American National Government and Politics

How does the American political system operate? This course provides an introduction to American political ideas, institutions, behaviors, and processes. Topics include (among other things) public opinion, elections, Congress, the presidency, the mass media, civic participation, the Constitution, federalism, and public policy. Although we will cover the “nuts and bolts” of American government, our focus is on political science rather than civics, which means our task is to analyze and interpret political phenomena.

Spring 2023 - POLS 110/111 (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Summer 2021 - PSC 121 (Syracuse University)

Judicial Politics

In their dissenting opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case removing the right to abortion from the Constitution, Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan wrote, “The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them.” Is this an accurate view of judging? This course examines this question and more through the lens of a branch of political science known as judicial politics. This is not a course on constitutional law, and the focus will not be on doctrinal analysis or close reading of cases (though we will discuss cases to illustrate and examine the topics of the course). Instead, we will evaluate courts as political institutions and judges as political actors. The topics we will study include: what courts do; different legal systems; the operation of legal norms; the U.S. judicial system; the power of courts; constraints on judicial power; judicial review; the origin of judicial institutions; how and why the Supreme Court justices make decisions; case selection; conflict between the Court and other branches of government; decision making and conflict within the judicial hierarchy; the place of courts in American political history; and judicial appointments, among others. Our primary focus will be on the U.S. courts, though we will also explore courts in other countries (and supranational courts) as well.

Fall 2022 - Judicial Politics (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Constitutional Law

The framers of the U.S. Constitution tried to design a government that would be vigorous enough to serve the people’s needs but would prevent office holders from using these powers to promote their own interests. Likewise, they sought to design a government that would be responsive to the demands of popular majorities, but that would also respect the rights of minorities. They came up with a Constitution that has survived for more than 200 years, so they must have been doing something right. Still, their design included a number of features that were controversial at the beginning and a number of others (or sometimes the same ones!) that are controversial today.

For example, the Constitution’s severely fragmented system of government authority has sometimes prevented the federal government from responding rashly to the demands of the moment, but at other times, it has prevented the government from addressing important national problems. In similar fashion, the complex set of indirect elections and appointments that the framers designed for choosing our nation’s lawmakers has sometimes succeeded in “filtering” and improving the public will, but at other times, it has prevented the public’s voice from being heard at all. And our life-tenured federal judges have sometimes stood as valiant defenders of individual liberty and minority rights, but at other times, they have served as shields of privilege, power, and the status quo.

In this course, we will seek to evaluate the performance of this constitutional system by examining its evolution over time. Moving doctrinally and chronologically from the founding era to the present, we will examine a wide range of legal and political conflicts—involving the powers and limitations of the federal government, federalism, and the relationship among the branches of government and the states. The course addresses controversial topics that raise difficult questions about our personal experiences and political beliefs, and it is therefore essential that students make every effort to tolerate competing views and to treat each other with concern and respect.

Fall 2022 - Constitutional Law (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning

This course serves to introduce students to the idea of law—what it is, why it exists, and how to identify it—as well as provide a hands-on experience with legal reasoning. Students will learn to identify various sources of law, understand the various theories of law, and apply such abstract concepts to sets of facts that exist in the real world. As such, students will walk away with both the substantive knowledge and practical experience necessary to succeed in a wide range of law-focused careers, including (but not limited to) practicing law, judging, becoming a paralegal, reporting and media, or even attending graduate school with a focus on law and related issues. Ultimately, this course is designed with an eye toward preparing students for future study of law.

Spring 2023 - Intro to Law and Legal Reasoning (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

Free Speech Theory and Law

Can you falsely shout "FIRE!" in a crowded theater or kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality?  Is "hate speech” protected by the First Amendment?  Is Twitter allowed to ban it? Can a city government stop a "Straight Pride Parade” from taking place?  This course will address these questions and more while drawing attention to the legal complexity of free expression disputes.  In doing so, students will be exposed to common justifications for free and robust speech in a society and how the courts have addressed the topic both in the present day and historically.  As such, students will walk away from the class with a firm understanding of the legal doctrine and theory necessary to analyze the range of free speech disputes that emerge on a near-daily basis in today’s society.

Spring 2023 - Free Speech Theory and Law (University of Louisiana at Lafayette)
Winter 2021 - Free Speech Theory and Law (Syracuse University)
Summer 2020 - Free Speech Theory and Law (Syracuse University)