Political Science | The Politics of Supreme Court Litigation
Y396 | 9135 | Hettinger
Reading a Supreme Court opinion usually raises more questions than
Who is Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade?
What happens if you can't afford an attorney
but the Supreme Court hears your case?
What are the ACLU or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund?
Why did it take the Supreme Court several
years to decide Brown v. Board of Education?
How did the Supreme Court close its doors to
school financing cases in San Antonio Independent School District v.
In more general terms, these questions can be framed as...
Who are the individuals who find their case
being argued before the Supreme Court?
Why was a particular dispute selected from
the thousands presented to the Court?
What other actors became involved in the dispute along the
Were these actors instrumental in bringing
the dispute to the Supreme Court's attention?
What role did the internal workings of the Supreme Court
This course will attempt to answer these questions about several
major Supreme Court decisions. All of these questions will be explored
through a political filter. Therefore, we will examine the political
environment that led to the emergence of the initial dispute, the political
aspects of the Court's decision to hear the case, the political explanations
for the Court's decisions, and the political outcomes of the Court's
We will read the original briefs submitted by the parties to the
case as well as the amicus curiae briefs filed by interest groups and
individuals. We will listen to oral arguments before the Court and read
various accounts of the circumstances leading up to the decision and
following the decision.
A few of the decisions we will explore include Brown v. Board of
Education (educational segregation), Roe v. Wade (abortion), Barenblatt v.
U.S. (communism and free speech), Gregg v. Georgia (death penalty), and
Gideon v. Wainwright (right to an attorney).
The class will be conducted in a seminar format and discussion by
all participants is key to the success of a seminar. Attendance and
participation will be graded. The class carries intensive writing credit.
Students will be asked to write four papers each 6-8 pages in length. Some
papers will be analyses and discussions of the assigned readings; others
will require independent research.
Grading: Writing assignments (each worth 20 percent of final
Attendance (10 percent of final grade)
In-class activities and participation (10 percent of final grade)
Books will include: Irons & Guitton, May it Please the Court
Woodward and Armstrong, The Brethren
Lewis, Gideon's Trumpet