School of Arts and Sciences




 Course Number

POL 335-A

Course Title

  American Constitutional Law I

 Fall Semester


 Spring Semester


Summer Semester

Credit Hours


Name of Instructor

 William Miller

Meeting Day, Time, and Room Number
 Tuesdays-Fridays, 2:00 to 3:15, Rowley G206

Final Exam Day, Time, and Room Number

 December 12th, 3:00pm, Rowley G206

Office Hours, Location, Phone                              Always email ahead of time!

 Tuesdays and Fridays, 12:00 to 2:00pm; Wednesdays by appointment; Ireton G107; 703-284-1687

 E-mail and Web Site Email is always the best way to reach me! All announcements and assignments are posted on this web site, never on Canvas.

Course Description

The course is an introduction to the federal judiciary in American government and a survey of the principal decisions of constitutional law that have influenced the development of the American polity.




By accepting this syllabus, you pledge to uphold the principles of Academic Integrity expressed by the Marymount University Community. You agree to observe these principles yourself and to defend them against abuse by others. Items submitted for this course may be submitted to for analysis.


For the benefit of current and future students, work in this course may be used for educational critique, demonstrations, samples, presentations, and verification.  Outside of these uses, work shall not be sold, copied, broadcast, or distributed for profit without student consent. 

Please address any special challenges or needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester. Students seeking accommodations for a disability must complete the required steps for obtaining a Faculty Contact Sheet from the Office of Student Access Services (SAS). Students are then responsible for meeting with their instructors at the beginning of the semester to review and sign the Faculty Contact Sheet and develop a specific plan for providing the accommodations listed. Accommodations cannot be granted to students who fail to follow this process. Appointments with the SAS director can be scheduled through the Starfish "Success Network" tab in Canvas. For more information, check the SAS website, e-mail, or call 703-284-1538 to reach the SAS director or an academic support coordinator.


When students are absent due to a crisis situation or unexpected, serious illness and unable to contact their individual instructors directly, the Division of Student Affairs can send out an Emergency Notification. To initiate an Emergency Notification, students should contact the Division of Student Affairs 703-284-1615 or Emergency Notifications are NOT appropriate for non-emergency situations (e.g. car problems, planned absences, minor illnesses, or a past absence); are NOT a request or mandate to excuse an absence, which is at the sole discretion of the instructor; and are NOT a requirement for student absences. If a student contacts instructors about an emergency situation directly, it is not necessary to involve the Division of Student Affairs as arrangements are made to resolve the absence.

For non-emergency absences, students should inform their instructors directly. 


Copies of your work in this course including copies of any submitted papers and your portfolios may be kept on file for institutional research, assessment and accreditation purposes. All work used for these purposes will be submitted confidentially. 


Weather and Emergency closings are announced on Marymount’s web site:, through MUAlerts, area radio stations, and TV stations. You may also call the Weather and Emergency Hotline at (703) 526-6888 for current status. Unless otherwise advised by local media or by official bulletins listed above, students are expected to report for class as near normal time as possible on days when weather conditions are adverse. Decisions as to inclement closing or delayed opening are not generally made before 6:00 AM and by 3:00 PM for evening classes of the working day. Emergency closing could occur at any time making MUAlerts the most timely announcement mechanism. Students are expected to attend class if the University is not officially closed. If the University is closed, course content and assignments will still be covered as directed by the course instructor. Please look for communication from course instructor (e.g., Canvas) for information on course work during periods in which the University is closed.


The course is an introduction to the federal judiciary in American government and a survey of the principal decisions of constitutional law that have influenced the development of the American polity. More specifically, the course will:

(1) introduce students to the American court and legal systems and, in particular, to the role of the Supreme Court in the American scheme of government, and

(2) study court opinions that have interpreted the provisions of the United States Constitution that allocate power among the three branches of the federal government and between the federal and state governments.


2.  COURSE OBJECTIVES:  Upon successful completion of this course students will be expected:


       1.   to be able to demonstrate orally and in written tests a basic understanding of the English roots, the structure, and the functions of the American legal systems as they developed over the past two centuries;

2.   to demonstrate orally and in written tests familiarity with the broad outlines of the legal process as it applies to the federal courts today;

3.   to be able to identify, locate, and cite authoritative legal sources;

4.   to be able to reason critically about the issues, the holdings, and the rationales of court decisions and to practice the writing and oral presentation of legal arguments;

5.   to demonstrate orally and in written tests familiarity with the doctrine of separation of powers and the principal constitutional powers of the Congress, the President, and the federal judiciary; and,

6.   to demonstrate orally and in written tests familiarity with the principle of American federalism and with the principal Supreme Court opinions interpreting (1) the powers, and in particular the Commerce Clause power, assigned by the Constitution to the national government and (2) the police power of the states.




Student briefing and discussion of court opinions and lectures by the instructor.



          Friday, September 29, 2017, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record.

        Friday, November 3, 2017, is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of W.


The final grade will be based upon three examinations and class participation, as follows:

20% = Lower mid-term exam grade

30% = Higher mid-term exam grade

30% = Final exam grade

20% = Class assignments (which include answering questions in class and participating in class discussions), quizzes, briefs, written assignments

The usual scale of 90-100%=A, 80-89%=B, 70-79%=C, 60-69%=D, and 59% and below=F will be used for all graded work.



Attendance: Beginning with the second week of classes, students are allowed a total of nine absences, excused and/or unexcused. Students who miss ten or more classes for any reason whatever will receive an “F” in the course.   

Each unexcused absence beyond three—up to the absolute limit of nine—will result in a lowering of the final grade by one percentage point. To be excused, an absence must be documented, unless I indicate otherwise. Excused absences are typically medical-, legal-, or job-related excuses. Acceptable documentation typically consists of a statement or form on official stationery (1) signed by a third party (doctor, police, judge, supervisor—not a parent or family member!) that (2) refers specifically to the day of absence from class and (3) the reason for the absence.


Occasionally coming to class late—even really late once or twice—is not considered an absence. Coming to class without hard copies of the text for the day, leaving the classroom for most of the class-time, or leaving class early without the prior permission of the instructor, however, is considered an unexcused absence.


Merely informing me ahead of time that you will be absent from class does not mean I excuse the absence, though I appreciate your courtesy. I will not excuse your absence because you are simply not feeling well or because you choose to do something worthwhile other than come to class even if you inform me ahead of time. If you are coughing and sneezing and coming down with a cold or the flu, and you don't want to spread your virus to your classmates, your fellow students and I salute you! Staying home may be the right thing to do, but it is not an excused absence. You all get three unexcused absences to use as you see fit, and it is your decision to use them to stay home when you don't feel well or want to attend some other event or need to prepare for another class instead of going to my class. Use them for good reasons: that's what they are for.


The limit of nine total absences recognizes that excessive excused absences may also be a problem. You should discuss such situations with me well before the last month of the semester. This is not a distance learning class. Any absence prevents you from participating in the class, but if your job or an illness keeps you away from class, it will significantly affect the class participation component of your grade and may be a good reason to drop the course and take it another time. All of us find ourselves in these situations from time to time and have to deal with them appropriately. You also have an obligation to report this to a University office (see the section titled “Attendance” in the University Catalogue).


When in doubt about any of these policies, please come and talk to me. They have been formulated with our substantial commuter and working student population in mind and are intended to be fair to everyone. You should also review the University's policies on absenteeism in the section titled “Attendance” in the University Catalogue.


Make-up Exams: The same basic rules about excused absences apply to taking mid-terms. My policy of giving makeup exams on the same day as the final does NOT mean that you may choose to take the mid-term exam on that day rather than on the regularly scheduled day: it is not an alternative test date. To be eligible for a makeup, you must qualify for an excused absence, and this you should do a reasonable time before the day of the mid-term, if that is at all possible. You may be excused from taking a mid-term if you are certifiably sick or your job prevents you from attending class or you have a legal or employment emergency on the day of the test. If one of these applies, and I am informed in a reasonable time before the exam, and you have written documentation to support your request, you may take the exam on the same day as the final exam. If none of these reasons apply, you may not take the exam at another time, and you will get a zero for the exam. Travel plans will never excuse an absence. Parental or family notes do not constitute proper documentation. If you are late for the exam because of events outside of your control, let me know immediately or as soon as possible that day, and I will let you take the exam later that same day if possible.



This schedule is approximate and subject to revisions, but I will try to keep the exam dates the same as listed below. The assignments will be from this web site, from the Primer on American Courts, from the cases on the “Constitutional Law Case List” link, and from handouts.


Week I (8/29-9/1) Tuesday: Introduction to course; outline of a Supreme Court opinion; opinions from the 2016 term

Week II (9/5-8) History of Common Law Courts; analyzing and briefing cases

Week III (9/12-15) History of Common Law Courts and Jurisdiction; cases on jurisdiction

Week IV (9/19-22) Jurisdiction; cases on jurisdiction and justiciability

Week V (9/26-29) Mid-term—Tuesday; Litigation Process


Friday, September 29, 2017, is the last day to withdraw from a class without academic record.


Week VI (10/3-6) Litigation Process cases

Week VII (10/13) Litigation Process cases

Week VIII (10/17-20) Trial and Appellate procedure; cases

Week IX (10/24-27) Trial and Appellate courts; cases

Week X (10/31-11/3) Analyzing cases; Mid-term—Friday


Friday, November 3, 2017, is the last day to withdraw from a class with a grade of “W”.


Week XI (11/7-10) Cases on National Government Powers

Week XII (11/14-17) Cases on Treaties and Executive Powers

Week XIII (11/21) Cases on the Fourteenth amendment

Week XIV (11/28-12/1) Cases on the Commerce Clause

Week XV (12/5-8) Cases on the Dormant Commerce Clause


The final exam will be given only at the date and time prescribed by the University Final Exam Schedule: Tuesday, December 12th, 3:00pm. All mid-term exam make-ups will be given only on the same day before or after the final exam. If this final exam time conflicts with another final exam on your schedule, talk with me immediately. Make your travel plans accordingly!



6.  REQUIRED TEXT       

William Miller. A Primer on American Courts. Routledge, 2005.




For the benefit of the class and your classmates, the following rules regarding electronic devices also apply to this course:

1.     Turn your cell phones off during the class. If you are expecting an important call, put your phone on “Vibrate,” sit near the door, and, when the call comes, answer it outside the classroom.

2.     It follows from the foregoing rule, but it must be separately stated: no talking and no texting on cell phones during class. If you do not follow this rule, I will publicly ask you to leave the room for the remainder of the class and will do my best to have you removed from the course for the rest of the semester.

3.     No open lap-top or other computers are allowed in class without my prior permission. Devices such as tablets, Ipads, Kindles, and Nooks that lie flat on the desk and on to which the readings can be loaded are permitted if approved by me, but hard copies of the readings are better. You can mark them up and take notes on them in class.

4. Be sure to check your Marymount email address regularly! This is Marymount’s and my principal way of contacting you with important information. Perhaps you rely mostly on Yahoo, gmail, or some other provider, but check your mail daily to make sure you do not miss school information.


These rules are necessary to foster a suitable learning environment in the classroom during class. There are enough distractions with lawnmowers, air conditioners, and other outside forces to combat during lectures and discussions