How has the American Constitution been debated and understood over the course of American history? This course will explore questions of rights and liberties in American constitutional doctrine across time. There is an expansive world of issues that relate to the development of civil liberties in the United States but this course will focus largely on the following: speech, privacy, criminal procedure, religion, national security. The timeframe of the course will cover the constitutional settlement up until present debates surrounding Guantanamo and same-sex marriage. Issues that we will consider include: What are the rights of the Sept 11th detainees? What is the dividing legal line between free speech and hate speech? Can the state ban homosexuality, prostitution, or pornography? What role should religion play in our public institutions and lawmaking? Is the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment? What constitutes a “search”?
Throughout the quarter, our goal will be to understand the changing nature of, and changing relationship between, courts and civil liberties in American politics and history. As a result, this course will simultaneously pull from different fields such as American political thought, law and society, American political development, race and ethnic politics, and history. In our inquiry, traditional sources such as academic books and articles will used alongside investigative reports, court cases, and first-hand accounts.