University at Buffalo
PSC 561: Constitutional Law
Monday 3:30 p.m. - 6:10 p.m.
110 Baldy & Zoom
Instructor: Abigail A. Matthews, J.D., Ph.D.
Office: Park Hall 516
Class Website: abbymatthews.weebly.com/psc561-fall2020
Course TA: Joshua Turner, email: email@example.com
This course addresses major aspects of American constitutional law within the broad topics of Judicial Power and Constitutional Authority, Powers of the National Government, Federalism, and Separation of Powers. The material is organized chronologically rather than topically. Each week we will discuss all four topics, proceeding through the history of the United States as the semester progresses. We will focus on the political and historical context in which Supreme Court constitutional law doctrine has developed as well as a thorough understanding of the doctrine itself.
There are two sections for this course: face-to-face and online. Together, both sections will meet “synchronously” (at the same time) on Mondays from 3:30 p.m. - 6:10 p.m. Beginning November 30th, class will be held synchronously online via Zoom.
Requirements and Evaluation
- All assignments, papers, and exams must be turned in on UBLearns. Please use 12-point font.
Class attendance, participation, and discussion leading (20%)
- Class participation is an essential part of this class and your attendance is very important. You are expected to make every effort to attend all class sessions and complete all the assigned reading before class. While your attendance and participation are critical components of this course, it is critical that you follow public health guidelines. Any student exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms should not come to campus to participate in coursework, and instead may join the class via Zoom.
- You will serve as a discussion leader three times during the semester, in which you will act as experts on the material. Your job in this role will be to guide the class conversation through key points, think critically about how the material relates to previously covered material, and prepare discussion questions. Discussion leaders MUST turn in some form of document at the start of class. The format is entirely up to you. It could be a list of discussion questions or it could be something like a handout that you give to the whole class. There will be more than one discussion leader for each week. Discussion leaders are encouraged to work together, but not required to do so. If you do work together in preparing for the class, you only need to turn in one printed document.
Writing an Essay Question (5%)
- On October 12 (at the beginning of class) you must submit a possible question for an essay exam question (related to the material from the class to date). I will compile all your questions and circulate them to the rest of the class.
Take-Home Essay Exam (25%)
- There will be one take-home essay exam the ninth week of class, due on October 28, 2020.
- You will have 3 hours to complete the exam, but you may choose when to take the exam anytime from October 26–October 28th. The exam will have one essay question, will be open note, open book, and will be derived from the previously covered class material. Collaboration is not permitted. Late exams will lose 5% per hour that they are late.
- The goal for the paper is to evaluate a case currently pending before the Supreme Court. The object is to apply your knowledge from the course to thoroughly analyze the case based on lower court opinions, briefs, and oral arguments. Your paper should lay out the possible options for how the Court might resolve the case, discuss which resolution is most likely, which reasons the Court is most likely to provide in its opinion, and which factors may be operating on the Court behind the scenes. The paper should be 20-25 pages in length and will be submitted. Appendix 2 in the textbook contains helpful information for researching in legal documents.
Late paper assignments will lose 10% per day (with the “day” clock beginning as soon as class begins).
- – Select Case: Due Week 8, 10/19, in class (ungraded)
- – Outline (or draft for comments): Due Week 11, 11/16, in class (5%)
- – Final Paper: Due Week 13, 12/3, in class (35%)
- – Class Presentation (15 min.): Week 15, 12/7 (10%)
Modiﬁcations for Undergraduate Seminar Participants
|Percent of Points||Letter Grade||Interpretation|
|≥ 92.5||A||High Distinction|
|≥ 89.5||A-||High Distinction|
|≥ 66.5||D+||Minimal Passing Grade|
|≥ 59.5||D||Minimal Passing Grade|
The following schedule is approximate; assignments may be adjusted during the course of the semester. Exam dates will not be changed unless absolutely necessary.
|Date||Week||Topic||Reading||Optional Undergrad Reading|
|Aug. 31||Week 1||Course Introduction||Kerr, “How to Read a Legal Opinion.”|
|Sept. 7||Week 2||Intro. & Colonial Era||Chs. 1-2|
|Sept. 14||Week 3||Founding Era||Ch. 3|
|Sept. 21||Week 4||Early National Era||Ch. 4||pp. 135-146|
|Sept. 28||Week 5||Jacksonian Era||Ch. 5||pp. 211-220|
|Oct. 5||Week 6||Secession to Reconstruction||Ch. 6||pp. 269-277|
|Oct. 12||Week 7||Republican Era||Ch. 7||pp. 368-373, 391-395|
|Oct. 26–28||Week 9||Essay Exam|
|Nov. 2||Week 10||New Deal & Great Society||Ch. 8||pp. 415-425, 463-470|
|Nov. 9||Week 11||Liberalism Divided||Ch. 9|
|Nov. 16||Week 12||Reagan Era||Ch. 10|
|Nov. 23||Week 13||Contemporary Era||pp. 585-633|
|Class is on Zoom beginning Nov. 30|
|Nov. 30||Week 14||Contemporary Era||pp. 633-693|
|Dec. 7||Week 15||Presentations|
Learning During a Pandemic
Life absolutely sucks right now. None of us is really okay. We’re all just pretending. You most likely know people who have lost their jobs, have tested positive for COVID-19, have been hospitalized, or perhaps have even died. You all have increased (or possibly decreased) work responsibilities and increased family care responsibilities—you might be caring for extra people (young and/or old!) right now, and you are likely facing uncertain job prospects (or have been laid off!). I’m fully committed to making sure that you learn everything you were hoping to learn from this class! I will make whatever accommodations I can to help you, do well on your paper, and learn and understand the class material. Under ordinary conditions, I am ﬂexible and lenient with grading and course expectations when students face difficult challenges. Under pandemic conditions, that ﬂexibility and leniency is intensiﬁed. If you tell me you’re having trouble, I will not judge you or think less of you. I hope you’ll extend me the same grace. You never owe me personal information about your health (mental or physical). You are always welcome to talk to me about things that you’re going through, though. If I can’t help you, I usually know somebody who can. If you need extra help, or if you need more time with something, or if you feel like you’re behind or not understanding everything, do not suffer in silence! Talk to me! I will work with you. I promise. Please sign up for a time to meet with me during student hours at https://calendly.com/profmatthews. I’m also available through e-mail. I want you to learn lots of things from this class, but I primarily want you to stay healthy, balanced, and grounded.
Facial coverings are required during all in-person class meetings to promote the health and safety of all university members.
Academic integrity is a fundamental university value. Through the honest completion of academic work, students sustain the integrity of the university and of themselves while facilitating the university's imperative for the transmission of knowledge and culture based upon the generation of new and innovative ideas. For more information, please refer to the Graduate Academic Integrity policy.
If you require classroom or testing accommodations due to a disability, please contact Accessibility Resources, located at 25 Capen Hall. AR can be reached by phone at (716) 645-2608 or by email at stu-accessibility@buﬀalo.edu. Please inform me as soon as possible about your needs so that we can coordinate your accommodations.
Counseling Services & Mental Health
As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning or reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. These might include strained relation ships, anxiety, high levels of stress, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, health concerns, or unwanted sexual experiences. Counseling, Health Services, and Health Promotion are here to help with these or other concerns. You learn can more about these programs and services by contacting:
UB is committed to providing a safe learning environment free of all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalk ing. If you have experienced gender-based violence (intimate partner violence, attempted or completed sexual assault, harassment, coercion, stalking, etc.), UB has resources to help. This includes academic accommodations, health and counseling services, housing accommodations, helping with legal protective orders, and assistance with reporting the incident to police or other UB officials if you so choose. Please contact UB’s Title IX Coordinator at 716-645-2266 for more information. For conﬁdential assistance, you may also contact a Crisis Services Campus Advocate at 716-796-4399.