First Amendment Law and Policy Winter 2019

This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

The Constitution is a covenant among the people, the states and government of the United States that substantially defines the unique American experiment and experience. First numerically, and in importance to many Americans, is the Constitution’s guarantee of free thought and expression, encompassing the First Amendment’s freedoms of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion. Over time the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) and the “inferior” federal courts and state courts have given the First Amendment special and exalted status, ruling it contains “preferred freedoms” that are the “matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom,” and the mechanisms Americans employ to “form a more perfect union” through democratic processes. The course will provide students an intensive examination of First Amendment law and policy, with substantially more time and attention devoted to these rights than possible in a survey civil liberties or constitutional law course. We will examine the most important First Amendment decisions and influential concurring and dissenting opinions dealing with government action purportedly infringing a First Amendment right. We will also examine how free expression fares in and shapes American society at large. A private employer’s, college’s or other institution’s restriction of expression may not violate the First because it is not government action, but the First and its judicial interpretation affects the discussion and resolution of non-government conflicts involving speech, political activity and religious exercise. The course will explore the rationale and implications of permitting and fostering or limiting certain categories of free expression or in specific contexts (libel–obscenity–“fighting words”–hate speech–depictions of violence and cruelty–child pornography–and others) and in various settings, public and private, involving and outside government. The course will be offered at a time when First Amendment rights are being challenged, especially press freedoms and free speech on college campuses, including Williams”. With the press held in historically low esteem by the public and under attack from the current federal administration the course will incorporate lessons and discussions involving these matters. Some portion of each class will be devoted to current free expression issues in America, in its local communities and on the Williams” and other college campuses. Students will be assigned to identify, research and lead discussions of such issues. The course requires reading (, class participation and writing. Class participation will be important because the course will be taught Socratically (as most law school classes are with the teacher asking and students answering questions — and many in the other direction). There will be an optional SCOTUS simulated oral argument at the end of the winter study. Adjunct Instructor Bio: Lloyd Constantine ’69 has argued many constitutional law cases in SCOTUS and “inferior” federal courts. He has taught law school (Fordham) and both civil liberties and first amendment law and policy to undergraduates (SUNY).
The Class: Format: afternoons - On the first day of class (1/3/2019) I will discuss with the students how to alter the schedule to meet certain days for only 1 hour 50 minutes and/or simply not hold class certain agreed upon days.
Limit: 25
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: 10-page paper
Prerequisites: none, but if oversubscribed priority will be given to students who have taken constitutional law
Enrollment Preferences: students who have a background in or have taken constitutional law or civil liberties will be given priority
Materials/Lab Fee: $123 plus cost of books

Class Grid

Course Catalog Archive Search



Start Time
End Time