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POL S 334 B: Topics In American Politics

Meeting Time: 
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm
BAG 154
Scott Lemieux
The Supreme Court and American Political Development

Syllabus Description:

POLS 334: The Supreme Court and American Political Development

Instructor: Scott Lemieux, Gowen Hall 114

Office Hours: T 2:30-3:30 or by online appointment


Jeffrey Grove - Sections BA & BB 
Office Hours: Thursday, 1 - 3 pm, Smith 31
Dennis Young - Sections BC & BD 
Office Hours: Thursday, 1 - 3 pm on Zoom -

Course Introduction: This class will examine the development of the Supreme Court and its role as a political institution through a careful examination of several critical historical junctures. With one exception, we will not be reading Supreme Court case law. Rather, we will be reading an analyzing political science and legal scholarship about the Court, the source of its power, and its impact on American politics. The central paradox the course seeks to asses is how an inherently fragile institution, lacking the powers of coercion or taxation, has come to become so powerful. Why have the other branches found judicial power useful? What happens when there is a major power struggle between the branches? We will study periods of constitutional crisis, most notably during the Jefferson and Roosevelt administrations. We will examine the entrenchment of the Supreme Court's authority after the Civil War and the crest of the Court as a symbol of racial egalitarianism in the mid-20th century. We will conclude by looking at the struggles over judicial nominations during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, which represent the highly polarized nomination process in place today. We will conclude with one of the culminations of this process, the most widely-discussed Supreme Court case of this century, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, viewing it in the context of how judicial power functions and is shaped by the political process.

Class Texts: We will be reading two books this quarter:

Jeff Sheshol, Supreme Power (W.W. Norton, 2011)

Laura Kalman, The Long Reach of the Sixties: LBJ, Nixon, and the Making of the Contemporary Supreme Court (Oxford University Press, 2019.)

The other readings will be articles, all available through the hyperlinks in this syllabus and through the UW library database.

General Requirements and Class Policies:

Assignments and Grading:  There will be three online exams.  All exams will be non-cumulative and weighted equally.  The remainder of the grade will be calculated by your participation in section, participation in discussion forums, and any other work assigned at the discretion of your TA.  The dates the exams will be distributed and are due can be found below in the class schedule.

The breakdown of the final grade is as follows:

3 Exams: 25% each

Section participation: 25%

Grade appeals process: 

  1. If you would like to appeal your grade, please wait 24 hours after receiving your assignment. After 24 hours have elapsed, submit a typed and printed appeal and that explains why you deserve a better grade and the graded assignment to the TA. This appeal cannot exceed one page of 12 point font.  Please note that your entire assignment will be regraded.
  2. Once the TA has reviewed your appeal, he or she will set up a virtual "appointment" to discuss your appeal.
  3. If you are still unsatisfied with your grade, the TA will take your assignment and appeal to the professor. Please note that the professor will not review your appeal until the TA has made an assessment of your appeal.
  4. Note that if you request a re-grade by the professor your grade may be lowered, raised, or left unchanged once you have submitted your grade appeal.
  5. All grade appeals must be submitted within one week of the graded assignment being handed back.


Class Schedule

I. Introduction: How Should We Think About the Supreme Court?

9/29 Class Introduction

10/4 Richard Posner, "Foreword: A Political Court," Harvard Law Review (199: 2005)

II. The Early Court and Constitutional Hardball

10/6 Sanford Levinson and Jack Balkin, "What are the facts of Marbury v. Madison?Constitutional Commentary (20: 2003)

10/11 Michael Klarman, "How Great Were the 'Great' Marshall Court Decisions?" Virginia Law Review (87: 2001)

III. The 19th Century Origins of the Modern Court

10/13 Mark Graber, "The Nonmajoritarian Difficulty," Studies in American Political Development (7: 1993)

10/18-20 Howard Gillman, "How Political Parties Can Use the Courts to Advance Their Agendas: Federal Courts in the. United States, 1875-1891."

Keith Whittington, "Interpose Your Friendly Hand”: Political Supports for the Exercise of Judicial Review by the United States Supreme Court.

First online exam posted on Canvas 10/21. 

10/25 First exam due on Canvas. Class cancelled. 

IV. The New Deal Constitutional Crisis

10/27 Introductory lecture, no reading due

11/1-10 Sheshol, Supreme Power

11/1: Ch. 1-7

11/3: Ch. 7-13

11/8: Ch. 14-22

11/10: Ch. 22-Epilogue

V.  Brown v. Board and The Supreme Court

11/15-17 Herbert Weschler, "Toward Neutral Principles of Constitutional Law,Harvard Law Review, (73: 1959) pp 26-35. 

Charles Black, "The Lawfulness of the Segregation Decisions," Yale Law Journal, (69: 1960)

Derrick Bell, "Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma,Harvard Law Review (3: 1980)

Second Online Exam Posted 11/18

11/22 Second Exam Due on Canvas. Class Cancelled.

VI. LBJ, Nixon, and the Contemporary Judicial Appointment Process 

11/29-12-6 Kalman, The Long Reach of the Sixties

11/29: Ch. 1-3

12/1: Ch. 4-5

12/6: Ch. 5 - Epilogue 

12/8 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health (2022) [Excerpts]


Department Requirements: 
American Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated: 
May 9, 2022 - 11:26am