This course will examine fundamental questions about the nature, authority, and proper application of law. We will begin by considering the purpose and the authority of a legal system. What function is the law to fill? What does the ideal of the Rule of Law demand, and what is the role of a constitution in securing that ideal? Must laws meet certain moral criteria in order to carry genuine authority?
The second and third units will concentrate on questions concerning the application of law in the judicial system. Unit 2 will focus on judicial review – specifically, the methods by which courts should interpret the law and reason about the law in order to resolve disputes concerning law’s proper application in particular cases. What constitutes inappropriate judicial “activism?” What constitutes inappropriate passivism? We will consider several competing theories, such as those that urge adherence to lawmakers’ original intent, to text, to moral principles, popular will, and precedent.
Finally, Unit 3 will focus on juries. What, properly, is their role in the administration of justice? What are the reasons for having juries (as opposed to judges or other government officials) reach verdicts and determine sentences? How should juries be constituted? Is jury nullification ever a justifiable practice?
Grades will be determined on the basis of three exams, a paper, and a few brief written homework assignments.
Readings will be taken from:
Jeffrey Abramson, We the Jury
Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation
Possibly: John Arthur & William H. Shaw, Readings in the Philosophy of Law, 5th edition
Possibly: a few additional readings, either in a course packet, posted as pdfs, or available online