American Politics and the Constitution

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Both a historical artifact and a living document, the US Constitution has shaped—and continues to shape—the lives of ordinary Americans in often extraordinary ways. In this course, we will examine the development of American constitutional politics. We will begin with an exploration of the impact of American political culture and early historical events on the Constitutional text and its later interpretations. We will place special emphasis on the shifting meaning that Americans have attached to fundamental rights and liberties. Next, we will address some of the theoretical debates about the impact of the Constitution on our lives, its existence as both a written and unwritten document, and its intended and unintended effect on American democracy. Finally, we will examine some of the most visible contemporary political debates—including states’ rights, sexual and reproductive freedoms, equal access to education, and voting rights and electoral rules—by learning about the politics of Constitutional lawmaking and by reading some of the key Supreme Court opinions that shaped these issues. Throughout the duration of the course, we will attempt to answer the following questions: How does the Constitution shape our everyday lives? What effect, if any, do the Supreme Court justices’ political views have on American politics? How democratic is the US Constitution?