Summer 2006
Fully Enrolled

SOCS 644
Law and Society

Finn,John E.

06/26/2006 - 08/10/2006
Tuesday & Thursday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Public Affairs Center 422

This course explores 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. We shall see. In the second section of the course we shall explore how the trial process actually works. We shall learn how trials proceed by examining in great detail how two actual trials--one civil, one criminal--were conducted. Our first case involves Helen Palsgraf, who had the misfortune to find herself injured while waiting for a train at the Long Island Rail Road station, and the still greater misfortune to find herself involved in a civil lawsuit bedeviled by questions about the nature of "legal liability" in tort law. Our second case involves the criminal prosecution of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. At the time, Simpson's was the "Trial of the Century." In the Palsgraf case, we shall focus upon the internal dynamics of the legal process and the nature of legal reasoning. We shall, in other words, have little or no interest in the personalities of the players. In the Simpson case, however, personality, passion, and pathos will be the main object. Our concern will be less with trial procedure and more on the relationship between law, society, the media, and popular culture.

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?

Readings include Jerome Frank, Courts on Trial: Myth and Reality in American Justice; Robert Carp, Judicial Process in America; Richard Zitrin & Carol Langford, The Moral Compass of the American Lawyer: Truth, Justice, Power; Janice Schuetz & Lily, eds. The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media and the Law; and Paul Thaler, The Spectacle: Media and the Making of the O. J. Simpson Story.

Students are responsible for two short (4-6 pages) papers and a final examination.

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 Carper, UNDERSTANDING THE LAW (South-Western College), Hardcover

Patrick Ewick, THE COMMON PLACE OF LAW (University of Chicago Press), Paperback

Ethan Katsh, TAKING SIDES (McGraw-Hill), Paperback

Richard Zitrin, THE MORAL COMPASS OF THE AMERICAN LAWYER (Ballantine Books), Paperback


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