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The American Constitution

Full Name

Lara Schwartz

Course Name

The American Constitution (UCL)

Course Number

SPA 220

Describe your course. What will the students be studying and learning?

Our Constitution is a blueprint for governing that provides some clear technical specifications. For example: elections for members of the House of Representatives take place every two years; the President must be at least 35 years of age; Supreme Court judges will never suffer a pay cut. Or is it a dynamic designation, like “fortissimo?” We are protected from “unreasonable” searches and seizures; entitled to “due” process; and must not be subject to “cruel and unusual” punishments. But what do those terms mean? How should courts decide? Or is it a stage direction, like “enter, stage left?” We can all agree that if the actor enters on the right side of the stage, she has not followed the direction. But may she skip onto the stage? What if there is a solid brick wall at stage left? Americans have argued about what our Constitution means, what it does, and who gets to decide since before the ink on the document had dried. In this course, we will study our constitution much the way law students do: reading judicial opinions, considering and debating hypothetical fact patterns, and using precedent to answer legal questions.

Why would a first-year student want to take this course? Discuss its uniqueness as part of the University College, your teaching style, and any special opportunities the students may have.

To quote Dr. Seuss: “If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.” We have fun in SPA 220. Like the courts, we use precedent, rules, and logic to answer difficult questions. Like the justices themselves, we do so with humor, passion, and creativity. Students will present an appellate oral argument before a panel of outside attorneys. Many American Constitution students say that moot court was the highlight of their semester. By taking this course in University College, students get a rich, multi-dimensional experience. We meet with prominent attorneys, visit courts, and learn valuable skills such as negotiation, teaching, and oral argument in a small group.

What do you like best about teaching first-year students?

Wow. I typed and erased this answer seven times before arriving at the following: I've been a judicial clerk, a speechwriter, a legal director at a major civil rights organization, a lobbyist, and a litigator but I've never enjoyed any job as much as teaching first-year students at AU. You are interesting, motivated people and I enjoy being a part of your transition to college scholarship.

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