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Department of Justice, Law & Criminology

Constitutional Studies

One of our department’s core interests is the study of constitutionalism, which is concerned with the fundamental laws and principles by which political systems are defined and governed. This is a broad field of research reflecting the teaching and research interests of our entire faculty. At the most basic level, modern constitutions grant power and set boundaries to it. In doing so, they delineate the structures and procedures of governance through which power is exercised and held accountable. They also prescribe the legal framework for the organization of the political process. The study of constitutions requires an investigation of the sources of legal authority and political legitimacy, examining when and why we are to obey the law. It is also concerned with how best to identify, articulate, and protect the rights of individuals.

Legal History

Every major public policy question today involves legal issues with distinct histories behind them. Conflicts over these questions then inevitably trigger debates over rival interpretations not only about how these histories should be understood, but also about the lessons we should draw from them in meeting the challenges ahead. The historical study of law and constitutionalism offers students a uniquely rich and diverse curriculum, emphasizing how legal ideas, rules, and principles are created, deployed, contested, and obscured. All of the great social and political movements of human civilization have had a profound legal dimension to them. Examining these legal dimensions illuminates how these movements have changed our world, how law is enmeshed in cultural, political, and social change, and how law can be most effectively used to advance reform today. The study of the history and theory of law is recognized as essential to the practice of the legal discipline: the principal doctrine of the common law system found in much of the United States is stare decisis (or the rule of precedent), which requires adherence to legal principles derived from custom, tradition, and past cases. This necessitates an understanding of legal history by practitioners and scholars alike. Our department offers a variety of courses focused on legal history and jurisprudence, as well as many courses that bring a historical and philosophical perspective to their subject matter.

What our graduates do

Students who graduate from our department with a concentration in legal history and jurisprudence have gone on to law school, public policy programs, filmmaking, advocacy, public law careers, teaching, and various forms of government service. They have also been successful competing for post-graduate fellowships such as the Fulbright and the Truman.

Our Law and Society majors have or are attending Harvard, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown law schools to name a few. They have joined the Peace Corps, Teach for America, and AmeriCorps. They are employed in research firms, are members of congressional staffs, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations. Some are pursuing graduate programs leading to the masters and PhD in Justice, Law and Criminology. Others are in programs leading to PhD’s in education at Columbia and New York University. Some have taken their strong sense of social justice and entered programs in social work leading them to careers helping the under-represented populations to have access to legal resources for problem solving and social redress. A few have been admitted to medical schools.

Courses

Legal History


Undergraduate

110 Western Legal Tradition
202 History of International Thought & Law
225 American Legal Culture
245 Cities & Crime (urban history)
411 Topics in Legal History
496 Legal History Seminar (cross listed as HIST-496)

Graduate

601 Law & Social Sciences
606 Legal History Seminar (cross listed as HIST-696)
615 Law & Human Rights
638 Race & Justice in America
648 Law & Religion
650 Constitutionalism in Historical Perspective

Constitutionalism


Undergraduate

110 Western Legal Tradition
307 Justice, Law & the Constitution
402 Comparative Systems of Law and Justice

Graduate

603 Rule of Law & Due Process
608 Constitution and Criminal Procedure
648 Law & Religion
650 Constitutionalism in Historical Perspective