Seminar in U.S. Politics

The Supreme Court of the United States

POL 496e

TuTh 1:45-3:00, ALC 18
Prof:  Dr. Jim L. Riley  Regis University
Spring, 2010

Office Hours
 Monday & Wednesday:   10:30 - 2:00
Tuesday &Thursday:  3:00 -4:00
Friday:  By Appointment  
Office: Carroll Hall 215
 Office Phone: (303) 458-4974
web page --


Texts:  The Supreme Court, (10th ed.) Lawrence Baum

            Supreme Conflict:   The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court, Jan Greenburg

            The Nine:  Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Jeffrey Toobin



Members of the U.S. Supreme Court       

John Roberts, Chief Justice (2005)

        John Paul Stevens (1975)

        Antonin Scalia (1986)

        Anthony Kennedy (1988)

        Clarence Thomas (1991)

        Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1993)

        Stephen G. Breyer (1994)         

        Samuel Alito, Jr. (2006)

Sonia Sotomayor (2009)

The first sentence in the Regis Mission Statement reads:  "Regis University educates men and women of all ages to take leadership roles and to make a positive impact in a changing society."  Understanding the nature of politics in its broadest sense is crucial to this goal.  This course seeks to expand the political knowledge of students such that each of them is better able to become capable and responsible leaders in our society that is so deeply penetrated by things political.

1.  Introductory RemarksThe topic of this seminar is the Supreme Court of the United States.  This unique governmental institution has played and will continue to play a core role in the American political process.  Understanding its history, personnel, powers, limitations, decision making processes, special roles and other features is essential for any student seeking knowledge about the American political and legal systems. 

Because this class is of a small size, daily student participation is essential.   This requires, of course, attendance in class along with preparation by way of reading assignments and presentations.  One-third of the course grade will be determined by the overall quantity and quality of student in-class participation (including the leadership of class discussions as noted below).  The remaining two-thirds of the course grade will be determined by the quality of the out-of-class research papers (described below).

Each student will be expected to lead the class discussion on three of the topics in the Greenburg book.  This section of the class begins on February 23 and finishes on April 13.   Assignments for the leadership of these discussions will be made on January 26.  The "TBD" designation will be replaced with student names.

2.  Paper Requirements:  It is expected that each of the two research papers will result in a polished product.   As a general rule, technical errors (i.e. typographical mistakes, misspellings, sloppy erasures, sentence fragments, etc.) totaling in number an amount greater than the number of pages in the paper, will result in grade penalties that become more severe as their frequency increases. Moreover, papers which deviate significantly from acceptable form (i.e., incorrect or missing footnotes, incorrect or missing bibliography, incorrect or missing table of contents, etc.) will likewise be penalized. Proper form may be gleaned from a careful review and use of Kate Turbian's A Manual For Writers of Term Papers, the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, or other commonly used form guide. There is much valuable information on proper form that can be found at the Regis University Writing Center web site.    Information on citing Internet sources may be found here.

Each project should result in a typewritten or computer printed paper of approximately 10 - 15 pages. In addition to the body of the paper, there must be a title page, a table of contents, headings within the body of the paper that correspond to the table of contents, footnotes or end notes, and a complete bibliography of all sources used.  Enough copies should be provided on the due date for each member of the class (including the instructor).  Each paper will contribute 1/3 of your course grade

3.  Research Papers Content

(A) There is on the Internet a site at which one may hear the oral arguments that were presented before the Supreme Court in selected cases.  Each student is assigned the task of listening to one oral argument in its entirety (about one hour) and providing a written report on this argument.  The case chosen must be submitted to me for approval on February 2.  Because cases of a more recent vintage sometimes include enhanced information (a written text accompanying the audio and information as to who is speaking) it is desirable to select such a case.   The prospectus should also provide a brief statement as to why the chosen case was selected.

This report shall  include the following: (1) name of the case, (2) date of the oral argument, (3) name of the lawyers arguing the case, (4) a summary of the main points made in the oral argument by each attorney, (5) a description of important comments made by the Justices, (6) your views on what made the arguments effective or ineffective and  (7) a description of your impression of the comments/questions posed by Justices.

(B)  There have been seventeen Chief Justices of the United States.   Some have been instrumental in shaping institutions and policies of this country.   Your second paper should be devoted to an examination of one of these men with a goal of describing and evaluating his significance regarding the political and legal features of the United States.  This will require a close examination of both his constitutional philosophies and methods of guiding the Court.

In the Dayton Memorial Library there is placed on two hour reserve a reference book that may be useful in beginning your search for a Chief Justice to examine.   The book is titled The Supreme Court Justices:  Illustrated Biographies, 1789-1995 (2nd edition).   Obviously those members of the Court who were appointed after publication are not included.  No less than five sources shall be used in gathering information about the selected Chief Justice.  This prospectus will consist of the name of the Chief Justice selected along with a one paragraph explanation as to why he was chosen.   

In addition there is on reserve:  (1)  A Court Divided, Mark Tushnet and (2) Storm Center:  The Supreme Court in American Politics, David O'Brien.

4.  Deadlines:  A one-page typed or computer printed prospectus for the first paper is due in class on February 2. This will be returned to each student and must be attached to the final paper which is due in class on February 16.   You need to bring to class on that date one copy of your paper for each member of the class.   I will read, evaluate and then grade these papers.  They will be returned by February 23.  If you wish to revise and resubmit that paper you may do so no later than March 2.  I will then re-evaluate and re-grade that paper substituting the second grade for the initial one.   The second paper will not have this option.  The revised submission must include both the original paper and the revised one.  Late papers will be heavily penalized.  

The second paper prospectus is due on March 16 with the final paper due on April 15 at which time a copy shall be given to each member of the class.  No revisions to this paper will be allowed.

5.  Use of the Internet and E-Mail:   Each student should establish an e-mail account within the first week of the semester. I will send various e-messages to you during the semester.  Students are expected to check their e-mail daily.

Because the Internet has become such a valuable tool for gathering information and enhancing communication, we will be making extensive use of this during the semester.  Periodically I will assign reading material to be gleaned from the "net."  These assignments will be given by e-mail.

17.  Academic Integrity:  It is expected that students will act honorably in all activities related to this course and will refrain from any form of academic and professional dishonesty or deception in the classroom, clinical, and other learning settings. These behaviors include cheating, plagiarism, falsification of data, falsification of records, and aiding and/or abetting dishonesty.

18.    Accommodation of Disabilities:  For information regarding Regis disability services policies, visit the web site of the Office of Disability Services.

19.  Course Withdrawal Policy Students are expected to know and observe the published deadlines for (a) dropping the course and (b) withdrawing from the course. These deadlines are published on the University's Academic Calendar, which is available in the Bulletin, the course schedule and is in the Dean's Office.  THESE DEADLINES ARE NOT FLEXIBLE.

20.  Important Dates and Deadlines:

Key Web Sites

About the U.S. Supreme Court

Demographics of the Supreme Court

Rules of Supreme Court

How U.S Courts Work

Federal Judicial Home Page - FAQ's


Legal Information Institute

Justices of U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Historical Society

American Judicature Society

John Marshall:  Definer of A Nation

Possible Supreme Court Nominees of President Bush

Possible Supreme Court Nominees of President Obama

C-Span Court Page

History of the Federal Judiciary

FAQ's Regarding Judicial Selection

Remarks of Oliver Wendell  Holmes, Jr.

Why Supreme Court Justices Succeed

Semester Schedule

(Highlighted Link is Assigned Reading)

Date, Topic and Reading                                                                                            Discussion Leader

1/19    Course Introduction                                                                                         Riley

1/21   Video on Supreme Court Article III, Federalist #78                                          Riley

1/26 & 1/28  The Court (Ch. 1 & 2 Baum)

    Ashwander Rules of Judicial Self Restraint                                                            Riley

2/2 & 2/9 (No Class 2/4)  Historical Survey of Court                                                   Riley

    A.  John Marshall:  Nationalism, Court Power and Private Property                   

    B.  Roger Brooke Taney:  State's Rights and White Supremacy   

    C.  Salmon P. Chase:  Retreat and Resurgence (Chase Court Picture)

Case name Citation Summary
Ex parte Milligan 71 U.S. 2 (1866) habeas corpus, military tribunals
Ex parte Garland 71 U.S. 333 (1866) retroactive civil disability for former Confederate officers
Mississippi v. Johnson 71 U.S. 475 (1867) power of the Supreme Court to constitutionally issue an injunction directed at the President
Crandall v. Nevada 73 U.S. 35 (1868) Right to travel bars taxation of parties leaving a state
Georgia v. Stanton 73 U.S. 50 (1867) power of the Court to rule on constitutionality of Reconstruction Acts; parameters of the Court's jurisdiction
United States v. Kirby 74 U.S. 482 (1868) construction of criminal statutes
Ex parte McCardle 74 U.S. 506 (1868) congressional power to limit Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction
Texas v. White 74 U.S. 700 (1869) constitutionality of state secession
Paul v. Virginia 75 U.S. 168 (1869) Privileges & Immunities Clause does not apply to corporations, Commerce Clause does not apply to insurance policies
Hepburn v. Griswold 75 U.S. 603 (1870) constitutionality of legal tender laws
Baker v. Morton 79 U.S. 150 (1870) land claims in the Nebraska Territory
United States v. Klein 80 U.S. 128 (1871) separation of powers
Taylor v. Taintor 83 U.S. 366 (1872) rights and responsibilities of bail bondsmen
Slaughterhouse Cases 83 U.S. 36 (1873) freedom of employment
Bradwell v. State of Illinois 83 U.S. 130 (1873) equal protection, exclusion of women from employment
Minor v. Happersett 88 U.S. 162 (1874) Fourteenth Amendment and the right to vote


    D.  Morrison Waite:  Post Civil War Focus

Case name Citation Summary
Totten v. United States 92 U.S. 105 (1875) jurisdiction over espionage agreements
United States v. Cruikshank 92 U.S. 542 (1875) application of the First and Second Amendments to the states
Munn v. Illinois 94 U.S. 113 (1876) corporations and agricultural regulation
Pennoyer v. Neff 95 U.S. 714 (1877) bases of personal jurisdiction over defendants
City of Elizabeth v. American Nicholson Pavement Co. 97 U.S. 126 (1878) experimental use exception to the on-sale bar in United States patent law
Reynolds v. United States 98 U.S. 145 (1878) polygamy and freedom of religion
Baker v. Selden 101 U.S. 99 (1879) differences between copyright & patent law
Strauder v. West Virginia 100 U.S. 303 (1880) exclusion of blacks from juries
Egbert v. Lippmann 104 U.S. 333 (1881) early case concerning the on-sale bar in patent law
Pace v. Alabama 106 U.S. 583 (1883) affirmed that Alabama's anti-miscegenation statute banning interracial marriage and interracial sex was not a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
United States v. Harris (the Ku Klux Case) 106 U.S. 629 (1883) No Congressional power to pass ordinary criminal statutes
Civil Rights Cases 109 U.S. 3 (1883) power of federal government to prohibit racial discrimination by private parties
Hurtado v. California 110 U.S. 516 (1884) no requirement that states use a grand jury to indict a defendant in a murder prosecution
Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony 111 U.S. 53 (1884) copyrightability of photographs
New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Woodworth 111 U.S. 138 (1884) insurance law
Head Money Cases 112 U.S. 580 (1884) treaties
Railroad Commission Cases 116 U.S. 307 (1886) contracts, police power, regulation of transport
Yick Wo v. Hopkins 118 U.S. 356 (1886) equal protection, facially-neutral laws administered in a discriminatory manner
United States v. Kagama 118 U.S. 375 (1886) federal court jurisdiction over crimes committed on Indian reservations
Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad 118 U.S. 394 (1886) corporate personhood
Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad Company v. Illinois 118 U.S. 557 (1886) regulation of interstate commerce by individual states, creation of ICC

    E.  Melville Fuller:   Economic Freedoms and Ameliorator of Fractious Court

    F.  Edward White:  The Rule of Reasonableness

    G. William Howard Taft:   Lobbying for the Court

    H.  Charles Evans Hughes:  Leading the Court in Time of National Crisis

    I.  Harlan Fiske Stone:  The Famous Footnote

    J.  Fred Vinson:   Cronyism Influences the Court

    K.  Earl Warren:   Judicial Activism and Civil Rights

    L.  Warren Burger:  Pomposity plus Deviousness

    M.  William H. Rehnquist:  Federalism is Alive and Well

    N.  John Roberts:  To be Continued

2/11     The Cases (Ch 3, Baum)   Setting the Court's Agenda                                Riley

2/16    Making Decisions (Ch 4, Baum)                                                                  Riley

2/18   Discussion of Student Research Paper #1 (Student Papers)                          Riley

2/23    Days End   (Greenburg, Ch. 1)                                                                     JS

2/25    Settling (Greenburg, Ch. 2)                                                                          LH

3/2    False Hopes (Greenburg, Ch. 3)                                                                     JS

3/4    The Devil You Don't (Greenburg, Ch. 4)                                                       LH

3/16    The Youngest, Cruelest Justice (Greenburg, Ch. 5)                                      JS

3/18    Change of Heart (Greenburg, Ch. 6)                                                            LH

3/23    The Clinton Way (Greenburg, Ch. 7)                                                            JS

3/25    The Natural (Greenburg, Ch. 8)                                                                    LH

3/30   Except He's Not a Woman (Greenburg, Ch. 9)                                               JS

3/31   Trust Me (Greenburg, Ch. 10)                                                                        LH

4/6    Deconstructing Miers (Greenburg, Ch. 10)                                                      JS

4/8     Deconstructing Sotomayer                                                                              LH

4/13    A Full Court (Greenburg, Ch. 11)                                                                  JS

4/15  Policy Outputs (Baum, Ch. 5)                                                                          Riley

4/20   Impact of Court (Baum, Ch. 6)                                                                      Riley

4/22 & 4/27    Discussion of Student Research Paper #2 (Student Papers)                Riley

4/29    Course Wrap                                                                                                 Riley