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An Introduction to American Constitutional Law

Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Masters Program, Heidelberg University
WS 2006-2007

Less, Steven, Dr. iur., J.D. (Seton hall), Esq.

The oldest written national constitution in the world – presently almost 220 years old – has been amended only 27 times. It owes its enduring relevance to continued interpretation – by the courts, by the national and state governments, by local governments, by administrative agencies, by the media and by private individuals. There is no clash of interests or values in American society which does not lend itself to formulation in constitutional terms and for which constitutional law does not provide a fertile context for analysis and resolution or for further consideration of the requirements of justice. This survey course aims at exposing students to American constitutional law's history, structure, processes, major principles and concepts, analytical methods and interpretive approaches. The intention is to provide an "integrated understanding" of the American constitutional system while introducing the main substantive areas of the law involved: Federal court jurisdiction and judicial review; executive power and the separation of powers; congressional power and federalism; equal protection and affirmative action; substantive due process and privacy; free speech; and freedom of religion. Students will be assigned reading from the course textbook (Kaplin) as well as excerpts of court opinions which they are expected to be able to discuss actively during the lecture classes. In addition, a weekly tutorial will provide an opportunity for closer examination and more thorough discussion of the cases and issues mentioned during the lectures.