Northern Illinois University

Spring 2011


Department of Political Science

POLS 412
Constitutional Law III

Civil Liberties:

The First Amendment, Second Amendment,

and the Right to Privacy

            This course focuses on multiple 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, freedom to bear arms, and privacy. For each topic, we will also study the Court as a political institution, paying particular attention to the larger political contexts in which decisions are made as well as 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 5:00 - 6:15  DU 461

Instructor: Artemus Ward                   
Office: 410 Zulauf Hall
Office Phone: 815-753-7041
Office Hours: T TH 2:00pm-3:15pm & 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, 7th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2010).

Course Requirements

Mid-Term Exam

The mid-term will be an on-line, objective test consisting of both true-false and multiple choice questions. The material covered will be the cases listed on the syllabus up to the mid-term exam date. The test will be available on Blackboard for a 24-hour period. You may take the test at any time during that window. Once you begin the exam, you will have 30 minutes to answer 25 questions. Each question is worth 4 points each for a total of 100 points.

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 each conference day will result in a reduction of one full grade on your overall paper grade for each conference missed. 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 the same format as the midterm but will only include the course material covered AFTER the midterm exam.


Grading System

Final grades will be determined by the following scale:



General Grading Definition






Very Good






Below Average




Grade Breakdown:


% of Total Grade

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 - 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


Week 1 Course Introduction & Incorporation I
T Jan 18
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 20 Barron v. Baltimore (1833) and the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) (on-line only);


Week 2 Incorporation II & Free Exercise I
T Jan 25 Hurtado v. California (1884); Palko v. Connecticut (1937); and Duncan v. Louisiana (1968).
TH Jan 27 Free Exercise Foundations: Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), Sherbert v. Verner (1963).

Week 3 Free Exercise II
T Feb 1 Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) and Employment Division v. Smith “The Peyote Case” (1990).
TH Feb 3 City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) and Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegital (2006) (on-line only).

Week 4 Establishment: Foundations
T Feb 8 Foundations: Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and Engel v. Vitale (1962) (on-line only.
TH Feb 10 School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963); Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

Week 5 Establishment and the Burger Court
T Feb 15 Marsh v. Chambers (1983) (on-line only) and Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) (on-line only).
TH Feb 17
Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) (on-line only) and County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989) (on-line only).

Week 6 Establishment and the Rehnquist Court
T Feb 22 Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and Lee v. Weisman
TH Feb 24 Agostini v. Felton (1997) and
Mitchell v. Helms (2000) (on-line only).

Week 7 Conference Day II and Midterm Exam
T Mar 1
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002); Van Orden v. Perry (2005).
TH Mar 3 
CONFERENCE DAY I - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.

The Midterm Exam will be available via Blackboard for a 24-hour period at the end of class.


Week 8 Speech in Times of Crisis
T Mar 8
Schenck v. United States (1919) and Abrams v. United States (1919).
TH Mar 10
Gitlow v. New York (1925) and Dennis v. United States (1951).

Week 9 Spring Break

Week 10 Speech in Times of Crisis II
T Mar 22
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) and United States v. O'Brien (1968).
TH Mar 24 No Class.

Week 11 Regulating Expression I
T Mar 29
Symbolic Speech: Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) and Texas v. Johnson (1989). Final opinions from Conference I due today.
TH Mar 31 No Class.

Week 12 Regulating Expression II
T Apr 5 Fighting Words: Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) and Cohen v. California (1971).
TH Apr 7 No Class.

Week 13 Expression III
T Apr 12 Protests: Hill v. Colorado (2000) and Morse v. Frederick (2007).
TH Apr 14
Obscenity: Roth v. United States (1957) and Miller v. California (1973).



Week 14 Expression IV
T Apr 19
Child Pornography: New York v. Ferber (1982) and United States v. Williams (2008).
TH Apr 21
CONFERENCE DAY II - Justices meet to deliberate and vote on cases.




Week 15 Privacy
T Apr 26 Reproductive Freedom:
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Roe v. Wade (1973).

TH Apr 28 Abortion: Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).


Week 16 Intimacy and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms
T May 3 Intimacy:
Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
TH May 5 The 2nd Amendment:
District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). Final opinions from Conference II and all extra credit opinions due today.  

Week 17 Final Exam will be available on-line for a 24-hour period beginning on TH May 12 at 4pm.