The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Public Law

A wooden gavel on a white marble backdrop. Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash.

PUBLIC LAW is the study of legal institutions and law from the perspective of political science. Since politics is about the authoritative allocation of values, law and legal institutions are central to politics. The study of law and politics in this country has largely centered on the American experience. But the extraordinary regime changes occurring throughout the world over the last several decades have led to a renewed interest in the old subject of comparative law and constitutionalism. This in turn has led to a discernible upsurge in research and teaching in areas of law that involve comparative and international subject matters. It has also enriched the study of American legal phenomena, giving additional meaning to the old Tom Waits line that “I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long.” The Public Law program at Texas is committed to the multiple areas of substantive interest that constitute the field today, as well as the methodological diversity that characterizes the discipline of Political Science. Conceiving the program in global terms means that students will be expected to have some familiarity with judicial processes and constitutional experiences beyond American shores, but under the global umbrella they are free to pursue their particular interests in American and comparative judicial behavior, legal philosophy or any other area of concern that is part of the traditional public law curriculum. What is important is that there be a deep understanding and appreciation of the relationship between these specific pursuits and the larger universe of law and politics. So, for example, American constitutional law and theory can be studied in depth and with a concentration on its distinctive features, while also as a case study in the worldwide domain of public law experience. However one chooses to structure an academic program, the strong and close collaborative relationship between the Department of Government and the School of Law offers students an opportunity to explore these questions with the benefit of a rich and wide array of intellectual resources.


Students who opt for Public Law as either their first or second field must take at least four courses, including the core course (GOV 834N Core Readings in Public Law). The focus and content of the core course will vary with the particular instructor responsible for the course, but the topics and readings covered will consider work that is central to the field of public law. In addition to taking the core course, students must demonstrate competency in Constitutional Law. For those without adequate background in the subject (e.g., undergraduate training) it may be necessary to enroll in one of the Constitutional Law classes offered in the law school or in the Department. As for additional courses, students are encouraged to select offerings that will engage their specific interests as well as expose them to the breath and scope of the field.

Preparation for Preliminary Examinations

Where possible, students are encouraged to take their preliminary examinations at the end of the second year. As part of the preparation students will receive the Public Law Reading List, which includes a brief list of general works that one is expected to have read, as well as more extensive lists -- for example, Judicial Politics, Constitutional Theory, Comparative Law and Constitutionalism, American Constitutional Development, Legal Philosophy and Jurisprudence -- from which one must select two in anticipation of the examination. Questions on the Prelims will include a general question that every student must answer, a question in constitutional law, and questions that are specific to a student’s chosen areas of interest.


Several other faculty members have interests in public law and teach courses that may be of interest.

Listing of Graduate Courses

  • Core Readings in Public Law*
  • Comparative Judicial Politics
  • Comparative Constitutionalism
  • Constitutional Change in Comparative Perspective
  • Constitutional Design
  • Constitutional Theory
  • Constitutional Conflict
  • Emergency Power and the Constitution
  • American Legal Philosophy
  • Legal Theory of Jurgen Habermas
  • Gender and the US Constitution
  • Social Theories of Law

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    The University of Texas at Austin
    158 W 21st ST STOP A1800
    Batts Hall 2.116
    Austin, TX 78712-1704