PS390-01: The American Judicial System
|Instructor:||Dr. Brian Smentkowski|
|Department:||Political Science, Philosophy & Religion|
|Office:||Carnahan Hall 211H|
|Office Hours:||Tuesdays and Thursdays, TBA|
|Class Meetings:||Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.|
This course is designed to introduce upper division students to the dynamics of the American Judicial System. While a considerable amount of time will be spent discussing "the courts", much of our work will focus on the nexus of law, society, and judicial behavior. As such, we will examine the role of various actors, institutions, situations, and realities that define the legal environment. This analysis will extend into the realm of constitutional interpretation, decision making, and the impact of court decisions on society.
The world of law and courts is complex and animated, ethereal and omnipresent, engaging and occasionally dramatic. To illuminate these realities, we will use two major textbooks: Judicial Process in America and Judges on Judging: Views from the Bench. The first provides a broad survey of the American judicial system, ranging from the foundations of federal and state law and courts to the dynamics of decision making and the implementation and impact of judicial decisions. The second book offers stellar collection clear, concise, and comprehensive essays about the courts written by those who have presided over them. Combined, they provide a solid foundation of the basics as well as unique insights into some of the most vexing questions about law and courts in America. We will grapple with these issues every day in class and in-between class sessions through the use of Forum. Our goal will be to strike and maintain a balance between a formal understanding of law and courts and critical perspectives on them. A high degree of creative and critical thinking will be required, and these skills will enhance the class experience.
Student Learning Outcomes
Pursuant to Southeast Missouri State University's Student Learning Outcomes Initiative, I will be assessing the accomplishment of three main student learning outcomes in this class. Information about the initiative, the outcomes, and their assessment will be distributed and discussed in detail in class. The PS390 Student Learning Outcomes are as follows:
1. Students will successfully locate primary source information pertaining to the American judicial system
2. Students will describe accurately the organization and function of the federal judicial system
3. Students will critically assess collegial court decision making
Materials and Resources
As stated above, there are two books required for the class:
Please note that outside readings will be assigned throughout the course of the semester. The US Supreme Court term begins in October and we have an intellectual and academic responsibility to pay attention to its conduct. Additionally, the courts, journals, and the press move at a faster rate than the book publishers, and we need to stay abreast of developments in those domains as they occur. Finally, we will inevitably discover material or ideas that are perfect for class but not bound in the chosen books, so we will seek out explore such information as well. In some cases I will ask you to find materials; in others I will point you in the right direction. It will depend upon the assignment, so please pay close attention to the Forums and Assignments.
Expectations and Policies
Attendance: While attendance per se cannot be required of students, there are consequences associated with absences. Missed assignments, for example, cannot be made up. If you fail to submit an assignment you will earn zero points. If you are not present when you are expected to participate in class discussions or activities, you will lose the opportunity to earn points for those as well. Having said that, please do not hesitate to contact me about any issues relating to your ability to participate fully in this class. Reasonable accommodations will be made for excused absences, but it is your responsibility to keep me posted. For the official rules governing attendance, please refer to pages 19-20 of the Undergraduate Bulletin, at http://www.semo.edu/bulletin/pdf/2010_bulletin.pdf.
Academic Honesty: the Undergraduate Bulletin defines academic dishonesty as "...those acts which would deceive, cheat, or defraud so as to promote one's scholastic record...", and states that "[v]iolations of academic honesty represent a serious breach of discipline and may be considered grounds for disciplinary actions, including dismissal from the university." The most basic form of academic dishonesty is plagiarism. Plagiarism involves the application or inclusion of the work of others that is not properly cited. In the vernacular it is called "copying". Cutting and pasting someone else's work is not acceptable. Neither is copying or slightly modifying even small parts of text, imagery, etc. Work that is not your own needs to be documented as such. It is important to avoiding cheating in any way. There are consequences for such action and they are severe. In addition to losing all points for any assignment at issue, I will pursue the severest penalty available. Please refer to pages 20-23 of the Undergraduate Bulletin for further information about policies relating to academic honesty, plagiarism, and cheating (http://www.semo.edu/bulletin/pdf/2010_bulletin.pdf).
Civility: It is our collective responsibility to establish and maintain an environment of mutual respect in the classroom and in our various modes of communication. As a college class that addresses contentious and divisive issues, we will all, inevitably, be shocked from time-to-time. That's fine: We need a good and fertile marketplace of ideas, but we must not contaminate it. Discussion should be wide open and robust but should never involve personal attacks or language that demeans any category of persons however defined. Words or actions that are threatening, racist, sexist, or discriminatory in any way are impermissible in this class. You may attack arguments but not people. In other words: no ad hominem attacks. Violations of civility will be addressed by the instructor immediately and may also be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. Please see relevant information on student conduct at: http://www6.semo.edu/stuconduct/. Also, civility involves creating a place where learning occurs without distraction. As such, you are NOT permitted to use cell phones for any purpose other than genuine emergencies in this class. You may not make or receive cell calls, text messages, wear "ear pieces" for ipod and related devices, or use any recording device of any kind (picture or sound recording) in this class.
Disabilities: One potential caveat to the rule barring recording devices pertains to arrangements made on behalf of the student through Disability Support Services for accommodating documented disabilities. Please refer to http://www.semo.edu/cs/services/lec.htm for information regarding support services for learning assistance and disabilities.
Writing Effectively: All papers, exams, and assignments must reveal exceptional writing skills. For help on this matter, please visit the Center for Writing Excellence on the 4th floor of the Library. Information about the Center may be found at: http://ustudies.semo.edu/writing. You may also take advantage of the services offered through the Center’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), located at: http://ustudies.semo.edu/writing/owl.asp.
Note: The pace and progress of the class and real-world legal and political developments will determine precisely when we begin and conclude each topic. It is therefore important that you attend every class session and check your email and Forum daily.
|Foundations of Law in the United States||Carp et al, Ch. 1 and O'Brien, Chs. 1, 2, 14, 25|
|Understanding and Interpreting the Constitution||O'Brien, Chs.16-24|
|The Federal Judicial System||Carp et al, Ch. 2 and O'Brien, Ch. 8|
|Federal Judges||Carp et al, Ch. 6 and O'Brien, Ch. 3|
|The Courts, Presidents, and the Citizenry||Carp et al, Ch. 7|
|State Courts||Carp et al, Ch. 3 and O'Brien, Chs. 32, 33|
|State Judges||Carp et al, Ch. 5|
|Boundaries||Carp et al, Ch. 4 and O'Brien, Ch. 31|
|Lawyers, Litigants, and Interest Groups||Carp et al, Ch. 8 and O'Brien, 6, 11|
|Criminal and Civil Courts and Processes||Carp et al, Chs. 9 & 11|
|Decision Making by Trial Judges||Carp et al, Ch. 12 and O'Brien, Ch. 5|
|Decision Making by Collegial Courts||Carp et al, Ch. 13 and O'Brien, Chs. 9-12|
|Implementation and Impact||Carp et al, Ch. 14 and O'Brien, Ch. 24|
**Read this New York Times article on the Court's diminished influence around the world, published on Sept. 17, 2008**
**Read this New York Times article on the Court and Judge-Made Foreign Policy, published on Sept. 28, 2008**
General: All work must be completed and submitted on time in the format given for the particular assignment. Specific information and instructions will be given for each examination and assignment. This information will be shared in class and/or via email or the class forum. If a rubric is available for an assignment, a copy will be provided to you ahead of time.
The Exams: Specific instructions for each will be given in class. Please note that I have high expectations of your work. Well written, well reasoned answers are mandatory. All work must be critical, analytical, independent, and well written. Also, please remember that there is a balance you must strive for between utilizing the material covered in class and your own critical thinking skills. Again, more will be said about each assignment when it is posted.
Assignments: Every Thursday we will engage in active learning exercises intended to engage you with the material and with one another as a class. This is when we will be focusing in detail on the O'Brien readings and potentially other outside sources. Every Thursday you will provide a written analysis of the relevant material, and class activities will flow from that. Every Tuesday I will inform you of what to read, do, or prepare for each Thursday session. These will be rather fun learning experiences, so make sure you come to class every Tuesday and Thursday!
Final Paper: A final paper and a brief presentation of it is required of all students in this class. Specific instructions will be provided in class.
Percent of Final Grade
|Final Paper & Presentation||20%|