Spring 2010

SOCS 644
Constitutional Law

Finn,John E.

01/25/2010 - 05/07/2010
Wednesday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Public Affairs Center 107

This course introduces students to a uniquely American, and to some ways of thinking, an especially naive, contribution to politics: The idea that we can make political practice conform to the written word. As some critics have said, the Constitution rests on the belief that saying a thing makes it so. Stripped to essentials, it is this assumption above all others that informs constitutional law. The undeniable implausibility of the claim, however, means that what we call constitutional law is really constitutional interpretation.

During the semester, we shall see that most of the serious issues in constitutional interpretation arise from conflicts between our commitment to two or more positive values. There are, for example, inevitable and recurrent conflicts (despite our attempts to ignore them), between the values of order and liberty. In Justice Frankfurter's words, these conflicts illustrate "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 by considering the broader philosophical and institutional problems of the American constitutional order. I hope to show that constitutional answers to problems concerning separation of powers, federalism, and individual liberties require a coherent and comprehensive understanding of the Constitution, and of the assumptions it makes about human nature and the proper ends of government.

Major readings for this course include Rossum & Tarr, American Constitutional Law Vol. II, and Rossiter, ed., The Federalist Papers. Recommended reading includes Schwartz, A History of the Supreme Court.

Students will be responsible for two short (4-6 pages) papers, a final examination and class participation.

Course tuition: $2022.

Enrollment is limited to 18 students. This class is open to auditors.

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.


ENROLLMENT INFORMATION

Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Kommers, Finn, Jacobsohn, AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, 3RD EDITION, (Rowman)

Optional text: Van Geel, UNDERSTANDING SUPERIOR COURT OPINIONS, 6TH EDITION, (Pearson)

READING MATERIALS ARE AVAILABLE AT BROAD STREET BOOKS, 45 BROAD STREET, MIDDLETOWN, 860-685-7323 Order your books online

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