Election Law casebook cover

I was honored and proud to receive the 2019 Duncan Teaching Award.

Most years I teach Civil Procedure I, Election Law, Constitutional II, and Supreme Court Decision Making. Here are the descriptions of the classes:

Civil Procedure I:

Civil Procedure is a great course. It is interesting, challenging, important, and practical. I have three main goals for this course: (1) to introduce you to the important concepts and rules of civil litigation so that you will have a basic knowledge of these topics, as you will encounter them in practice no matter your area of expertise or specialization; (2) to teach you how to dissect a case and “think” like a lawyer, a skill that includes learning how to identify issues, analyze problems, and apply new facts to the governing rules; and (3) to help you understand the purposes behind the rules and decisions and, in turn, to discern which policies should govern our civil litigation system.

The topics involved include subject-matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, venue, pleading, and joinder.

Election Law:

This class discusses the interplay of law and politics. We will cover some very interesting topics – the kinds of things that often appear on the front pages of major newspapers and on national TV: racial and partisan gerrymandering, one person-one vote, the Voting Rights Act, campaign finance, election contests, and yes, even voter fraud (imagined or otherwise). I make no promises as to how much you will enjoy taking this course, but I can almost guarantee that taking this class will make you more interesting at your next cocktail or dinner party!

The course will examine the continuing clash of values inherent in our democratic processes, with a focus on how courts contribute to or resolve these disputes. We will also explore whether courts are the appropriate entity to decide these political controversies, questioning whether judges – state or federal – are able to set aside partisan allegiances to decide cases solely on their legal merits. Moreover, to the extent that we perceive that partisanship affects judicial decision making, is this a problem, and what solutions can we adopt to address that problem? Finally, our hyperpolarized political environment has brought election law to the forefront. Is this good or bad? What changes should we adopt for our election system given the “new normal”?

The course has five main units:

  • Mini-introductory unit: The constitutional right to vote
  • Part 1: Legislative redistricting;
  • Part 2: Nomination of candidates and rights of third parties;
  • Part 3: Campaign practices (including campaign finance); and
  • Part 4: Administration of the voting process (including rules for casting, counting, and recounting of ballots, and judicial contests of certified election results)

Constitutional Law II:

This class discusses the U.S. Constitution’s protection of individual rights and liberties. The focus will be on the Equal Protection Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment. In the process, we will consider the law’s prohibition of discrimination against racial minorities and women, the extent of the protection for contraception, abortion, and marriage, the First Amendment’s free speech and free expression provisions, and the protection for religious liberty. All heady stuff. These topics are usually the most contentious issues the Supreme Court considers every year and they often make the front pages of major newspapers. Every lawyer should have a baseline understanding of these constitutional principles, if only to be able to answer questions from your crazy uncle during Thanksgiving dinner.

Our review will include the major Supreme Court cases in each area. We will look at concurrences and dissents at times to learn how certain Justices would approach the cases. Often there are no “right” answers, but instead strong constitutional arguments to make on each side. We will also learn different methods of constitutional interpretation, such as textualism versus purposivism versus the “living” constitution. In the process we will gain a deeper understanding of our founding document and the ways in which the Supreme Court has interpreted civil protections throughout the years.

Supreme Court Decision Making:

Supreme Court Decision Making is a really fun class. Each week, we will focus on a case that is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court this Term. We will discuss in detail each side’s contentions and the arguments from selected amicus curie briefs. We will cover the legal and policy implications of various approaches to deciding the case. At the end of each class, we will each explain how we would vote in the case. In essence, each week we will pretend to be the Supreme Court and will discuss the merits of the case much like the real Court does during its conferences. We will also conduct mock oral arguments for some of the cases. By the end of the semester you will be a Supreme Court expert, at least for some of the most interesting cases the Court is hearing this year! Many weeks we will also have guest speakers – either in person or via telephone or video – who are closely involved with the case we are discussing that week or who are judges or other experts in judicial decision making.

The other main aspect of the course will be an exploration of what goes into a judicial opinion. To that end, we will talk about strategies and techniques for opinion writing, culled both from the assigned text and from my own experiences clerking for a federal appellate judge. This will help you refine your writing and assist you in any practice that submits written material to a court – because you will have had the experience knowing what was persuasive to your own decision. The class will also be beneficial if you plan to clerk for a judge.

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