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Introduction to Law in the Political Arena (230-0-20)


Traci R Burch
601 University Pl # 202
Office Hours:

Meeting Info

Harris Hall L07: Tues, Thurs 9:30AM - 10:50AM

Overview of class

This class examines the nature and functioning of the legal system. It is a large lecture course aimed at students with little familiarity with courts and the legal system. It satisfies distributional requirements for majors in many schools and serves as a gateway to further law-related courses in political science. Some of the topics it covers include: what is the law, and why people obey it; the relationship between law and social change; crime, the police, and the prison crisis in America; how people get a lawyer and how lawyers make a living; civil justice and the litigation explosion; courts, judges, politics and corruption; Supreme Court decision making; and legal strategies for making change.

Learning Objectives

a) To learn basic process by which courts decide civil and criminal cases by participating in a mock trial as a lawyer, witness, or juror. Students should be able, in section, to discuss the relationship between process and outcome and analyze assumptions in the legal system with respect to human capacity and behavior. Discuss important concepts such as bias and discrimination and how they can arise from institutional factors as well as bureaucratic discretion. b) Learn basic process of making, enforcing, and interpreting the law by legislatures, executives, and courts. Students should know the names and roles of actors in the legal system, from judges, to mayors, to prosecutors, to sheriffs, to police. c) The students should be able to discuss important American politics concepts such as democratic accountability (whether citizens are able to hold legal actors accountable for their behavior and whether citizens should have this power), the rule of law (and its importance for legitimacy and obedience), and rational choice (which structures the behavior of actors in the system such as judges, members of congress, and voters). d) The course is designed to give students with a general interest in law or criminal justice a feel for how political scientists study these topics.

Teaching Method

Lecture and discussion sections

Evaluation Method

Participation in discussion section, midterm exam, and final exams

Class Materials (Required)

Baum, Lawrence. American Courts, 7th edition. Wadsworth Cengage, 2012. ISBN: 978-0495916376

Class Attributes

Social & Behavioral Sciences Distro Area

Associated Classes

DIS - University Hall 412: Thurs 11:00AM - 11:50AM

DIS - University Hall 218: Thurs 11:00AM - 11:50AM

DIS - University Hall 112: Thurs 5:00PM - 5:50PM

DIS - University Hall 418: Thurs 5:00PM - 5:50PM

DIS - 555 Clark 230: Fri 10:00AM - 10:50AM

DIS - Locy Hall 303: Fri 10:00AM - 10:50AM