State Constitutions, State Courts, and Individual Rights Winter 2022

Cross-listed PSCI 17 / JLST 17
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Class Details

Most people are familiar with the idea that the federal constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, can serve as an important (albeit controversial) tool for protecting individual rights. Cases involving rights to same-sex marriage, abortion, and gun ownership are just a few recent examples of the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal constitution taking center stage in battles over individual rights. But there is another, equally important, source of individual rights that is sometimes overlooked and understudied: state constitutions. Each state has its own constitution, which may contain different rights and protections from those in the federal constitution. In this class, we’ll take a look at the role of state constitutions and courts in protecting individual rights and influencing federal constitutional interpretation. From assessing the constitutionality of compelled sterilization to protecting citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, we’ll examine the interplay between state and federal courts and constitutions. To do this, we’ll work through 51 Imperfect Solutions: States and the Making of American Constitutional Law, by Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton (class of 1983). As a final project, students will choose a legal issue, evaluate its chances of success under the federal constitution and their home state constitution (or state constitution of their choosing), develop a basic litigation strategy aimed at achieving their objectives, and present that evaluation and strategy to the class.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 15
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: final project or presentation
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: by seniority
Unit Notes: Susan Yorke is an appellate attorney in the Bay Area and teaches at Berkeley Law. Erin Lagesen is a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Both Susan and Erin went to Williams, where they double majored in English and Mathematics.
Materials/Lab Fee: approximately $35 for books
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:

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