Constitutional Law is part of the core curriculum that every student should study. It is hard to imagine functioning as an lawyer in the United States without a basic knowledge of nation’s charter of government and repository of individual rights.
1. The first question is when to take the basic course, which is offered as a 4 credit elective in the first year, or a 4 credit course in the second year. Opting for the 4 credit first year elective frees you to take advanced or related courses during the entire second year. On rare occasions, however, a 5 credit basic course is offered in the second year. The 5 credit second year course (if it is offered) covers more material than a 4 credit offering, making the choice a difficult one.
2. In choosing a basic course, you should ask your colleagues about the professor, because professors tend to stress different material during the basic course. At a minimum, you should expect the basic course to cover structural issues, such as judicial review, separation of powers, and federalism, as well as rights issues, such as equal protection, due process, or freedom of speech. It is unrealistic to expect a 4 or even 5 credit basic course to provide comprehensive coverage. In some basic courses, for example, the First Amendment is left for advanced study.
3. Once you have completed the basic course, you should consider related courses that further explore structural or rights-based issues in constitutional law. Federal Courts focuses on the relationship between the federal judiciary and the legislative and executive branches. Advanced Administrative Law focuses on the role of the executive branch. Legislation focuses on the legislative process, including the interpretation of statutes. The Law of Democracy, often taught by Sam Issacharoff and Richard Pildes, is an advanced constitutional law course that focuses on the structure of democratic institutions and elections, including voting rights, campaign finance, districting, and related issues.
4. Once the basic course is behind you, you may also wish to study areas of substantive constitutional rights in more detail. An advanced substantive course is particularly important if the basic course ran out of time before dealing with the First Amendment, Equal Protection, or Due Process of Law. Because the advanced offerings vary from year to year, you are well advised to check the catalogue. You should also decide whether you want a traditional course or a seminar. The smaller setting of a seminar permits more interactive class discussion, as well as allowing you to write on a topic of interest. Geoffrey Stone’s course in the First Amendment provides in-depth study of free speech law. Amy Adler’s Art Law course includes substantial First Amendment material. Courses in Criminal Procedure include heavy doses of Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. Samuel Rascoff’s Counter-Terrorism course contains a substantial constitutional law component, focusing on the Commander-in-Chief power and the Fourth Amendment. David Golove’s course on Presidential Powers provides historical and current analysis on the constitutional powers of the President and Congress in areas like war powers, security, and international relations. Deborah Malamud offers a seminar on Affirmative Action. Burt Neuborne offers a seminar in Separation of Powers. Louis Kornhauser offers a seminar on Courts. Norman Dorsen offers a seminar in Judicial Biography, enabling the in-depth study of particular Justices.
4. Comparative constitutional law is an excellent way to deepen your understanding. In addition to the standard offerings, our global faculty often offers unique insights into comparative constitutional practice.
5. You may wish to explore constitutional theory. The Colloquium on Constitutional Theory, when offered, provides an excellent overview. Several of the other colloquia touch on areas of interest to constitutional law.