SOCS 644
Law and Society

John Finn         


This course introduces students to the judicial process in the United States. It focuses upon the nature of legal reasoning--or what I shall typically call "legal logic"--and the structure of the legal process, both in federal and in state courts. We shall examine how the law works to resolve private disputes between citizens (especially through the law of torts) and disputes between the state and citizens (especially through the criminal law). We shall also examine how the participants in the process understand their roles and how the logic of the legal process influences not only the participants, but all of us. 

The course proceeds in three parts. In the first, we will consider simple questions that have unimaginably complicated answers. We shall want to know, for example, what law is. Some scholars have argued that law is a complex of general and objective rules to regulate behavior. Others have suggested that the law is a habit of obedience. Still others have argued that the law is justice achieved.  

In the second section of the course we shall explore how the trial process actually works. We shall learn how civil and criminal trial work by undertaking an overview of the trial process from the perspectives of the participants themselves.            

In the third section of the course we will consider a few selected topics in the law more generally. Some of the issues we will explore include the relationship between law and race, between law and gender, between law and politics, and between law and morality. We shall see that these are fluid, overlapping categories. Consider: When, if ever, should the law regulate the moral beliefs of the community? What relationship has law to political orthodoxy? And finally, what has the law to do with life and death?

Books to Purchase


David O. Friedichs, Law in Our Lives: An Introduction, 2d ed. (2006) (LOL)
Donald L. Carper & Bill W. West, Understanding the Law, 4th ed. (2004) (UL)
Particia Ewick & Susan S. Silbey, The Common Place of Law, (1998) (CP)
M. Etrhan Katsh & William Rose, Taking Sides, 12th ed. (2006) (TS) 


Richard Zitrin & Carol M. Langford, The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer (1999) (MC)

Schedule of Papers

There are two short (5-6 pages) papers due in this course. Each is worth 30 per cent of the final grade, but failure to complete each and every paper will result in a failing grade for the course. Papers are due in class on the date in question. 

Paper #1--on Maine v. Kargar or Scruggs v. State, is due on July 13.           

Paper #2--on a topic of your choice, but approved by me in advance, is due on August 1.

Attendance, Grades and Examinations

Class attendance is your responsibility. I do not take roll, and I do not require explanations for your absences. I do not penalize poor attendance, but it will factor into the grade I assign for class participation. 

There will be a final examination on a date to be determined by the registrar. Failure to complete the examination will result in a failing grade for the course.           

Each paper is worth 30 per cent of the course grade. The final examination is worth 30 per cent of the course grade. Class participation is worth 10 per cent of the course grade.

Seminar Topics and Assignments
June 27-29

Introduction: What is Law? 

State v. Kargar
, 679 A 2d 81 (1996),

State v. Scruggs, 37 Conn. L. Rptr. No. 3 109, 110 (2005) 

CP, chaps 1-4
LOL, chaps 1-2; 4
UL, chap 1, pp 1-25

July 4-6 What are Courts?

LOL, chap 2
UL, chap 1, pp36-43; chap 3, pp 94-110

NB: No class July 4

July 11-13 Who is the Law?

UL, chap 4
LOL, chap 7

MC, skim
Syllabus/Judicial Process

NB: No class July 11

July 18-20 The Limits of Law

Regina v. Stephens (1884),
CP, chaps 5-6
Fuller, Speluncean Explorers,

July 25-27 Trials

LOL, chap 8
UL, chaps 6-7; skim 8-14
TS, Issue #1

August 1-3 Law, Race, & Gender

Korematsu v. United States (1944),
Brown v. Board of Education (1954),
LOL, chap 10
UL, chap 2, pp 80-87
TS, Issues #15-16; 19

August 8 Conclusion: Law & Morality

Application of Georgetown College
Griswold v. CT
Roe v. Wade
Texas v. Lawrence
(2003), TS, Issue #2
UL, chap 1, pp 25-36
LOL, chap 3
Auden, "Law Like Love,” CP Preface