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LAW 02 — The United States Constitution: Interpreting America's Founding Document

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Jan 18—Mar 22
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Jan 31
Units: 2
Tuition: $460
Instructor(s): William H. Simon
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Jan 18—Mar 22
10 weeks
Drop By
Jan 31
2 Units
William H. Simon
American democracy is extensively regulated by a brief document mostly written in the 18th century. This document and 230 years of interpretive gloss on it make up the US Constitution. The Constitution remains the most salient expression of the nation’s political aspirations and a powerful set of practical constraints on government. Although most Americans express deep respect for the Constitution, they disagree intensely about what it means. This course will study doctrinal issues concerning governmental structure and individual rights as they have arisen in recent controversies about such matters as immigration, abortion, affirmative action, gay marriage, government-provided healthcare, national security, campaign finance, and policing.

We will also consider general theoretical orientations toward the interpretation of the Constitution, focusing on three: One, especially associated with Antonin Scalia and other conservatives, sees the interpretive task as a matter of fidelity to the understanding of those who enacted the original Constitution and its amendments. A second, especially associated with the Warren Court and its defenders, sees the task as a matter of adapting text and precedent to the implicit substantive social norms of contemporary American society. And a third, originating during the New Deal but more recently revived, urges an interpretive practice focused on policing the institutional preconditions of the democratic process. We will consider the extent to which these approaches should be understood as complements or competitors.

William H. Simon, William W. and Gertrude H. Saunders Professor of Law, Emeritus, Stanford; Arthur Levitt Professor of Law, Columbia

William H. Simon has taught at Stanford since 1981 and at Columbia since 2001, and more episodically, at Harvard and Berkeley. Some of his recent work has focused on the relevance of post-bureaucratic forms of organization to constitutional issues. He is the co-author of “The Duty of Responsible Administration and the Problem of Police Accountability,” Yale Journal on Regulation (2016).

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Michael Dorf and Trevor W. Morrison, Constitutional Law (ISBN 9780195370034)