This seminar examines the development of American constitutional law, focusing on questions of constitutional order and constitutional change. Legal doctrines pertaining to economic rights, civil rights, and civil liberties form the backbone of the course but this is not just a course about doctrinal development. The study of constitutional change generates unique insights about law and politics, as well as the Constitution itself. Indeed, the study of constitutional development offers an especially good vantage point for conceptualizing the Supreme Court as an institution. We will take up the following questions: What is the nature of Supreme Court decision-making? How can Supreme Court decision-making be situated in its social, political, intellectual, and economic contexts? What is the relationship between "the politica" and "the constitutional"? What differences exist between nineteenth and twentieth century constitutional orders and what accounts for these institutional transformations? What roles do Congress, party agendas, and political regimes play in shaping constitutional politics?
The seminar is organized chronologically and covers key periods in American constitutional history: the Founding, the Reconstruction era, the Lochner era, the New Deal era, and the Civil Rights era. The course aims to bridge literatures on constitutional law and American political development, and we will examine various models of constitutional change. We will continually return to these overarching questions: How can we think about the relationship between constitutional law and politics? Is constitutional development a sub-phenomenon of political development or an independent yet related phenomenon? Is political development ever a product of constitutional development?
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