At a time when the rule of law is imperiled, our democracy and equal rights of every kind under assault by multiple forces, the importance of understanding our constitutional system of rights and laws as essential to the fabric of the nation cannot be overstated. The course will examine law as a vehicle of political conflict and a deﬁning force in American society in four dimensions: 1.) as it establishes individual rights, liberties, and the limits of toleration; 2.) as it attempts to resolve differences among competing constituencies; 3.) as it sets out terms of punishment and social control having effects on race and class, and 4.) as a source of informing images and ideological meaning. We will examine these themes with close attention to their historical roots and their constitutional and theoretical origins, to their manifestations in our current political debates. We will take up issues at the level of jurisprudence or political theory, but also as they arise in public controversies, or are settled in legal cases by the courts—cases in which racial or gender equality are at stake, religious or sexual freedom, cases in which the nature and content of political speech are questioned, cases in which the imperatives of religious communities seem irreconcilable with public institutions, cases in which the nature and extent of punishment have been debated and the question of who deserves to be punished decided, and notorious public trials in which the national self-understanding has been shaped. Our aim is to bring theory to bear, and down to earth, in each consideration (we will read Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and also examine prisons and mass incarceration). Since this is an election year in which the constitutional framework of American democracy is being tested, the issues being raised by the January 6 committee will be much on our minds. This is a junior tutorial.
Faculty: Terry Aladjem
Semester: Full Spring Term