Course: POLI 314 – 001 (CRN: 27310): U.S. Constitutional Law
Semester: Spring 2014
Days/Time: Tuesday & Thursday, 9:30 – 10:45 a.m.
Location: Room 2129, Harris Hall
Instructor: Dr. John M. Aughenbaugh (John or Aughie work just fine)
Office: Room 304, 1001 Grove Avenue (Moseley House)
Phone: 804-828-8098 (office)
E-mail: [email protected]
(best way to contact me)
Office Hours: Mondays and Fridays, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m..; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. – Noon;
or by appointment.
This course provides an opportunity to study major provisions of the United State Constitution as
interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. This course covers the following specific topics: powers of the
national government; federalism; judicial review; and the powers of the political branches (the President and
the Congress) of the federal government. Throughout, we will explore the dynamics of the three federal
branches interacting with each other and them interacting with the states – as called for in the Constitution
and as transpired throughout the country’s history.
Moreover, instead of viewing the Constitution as static document, an out-dated relic of the country’s
past, the course will examine an assumption made by many scholars that the U.S. Constitution provides a
framework for a discussion that continues today – about what should be valued, how the government may act
in reality, how the Constitution limits and empowers the government at the same time, etc. Please note that
this course will not address the following topics: freedoms of speech, press, and religion; due process;
equal protection under the law; etc. Those topics are covered in the constitutional law course
concerning civil rights and liberties.
• Knowledge of the structure and inter-connectedness of the branches of the federal government
and all levels of government in the U.S.;
• Understanding of the various ways the Constitution may be interpreted and how that affects case
• Recognition of the various political, social, and historical contexts in which cases are decided by
the Supreme Court (i.e. U.S. constitutional law does not exist in a vacuum);
• Development of important academic and professional skills, including: reading and briefing court
cases; speaking and writing clearly about the Constitution within the contexts mentioned above;
and learning to how speak and write critically about the law.
• Epstein and Walker. 2014. Constitutional Law for a Changing America: Institutional Power and
Constraints. 8 Edition. Volume 1. (Congressional Quarterly: Thousand Oaks, CA). Paperback.
This book should be in the University Bookstore, found on the publisher’s website, or through
various on-line vendors. Herein referred to Epstein.
• Additional assigned readings may be handed out in class or posted on Blackboard. These
additional readings should be consumed as thoroughly as the textbook readings and may be the
subject of class discussions, exams, or the term paper.
Grades will be determined through the following: 2
Assignment Percentage of Final Course Points
Class participation 25% 50
Mid-term examination 25% 50
Final examination 25% 50
Research paper 25% 50
Total Points: 200
• The following scale strictly determines final grades in the course:
A= 180 – 200 points B= 160 – 179.5 points
C= 140 – 159.5 points D= 120 – 139.5 points
F= 119.5 points & below
You should NOT assume the following:
• That by doing the assigned readings and attending class that you deserve a particular grade in
this course – doing the above is the bare minimum of what is expected of each student;
• Just because one has a certain grade point average or needs a certain grade in the course to
achieve a particular grade point average has no bearing on the instructor’s evaluations of a
student’s work or what final course grade is determined. All grades will be determined by
the quality of the work submitted to the instructor; and
• That I will round up to a higher grade. For example, one may earn 179.5 points in the course
and still not earn an “A” grade in the course. As VCU does not allow instructors to give +/-
grades, the above grading scale will be strictly applied.
If a student is to miss a class session, he or she should contact the instructor before that specific
class session, and get the notes from a classmate (or see the instructor’s lecture notes, which are posted on
Blackboard after each class session). If a student misses more than 3 class sessions, the student will
be dropped from the class, unless the student can convince the instructor otherwise. This “you miss
too many class sessions and you get dropped” policy reflects the fact that most upper level POLI courses
at VCU are at a premium
As this is an upper level undergraduate seminar, participation is expected. Students should read
rigorously the assigned readings and be prepared to discuss them in class. To encourage the
aforementioned, each student will be given a class participation grade (see the grading scale above).
Merely showing up to class every day does NOT constitute “A” grade participation – in fact, it is the
definition of “C” grade participation. A student has to answer questions, demonstrate an ability to make
connections to other readings, and occasionally, provide some cogent analysis of the readings to earn an
excellent participation grade. If a given student usually does not participate in his/her classes, she/he
needs to visit with the course instructor so we can remedy this behavior per POLI 314.
If the collective’s participation is lacking in a given class session, the instructor reserves the
authority to dismiss the class session on the assumption that the enrolled students already know the
material and will not benefit from discussing the assigned material with their peers.
Additionally, one should note both exams will ask that students demonstrate comprehension of
both the readings and the class discussions. Further, a student’s ability to do well on the paper and the
final exam will be based, in part, on his/her ability to synthesize a spectrum of material and provide
analysis of said material. It has been the experience of your predecessors that not attending or
participating in class sessions makes achievement of synthesis nearly impossible 3
The mid-term exam will occur in class (see course timeline below), and will be comprised of two
parts. With part one, short answer questions, the emphasis is on the student being able to demonstrate
knowledge of the essential legal concepts and why a concept is important for understanding the
development of U.S. constitutional law. Or, students will have to state a Court case ruling and explain
why it is significant to U.S. constitutional law. With the second part of the mid-term exam, an essay
question, students will be asked to explain the evolution of a topic within U.S. constitutional or
summarize the material that was covered in the readings and class discussions and provide an analysis of
said topic/material. Further information regarding the mid-term exam will be distributed on Blackboard
one week prior to the exam date.
Students who are absent when a mid-term exam is given will receive a 0 grade, unless they either
have: 1. Doctor’s written excuse; 2. University written excuse saying he/she was participating in a
University related event; 3. Court appointments (documented by a court order, summons, or similar
document); or 4. Death in family (documented by funeral notice, a newspaper obituary, or similar
documentation). Legitimate excuses do not include a desire to attend a relative’s birthday party, to spend
a little more time at home, or to recover from a hard night/weekend of carousing. When in doubt, please
contact the instructor in advance – do not assume the instructor will grant a make-up. If any of the
above excuses is provided in hard copy format, then a make-up exam (all make-up exams are essay, no
short answer, covering the same material as the scheduled exam) will be given.
Regarding the final exam, it will be take-home and is due as an e-mail attachment to the course
instructor (see course timeline below). In one section of the final exam, students will be asked to write
one essay (out of a list of 3 – 4 questions) that emphasize students demonstrating their knowledge of a
topic covered in the second half of the course. In the second section of the final, students will be asked to
write one essay (out of a list of 3 – 4 questions) demonstrating an ability to synthesize the course material
throughout the semester. No late final exams will be accepted – no exceptions will be granted.
The term paper will be a short (8 – 10 pages) analytical piece designed to have students show
their ability to take a particular constitutional topic, summarize the relevant case law and/or academic
literature, and then, provide an analysis of said topic. See course timeline for when paper topic
instructions are distributed, when thesis statement and initial bibliographies, and when final draft of paper
are due. No late term papers will be accepted.
Classroom conduct: Students are expected to act and speak in a civil and courteous manner
toward all students and the instructor. The instructor hopes that disruptive behavior (such as, but not
limited to, talking to others during class, arriving late, and ringing cell phones) does not become an issue.
If such behavior does manifest itself, remedial actions will be taken to address the situation, includin