PS 390: The American Judicial System
Dr. Brian Smentkowski
Office: 211H Carnahan Hall
Class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00am-12:15pm
Office hours: 30 minutes before and after each class session
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. In other words, we will discuss, inter alia, the politics of judicial selection, collegial court decision making, the impact of interest groups on each, and the impact of court decisions themselves on society.
The world of law and courts is complex and animated, ethereal and omnipresent, engaging and even a bit dramatic. To illuminate these realities, we will use two major textbooks: The Supreme Court, by Lawrence Baum, and Judicial Politics: Readings from Judicature, edited by Elliot Slotnick. The first is a clear, concise and comprehensive analysis of our highest court's function, while the latter consists of several outstanding pieces of research published in one of the leading law and society journals. All are scholarly and readable, and many take on controversial issues. Please note that a few outside readings will be assigned as well. Sometimes the Court moves at a faster rate than the publishers and researchers. Sometimes we discover material that is perfect for class but not bound in a book chosen for the class. In either case, we have a responsibility to explore what else is out there. I will, therefore, point you in the direction of various articles and cases as the semester progresses.
Given the inquiry-based nature of our investigation and my reliance upon the Socratic Method, you will be expected to attend class and participate daily. Meaningful participation requires that you do the readings and develop sound arguments. Law is not simply a matter of opinion, and you will be pushed to think critically, analytically, and brilliantly.
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 earn zero points. If you are not present when you are expected to participate in class discussion or to lead discussion, you will lose all of the points for that as well. Missing an exam or failing to turn one in when it is expected likewise results in a "0" for that exam. 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 can be made for excused absences, but it is your responsibility to keep me posted. For the official rules governing attendance, please refer to the Student Undergraduate Bulletin at http://www.semo.edu/bulletin/pdf/2006Bulletin.pdf.
Academic Dishonesty: 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 http://www.semo.edu/bulletin/pdf/2006Bulletin.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. 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 at: http://www6.semo.edu/judicialaffairs/. Other things to bear in mind is that 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. You may attack arguments but not people. In other words: no ad hominem attacks.
Disabilities: One potential caveat to the rule barring recording devices pertains to arrangements made by the student through LAPDSS for accommodating documented disabilities. While it is the responsibility of the student to inform the faculty of any physical or learning disabilities, I would like to refer students to http://www.semo.edu/cs/services/lec.htm for information regarding support services for learning assistance and disabilities.
Assignments, Exams, Rules of the Game
Various assignments will be given throughout the semester. The precise nature of each will depend on what we're covering in class. Some will require you to do some outside research, others will require in-class participation. All are considered mandatory inasmuch as you will earn zero points and have no opportunity to make up work that is missed. This includes what you may perceive to be "surprise" assignments. Like "pop quizzes", they will occur whenever I think it is a good time for an assignment. Obviously, if you are not in class you cannot do the work, and if you cannot do the work, you cannot get a grade above a zero. Do the work, and do it on time.
There will be three exams required for the successful completion of this class. At least 2 of the 3 will be take-home essay exams, with one (perhaps the final exam) being an in-class activity. Specific instructions for each will be given in class. Please note that I have high expectations of your work. Well written, well reasoned papers are mandatory. All work must be critical, analytical, independent, and well written. Suffice it to say, I do, in fact, expect you to labor over every word you write. You are strongly encouraged to utilize the Center for Excellence in Writing on the 4th floor of Kent Library for assistance. A new and important feature you may wish to use is the Online Writing Lab. Check it out! 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. Many students lose points for simply deferring to the written record without critically analyzing it or for writing what they think without referencing the written work. Don't fall into either category. Again, more will be said about each assignment when it is posted.
|Assignment||Number of Assignments||Percent of Final Grade|
|Assignments and Participation||Episodic/Semester-long||25%|
|Essay Exams||3 @ 25% apiece||75%|
Final grades will be determined according to the conventional 10 point split:
Note: the pace of the class will determine when we will get to- and conclude each section. Some sections may take more time than I expect; others may breeze by. A lot depends upon the class, so we will set our own tempo (within reason, of course).
|The Constitution and the Court.||Read: Slotnick, pp. 1-46 and Baum Ch. 1. Click here for key part's of Gibson's dissent in Eaken v. Raub, and as follows for additional info on civil and common law, natural law and legal positivism. Click here for information on a political view of the court.|
|Judges and Justices||Read: Slotnick, pp. 47-120 and Baum, Ch. 2|
|Lawyers, Trial Courts, and Juries, Part I||Read: Slotnick, pp. 145-165, Church article, Casper article, and Heumann article|
|Lawyers, Trial Courts, and Juries, Part Deux||Read: Slotnick, pp. 302-336; 202-263, and Scheppel article|
|Lawyers, Organized Interests, and The US Supreme Court||Read: Slotnick, pp. 166-197, McGuire article, Caldeira and Wright article, and Kobylka article|
|Access to the Court||Read: Slotnick, pp. 3336-401 and Baum, Ch. 3|
|Judicial Decision Making||Read: Slotnick, pp. 402-459 and Baum, Ch. 4|
|Policy Outputs, The Public, and The Media||Read: Slotnick, pp. 460-507 and Baum, Ch. 5|
|Judicial Impact||Read: Slotnick, pp. 634-668, Baum, Ch. 6, Canon article, and Franklin and Kosaki article|
|Special Topics: Courts, Congress, and the Presidency||TBA|
|Special Topics: The Courts and Political Representation|
May It Please The Court audio files coming soon!
**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**
EXAM #1. This exam seeks to link together your thoughts and knowledge about judicial role orientation and the reputation and influence of current Court. From our readings and class discussion, you should be prepared to discuss the legal (mechanistic) and political model of judicial decision making and the role orientation (individually and institutionally) of various members of the United States Supreme Court. From the two NY Times articles, above, you should have remarkable clarity about the Court's influence. And if you read them carefully, you will also notice a lot of useful information on the ideology and role orientation the justices. I want you to focus specifically on that; the unique features of the current justices (including their ideology, perspective on the constitution, and judicial role orientation) and how they are linked to the arguments made in the two Times articles. Four word-processed pages should be sufficient. You must cite your sources, use direct quotes appropriately, and provide a well-reasoned argument. 70% of the grade will be based upon the clarity and structure of your argument, 30% will be based upon your demonstrated (ie, used in your paper) use of the readings, class notes, and materials from class. Your answers will be due in-class on Tuesday, Oct. 14.
FINAL EXAM: The final exam will focus on the last chapter of the Slotnick book. It will be due at exactly 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, the 18th, in Carnahan 210. NO EXCEPTIONS!!! I want you to read the chapter (Judicial Policy Making and Judicial Independence in the United States) carefully, focusing primarily on Meese and DeHart's notion that the federal judiciary must be reigned in, Wasby's counterpoint that justices basically use power that has been granted to them legitimately, and Fein and Neuborne's observation that the courts are subject to more constraints and accountability than we think. Think about those three arguments: one posits that judicial activism needs to be curtailed, the next argues that courts do what courts are permitted to do, and the third notes that there are institutional constraints that limit the court from being radically activist. Where do you stand on this argument? Is the court that activist-oriented? Does it need to be reigned in? If so, how? Or do you side with the other authors? If so, why? And finally, think about the reality of the next administration: a very conservative judiciary will share American government alongside solid democratic majorities in the House, the Senate, and the White House. Would you ultimately conclude, as Friedman does in the final essay, that in the final analysis "attacks" on the court are really just politically motivated?