 Racial Discrimination from the Warren to the Rehnquist Court
T Feb 5 Loving v. Virginia (1967); Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971).

TH Feb 7 Moose Lodge #107 v. Irvis (1972); Board of Education of Oklahoma City Public Schools v. Dowell (1991) (on-line only: abridged; full).  

Week 5 Racial Discrimination in Contemporary Public Schools & Affirmative Action
T Feb 12 United States v. Fordice (1992) (on-line only: abridged; full); Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978).
TH Feb 14 Class Cancelled


Week 6 Classes Cancelled

Week 7 Racial Discrimination from the Rehnquist to the Roberts Court
T Feb 26 City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989); Adarand Constructors v. Pena (1995).

TH Feb 28 Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District (2007) read all opinions (on-line only: abridged; full).

Week 8 Conference Day I
T Mar 4 No Class.
Benjamin Harrison Day.
TH Mar 6 Conference Day I -- Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.

Week 9 Spring Break

Sex Discrimination

Week 10 Sex Discrimination: Foundations
T Mar 18 Bradwell v. Illinois (1873) (on-line only: abridged; full); Minor v. Happersett (1875) (on-line only: full).
TH Mar 20 Muller v. Oregon (1908) (on-line only: full) [Optional: Read some of the famous “Brandeis Brief” from Muller]; Goesaert v. Cleary (1948) (on-line only: full).

Week 11 Sex Discrimination from the Warren to Burger Courts
T Mar 25 Hoyt v. Florida (1961) (on-line only: full); Reed v. Reed (1971).
TH Mar 27 Frontiero v. Richardson (1973); Craig v. Boren (1976).

Week 12 Sex Discrimination & the Burger Court
T Apr 1 Orr v. Orr (1979) (on-line only: full); Michael M. v. Superior Court of Sonoma County (1981) (on-line only: abridged; full, Rehnquist & Brennan only). Final opinions from Conference I due.
TH Apr 3 No Class. Jane Goodall’s Birthday.

Week 13 Sex Discrimination & the Rehnquist Court
T Apr 8 Rostker v. Goldberg (1981); Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan (1982) (on-line only: abridged; full, O’Connor & Powell only).
TH Apr 10 J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B. (1994) (on-line only: abridged; full, all but Rehnquist); United States v. Virginia (1996).

Other Forms of Discrimination

Week 14 Conference Day II & Other Forms of Discrimination
T Apr 15 Conference Day II - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.

TH Apr 17 Genetics: Buck v. Bell (1927) (on-line only: full); Economics: San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973).

Week 15 Discrimination Based on National Origin, Residency, and Sexual Orientation
T Apr 22 National Origin: Plyler v. Doe (1982) (on-line only: abridged; full, Brennan, Marshall, & Burger only); Residency: Seanez v. Roe (1999).
TH Apr 24 Gay Rights? Bowers v. Hardwick (1986).

Week 16 Gay Rights and the Rehnquist Court
T Apr 29
Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (1995) (on-line only: abridged; full).
TH May 1 Romer v. Evans (1996).


Week 17 Gay Rights and the Rehnquist Court
T May 6 Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000).
TH May 8 Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Final opinions due from Conference II.


Week 18 FINAL EXAM Thurs. May 15, 4-5:50 p.m.