Why impose a course on constitutional law on our students?
SLevinson at law.utexas.edu
Mon Jul 9 15:48:57 PDT 2007
I presume that I'm not alone in being interested in the syllabus of the new required course.
From: Nelson Lund [mailto:nlund at gmu.edu]
Sent: Mon 7/9/2007 4:20 PM
To: conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
Cc: DavidEBernstein at aol.com; Sanford Levinson
Subject: Re: Why impose a course on constitutional law on our students?
Consistently, perhaps, with the spirit of the comments from both David Bernstein and Professor Levinson, George Mason recently created a new required course on the Constitution, which is a prerequisite to courses about constitutional law. Simultaneously, the previous requirement that students take Constitutional Law II (equal protection and substantive due process) was eliminated.
DavidEBernstein at aol.com wrote:
I always tell my students that when they are sworn in to the bar they will take an oath to uphold the Constitution, they should have some idea of what they are swearing to uphold and some theory as to what it means, and that they shouldn't confuse the latest pronouncement of five Justices with "the Constitution."
In a message dated 7/9/2007 3:56:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time, SLevinson at law.utexas.edu writes:
This comes under the category of shameless self-promotion. Our
colleague Malla Pollack has founded a new (online) law review, the
American Justice L. Rev., and the first issue includes a piece of mine,
"REFLECTIONS ON THE ROLE OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW IN THE LAW SCHOOL
CURRICULUM." It can be found at
To make a longish story short, I argue that there's no good reason to
require constitutional law (as is done at most law schools, save for the
University of Chicago) in terms, e.g., of preparing students for the
bar--we don't teach lots of subjects that are covered on the bar--or
preparing students to practice law--most of our students will never have
a constitutional law case in their entire careers, though they are
likely to have lots of cases in subjects that we don't require, e.g.,
family law. So, if there is a justification for requiring
constitutional law, as I think there is, it is to prepare them to be
good citizens and civic leaders. But it should be obvious that
preparation for that role does not require that our students learn the
latest three- and four-part tests or most other contemporary doctrine.
Not surprisingly, I argue that it does require an historical overview of
American constitutional development (which can be taught, normatively,
as a story either of decline or progress, or neutrally as the way that
the Constitution, for better or worse, has actually developed over the
past 220 years) and paying far more attention that we now pay to what I
have come to call the "hard-wired Constitution." Indeed, not to put too
fine a point on it, I think that the legal academy is criminally
negligent in failing to teach our students about what are in fact the
most important parts of the Constitution (which, of course, are never
litigated and most of which raise few questions of "interpretation" the
way legal academics define such questions).
Obviously, I would be delighted to read any responses, on- or off-line,
to my arguments, which are, just as obviously, meant to stir up a debate
(and not only to promote sales of my book and adoption of our casebook
See what's free at AOL.com <http://www.aol.com/?ncid=AOLAOF00020000000503> .
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