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Political Theories of the Rule of Law (309-0-20)


Jacqueline Stevens
Scott Hall, Rm 304

Meeting Info

Scott Hall 107 Burdick Room: Tues 9:00AM - 11:50AM

Overview of class

(Subject to change)

The phrase "rule of law" conveys a range of expectations we have of government and each other. Is the rule of law a meaningful aspiration for a legal system that is fair and ensures everyone, including government officials are equally accountable? Or is the phrase a cynical ruse on behalf of the powerful to control wealth, territory, and populations? This course will explore the origins of the rule of law in European political thought and compare selected theorists' descriptions of the relation between law and politics. The course will focus substantively on the use of state violence and civil penalties in contexts of war, families, and corporations, including the university. The jurisprudence of U.S. statutory interpretation will be explored through analysis of debates about the implementation of national security and sexual harassment policies. The theoretical frameworks of Walter Benjamin, Friedrich Hayek, Franz Kafka, Carl Schmitt, Hans Kelsen, H.L.A. Hart, Lon Fuller, Jacques Derrida, Catherine MacKinnon, Max Weber, and Janet Halley will be compared for their usefulness in understanding the interpretation of contemporary laws and imagining alternatives.

This class introduces students to the primary texts, theories, and techniques necessary for grasping the rule of law in the United States today. The objective is to improve basic legal literacy in the context of larger questions of political and legal theory. Skills student learn include legal research using online databases, including LexisUni, and Proquest Congressional research databases, as well as how to understand the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations. Students learn these skills in the context of reflecting on larger principles of statutory interpretation -- does a law mean what the plain text says, what Congress "intends," or a "purpose" imputed to law by judges?

Students must be prepared to discuss readings and respond to instructor queries during class meetings. Mandatory first class attendance.

Please note that there are no formal prerequisites, but students who have not had previous classes in political theory may find this class challenging. POLI_SCI 201 or equivalent would be helpful.

Registration Requirements

Attendance at first class required
Recommended pre-requisite: POLI_SCI 201

Evaluation Method

Your grade will be based on assessments of one-page weekly papers analyzing a citation of your choice from the assigned texts; a class presentation; participation; and a final paper.

Class Materials (Required)

Franz Kafka, The Trial. ISBN: 978-0805209990

Class Attributes

Ethics & Values Distro Area