Constitutional Law

Students in this class examine several constitutional questions (e.g. can the Air Force tell its members that they can't wear a cross or a yarmulke or dreadlocks; can a student lead his school in prayer before a football game; can school boards decide to teach intelligent design in addition to evolution; should Native Americans be allowed to smoke peyote - a controlled substance - for religious reasons) by reading Supreme Court cases, by talking to lawyers and other legal experts and by arguing about the cases in class. We will also pick a case the Supreme Court or the New York Court of Appeals will be hearing this term, read related cases, and travel either to Washington, D.C. or to Albany New York to hear oral argument in the case.

All students will be expected to function as lawyers (writing briefs and arguing cases) and judges (asking oral argument questions and writing opinions) during class.

Readings: 
Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)
Goldman v. Weinberger (1986)
The Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to US Constitution) and the 14th Amendment
Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye V. Hialeah (1993)
Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940)
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942)
Cohen v. California (1971)
FCC v. Pacifica (1978
Texas v Johnson (1987
Black v Virginia (2003)
In Our Defense: the Bill of Rights in Action, by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy
May It Please the Court, by Peter Irons
Multiple New York Times Articles on cases currently being decided by the US Supreme Court
Decision of First Dep't, NY, in People v. Johnson
Briefs submitted to NY Ct. of Appeals in People v. Johnson
Research: 

Locate answers to multiple questions regarding the US Constitution (a scavenger hunt, of sorts), as well as researching various terms related to constitutional law.
For students undertaking PBAT work in course, briefs and decisions must be supplemented by independent legal research, including precedential cases not discussed in class and law journal (and other newsprint) articles related to the topic.

Media Used: 
Texts -- Supreme Court Opinions, Merits Briefs, Book Excerpts
Newspaper/Magazine articles related to the Supreme Court and cases before the court.
Audio Transcripts of Oral Arguments before the Supreme Court
Educational Video of the Justices discussing the process of accepting, hearing and deciding cases.
Research – lower court opinions, articles about facts of the cases, etc.
Live Argument with other students acting as lawyers and judges, as well as with outside lawyers brought in to class
Interim Assessments: 

Case Summaries (resembles a law school case-brief, laying out the facts and holding of a particular case, but also requiring that the student explain the reasoning of the dissent in the case and, at the end of the summary, whether he/she agrees with the holding of the case).

Supreme Court Merits Briefs (acting as a “lawyer,” arguing the case on behalf of one of the parties, both in writing and in oral argument before outside panel of actual lawyers).

Significant Assignments: 

Supreme Court Decision (issuing an opinion as a “Justice” having read the briefs, precedential cases, and having heard oral argument by actual lawyers or students acting as lawyers).

Additional Supreme Court Merits Briefs

Significant Activities or Projects: 

Final Exam – Law school style hypothetical scenario incorporating different issues from multiple precedential cases, requiring students to synthesize, analyze and evaluate competing claims.

Sample PBATs: 
Majority or Dissenting Opinion in Goldman v. Weinberger
Majority or Dissenting Opinion in FCC v. Pacifica