Spring 2006
Fully Enrolled

Civil Liberties

Finn,John E.

01/23/2006 - 05/06/2006
Thursday 06:30 PM - 09:00 PM

Public Affairs Center 422

Civil Liberties is designed to introduce students to a uniquely American, and to some ways of thinking, a wonderfully naive contribution to politics: The written specification of individual liberties and rights that citizens possess and can juridically enforce against the state. Civil Liberties is not, however, a course on law. It is instead a course in political science about law, or a course that has as its subject the relationship of law to the most fundamental sorts of questions about politics.

During the semester, we shall see that most of the serious difficulties (and there are many) in the politics of civil liberties arise from conflicts between our commitments to two or more positive values. There are, for example, inevitable and recurrent conflicts (despite our attempts to ignore them) between the values of liberty and equality. As Felix Frankfurter once wrote, these and other such conflicts are "what the Greeks thousands of years ago recognized as a tragic issue, namely the clash of rights, not the clash of wrongs." In this course, we examine these clashes in light of the broader philosophical and institutional problems of the constitutional order. I hope to show that constitutional "answers" to problems like those of abortion, freedom of speech, and affirmative action require a coherent understanding of the Constitution, and of the assumptions it makes about human nature and the proper ends of government and civil society.

We will, therefore, examine the doctrinal development of specific liberties and rights, such as due process and privacy, but we shall consider them in a broader theoretical context. We shall want to know what overall conception of liberties, rights, and governmental powers most nearly reflects and promotes our best understanding of the Constitution and the polity it both constitutes and envisions. In addressing these issues, we will confront a welter of difficult and controversial questions. It is unlikely that we will succeed in our attempts to answer them fully or finally. What we can hope to achieve, however, is an improved and more sophisticated appreciation of the importance (or not) of our commitment to civil liberties, and of the sacrifices we must make if we choose to honor that commitment.

Texts for the course include Kommers, Finn, & Jacobsohn, American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases, & Comparative Notes (Rowman, 2004); Rossiter, ed., The Federalist Papers; and van Geel, Understanding Supreme Court Opinions (2nd ed.).

Course requirements include several short essays/papers on topics to be determined by the instructor.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

John Finn (B.A. Nasson College; J.D. Georgetown University; M.A., Ph.D Princeton University; Grande Diplome, French Culinary Institute) is professor of government. He is coauthor, with Kommers and Jacobsohn, of American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases and Comparative Notes (Rowman, 2004); co-author with Donald P. Kommers of American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases, and Comparative Notes (West/Wadsworth 1998), and is author of Constitutions in Crisis: Political Violence and the Rule of Law (Oxford University Press, 1991). Click here for more information about John Finn.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Donald Kommers, AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, ESSAYS, CASES, AND COMPARATIVE NOTES, VOLUME 2 (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers), Paperback

Rossiter (editor), THE FEDERALIST PAPERS (Penguin), Paperback




Register for Courses

Contact glsinquire@wesleyan.edu to submit comments or suggestions. 
Copyright Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 06459