Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought

Professors Douglas‡ (Chair Fall 2020), Sarat (Chair Spring 2021), Sitze, and Umphrey; Assistant Professor Oraby*; Senior Lecturer Delaney; Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

The Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought (LJST) places the study of law within the context of a liberal arts education. The Department offers courses that treat law as a historically evolving and culturally specific enterprise in which moral argument, distinctive interpretive practices, and force are brought to bear on the organization of social life. These courses use legal materials to explore conventions of reading, argument and proof, problems of justice and injustice, tensions between authority and community, and contests over social meanings and practices. In addition, the curriculum of LJST is designed to foster the development of a substantive focus for student interests in the study of law and skills in analysis, research, and writing as well as capacity for independent work.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of the LJST major, we expect our graduates to have attained a nuanced understanding of law as a subject of liberal inquiry, attending to the ways law combines moral argument, interpretive practice and force in regulating social life; to have learned the history and development of legal orders in the United States, while also coming to appreciate law in its broader cross-cultural, historical, and global dimensions; to be able to write and speak about legal phenomena with precision, clarity, creativity and analytic rigor; to have developed sophisticated independent research skills; and to be able to use their legal learning and the skills they develop in their vocational and civic lives.

Major Program

A major in Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought consists of a minimum of nine courses, for students in the classes of 2021 and 2022.  For students in the classes of 2023 and 2024 the minimum requirement is ten courses.

Offerings in the Department include courses in Legal Theory (these courses emphasize the moral and philosophical dimensions that inform legal life and link the study of law with the history of social and political thought), Interpretive Practices (these courses emphasize the ways law attempts to resolve normative problems through rituals of textual interpretation), Legal Institutions (these courses focus on the particular ways different legal institutions translate moral judgments and interpretive practices into regulation and socially sanctioned force), and Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspectives (these courses explore the ways in which law and societies change over time, as well as the interdependence of law and culture).

Prior to graduation, LJST majors are required to take LJST 103 (Legal Institutions), LJST 110 (Intro to Legal Theory) and LJST 143 (Law’s History). Students in the class of 2021 who have not already done so, need not take LJST 103 (Legal Institutions) as part of the major requirements. LJST majors also must take two seminars during their junior year, one of which will be an Analytic Seminar and one of which will be a Research Seminar. Analytic Seminars emphasize close analysis of text, practice, or image, and frequent writing; Research Seminars require students to complete substantial, independent projects.  Study abroad or other contingencies may require alterations of the timing of these requirements in individual cases.

Placement Information

The Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought department takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study, contextualization and theorizing of law. LJST is not a pre-law program: students wishing to apply to law school should review this information.

For New Students, the department recommends taking LJST 101, Legal Questions: An Introduction to Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought.

 LJST 101 Course Description:

This course explores the ways in which law combines moral argument, interpretive practice and force in the regulation of social life. Through the close and sustained study of an exemplary case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, students will be introduced to law as a subject of liberal inquiry. While focused on the history and development of legal orders in the United States, the course also will enable students to appreciate law in its broader cross-cultural, historical, and global dimensions.

*If you are interested in a 200 level course, you should email the professor and ask if the course would be appropriate for new students.

 Departmental Honors Program

The Department awards Honors to seniors who have achieved distinction in their course work, whose independent projects are judged to be of honors quality, and who have a college-wide grade average of A- or above.  Students with a college-wide grade point below an A- may petition to write an Honors Thesis. Students should begin to identify a suitable project during the second semester of their junior year and must submit a proposal by the end of that semester for Departmental evaluation. The proposal consists of a description of an area of inquiry or topic to be covered, a list of courses that provide necessary background for the work to be undertaken, and a bibliography. A first draft of the honor thesis will be submitted before the start of the second semester. The final draft will be submitted in late March or early April and read and evaluated by a committee of readers.

Post-Graduate Study

LJST is not a pre-law program designed to serve the needs of those contemplating careers in law. While medical schools have prescribed requirements for admission, there is no parallel in the world of legal education. Law schools generally advise students to obtain a broad liberal arts education; they are as receptive to students who major in physics, mathematics, history or philosophy as they would be to students who major in LJST. 

LJST majors will be qualified for a wide variety of careers. Some might do graduate work in legal studies, others might pursue graduate studies in political science, history, philosophy, sociology, or comparative literature. For those not inclined toward careers in teaching and scholarship, LJST would prepare students for work in the private or public sector or for careers in social service.

Related Courses

Students may receive credit toward a major in LJST for up to two “related” courses from outside the Department (see list below) or for approved study abroad courses. In no case may those courses be used to satisfy the Analytic or Research Seminar requirements.

 *On leave 2020-2021.  ‡On leave spring 2021.

Law, Jurisp & Social Thought

101 Legal Questions: An Introduction to Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought

This course provides an introduction to the LJST major. It explores the ways in which law combines moral argument, interpretive practice and force in the regulation of social life. Through the close and sustained study of an exemplary case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, students will attain a nuanced understanding of law as a subject of liberal inquiry. While focused on the history and development of legal orders in the United States, the course also will enable students to appreciate law in its broader cross-cultural, historical, and global dimensions.

Section 01: Professor Delaney. Hyflex. Section 02: Professor Sitze. Online only. Each section limited to 20 students with 15 spaces reserved for First-year students. Fall Semester.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2020

103 Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice

This course will examine the relationship between legal institutions and democratic practice. How do judicial decisions balance the preferences of the majority and the rights of minorities? Is it possible to reconcile the role that partisan dialogue and commitment play in a democracy with an interest in the neutral administration of law? How does the provisional nature of legislative choice square with the finality of judicial mandate? By focusing on the United States Supreme Court, we will consider various attempts to justify that institution’s power to offer final decisions and binding interpretations of the Constitution that upset majoritarian preferences. We will examine the origins and historical development of the practice of judicial review and consider judicial responses to such critical issues as slavery, the New Deal, and abortion. The evolving contours of Supreme Court doctrine will be analyzed in the light of a continuing effort to articulate a compelling justification for the practice of judicial intervention in the normal operation of a constitutional democracy.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Douglas.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

104, 320 Murder

Murder is the most serious offense against the legal order and is subject to its most punitive responses. It gives meaning to law by establishing the limits of law’s authority and its capacity to tame violence.  Murder is, in addition, a persistent theme in literature and popular culture where it is used to organize narratives of heroism and corruption, good and evil, fate and irrational misfortune. This course uses law, literature, and popular culture to develop their skills in reading, critical analysis of texts, and writing

We will examine the legal definition of homicide and compare that crime with other killings which law condemns (assisted suicide) as well as those it tolerates (killing in self-defense) or itself carries out (police use of lethal force and capital punishment). We will explore various types of murders (e.g. school shootings, terrorism, serial killing and genocide) and inquire into the motives of those who commit these acts. In addition, we will consider representations of murder in literature and film.  Can such representations ever adequately capture murder, the murderer, and the fear that both arouse? In addition to numerous court cases course materials will include Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Toni Morrison, Beloved, and Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem as well as such films as Menace 2 Society, Unforgiven, and Silence of the Lambs. Throughout, we will ask what we can learn about law and culture from the way both imagine, represent, and respond to murder.

This is an intensive writing course. We will focus on the fundamentals of writing style and of helping students develop clear and persuasive writing styles. Along with regular in class writing, frequent short papers will be assigned. Students will be expected to attend regular writing consultations.

Preference to first-year students. Limited to 12 students. Omitted 2020-2021. Professor Sarat.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

105 Race, Place, and the Law

(Offered as LJST 105 and BLST 147 [US]) Understandings of and conflicts about place are of central significance to the experience and history of race and race relations in America. The shaping and reshaping of places is an important ingredient in the constitution and revision of racial identities: think of “the ghetto,” Chinatown, or “Indian Country.” Law, in its various manifestations, has been intimately involved in the processes which have shaped geographies of race from the colonial period to the present day: legally mandated racial segregation was intended to impose and maintain both spatial and social distance between members of different races.

The objective of this course is to explore the complex intersections of race, place, and law. Our aim is to gain some understanding of geographies of race “on-the-ground” in real places, and of the role of legal practices—especially legal argument—in efforts to challenge and reinforce these racial geographies. We will ask, for example, how claims about responsibility, community, rationality, equality, justice, and democracy have been used to justify or resist both racial segregation and integration, access and expulsion. In short, we will ask how moral argument and legal discourse have contributed to the formation of the geographies of race that we all inhabit. Much of our attention will be given to a legal-geographic exploration of African-American experiences. But we will also look at how race, place and the law have shaped the distinctive experiences of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.

Limited to 30 students. January Term ONLINE ONLY. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, January 2021, Fall 2023

110 Introduction to Legal Theory

This course provides an introduction to the primary texts and central problems of modern legal theory. Through close study of the field’s founding and pivotal works, we will weigh and consider various ways to think about questions that every study, practice, and institution of law eventually encounters. These questions concern law’s very nature or essence; its relations to knowledge, morality, religion, and the passions; the status of its language and interpretations; its relation to force and the threat of force; and its place and function in the preservation and transformation of political, social and economic order.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Class will be taught online. Professor Sitze.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

132 Legal Science Fiction

Science fiction conjures novel social arrangements in which questions of law inevitably emerge. Is a very smart robot just property? How should space be governed? If we can predict future crimes, can we punish future “criminals”? The answers to these questions are rooted in theories of what makes “the good society” and prompt us to think about how our own laws function with, against, or under the influence of scientific inquiry. In this course, we will consider how the speculative imagination approaches topics like civil rights, criminal law, labor, reproduction, corporate regulation, privacy, and property, analyzing science fiction texts and films alongside legal cases and theories of justice. Today, we regularly encounter legal conundrums that once seemed futuristic. Genetic engineering threatens the traditional framework of equality that provides the basis of rights. Algorithms, once thought to be a way to resolve race and gender biases, instead encode these biases into our everyday lives. How we order and improve human life is always a matter of legal concern, but regulation is often seen as anathema to technological progress. Why is this the case? Can this tension be resolved?

Limited to 40 students. January Term. Class will be taught online. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

136 Law Between Plato and Poets

Ancient tragedy, ancient comedy, and Platonic political philosophy pose very different questions about the essence and basis of law, and about law’s relation to such matters as conflict, politics, guilt, love, suffering, action, justice, and wisdom. This course is a preliminary study of the relationships between these differing modes of inquiry. We will spend the first half of the course outlining the theories of law that govern select dramatic works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes. In the second half of the course, we will trace the intricate way these theories are at once incorporated into and rejected by Platonic political philosophy, as exemplified by Plato’s Republic. Along the way, we shall weigh and consider competing versions of the “return to Plato” in contemporary philosophy. In addition to reading key works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Plato, we will read contemporary texts by Giorgio Agamben, Danielle Allen, Alain Badiou, Hans-Georg Gadamer, René Girard, Martin Heidegger, Bonnie Honig, Bernard Knox, Nicole Loraux, Ramona Naddaff, Martha Nussbaum, Jacques Rancière, Leo Strauss, Jean-Pierre Vernant, and Simone Weil.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2019

143 Law's History

This course examines the ways in which historical thinking and imagining operate in the domain of law. History and law are homologous and tightly linked. Law in various guises uses history as its backbone, as a lens through which to view and adjudicate tangled moral problems, and as a means of proof in rendering judgment. Questions of history and precedent are integral to an understanding of the way language and rhetoric operate in the very creation of legal doctrine. Moreover, law’s use of history also has a history of its own, and our present understanding of the relationship between the two is a product of Enlightenment thinking. Conceiving of history as one kind of “narrative of the real,” in this course we will explore the premises that underlie history’s centrality to law as we inquire after the histories that law demands, creates, and excludes, as well as the ways in which law understands and uses history to seek finality, and to legitimize its authority.

Limited to 30 students. Spring Semester. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

162 Law and Disorder

Law takes many forms. Traversing social norms, statutory controls, constitutional provisions, international covenants, and enforcement mechanisms, law suffuses countless arenas simultaneously. Where there is law, order and disorder also thrive in unpleasant company. But what order does law ensure? And what kinds of disorder does law generate? Employing a global approach to the study of law in society, this course examines five domains of human experience (caste, revolution, desire, war, and indigeneity) that law organizes as well as five figures (the convert, the revolutionary, the queer, the terrorist, and the native) that challenge its regulatory logic. The course addresses the ways social actors harness law’s organizational power. We will examine the social life of law in postcolonial, neocolonial, and imperial contexts.

Limited to 40 students. Limited to first-year students.Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019

163 Civility

Today’s crisis of civility reflects enduring anxiety about the kinds of disagreement and diversity a liberal democracy can sustain. Yet civility remains a notoriously difficult concept to define. Its meanings include politeness in the exchange of ideas, respect for rules of conduct, and even personal sacrifice for the public good. If civility’s contours are elusive, so too are those of its opposite. Incivility is thought to inflame social disparities. This course surveys canonical and emergent debates in the study of disagreement, toleration, and moral reasoning. What forms of dissent are authorized, repressed, and rewarded in claims to civility and incivility? Under what conditions do notions of the civil change? What role does law play in organizing civil speech? Should speech be subject to legal constraint and judicial review? If civility is a democratic virtue, of what should it consist?

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020

206 Apartheid

(Offered as LJST 206 and BLST 307) The goal of this course will be to understand some of the problems posed for legal studies in the humanities by the emergence of the system of administrative and constitutional law known as apartheid. This system, which was designed to institute “separate development for separate peoples” in South Africa, is widely and rightly regarded to be among the most inhuman régimes of the twentieth century. Yet even and especially today, more than a decade after its formal end in South Africa, apartheid’s social, economic, and epistemic conditions of possibility, as well as the place and function of lawyers, legal discourse, and legal scholars in the resistance to it, remains at best vaguely understood.

This course is designed to remedy this gap. Our inquiry will be at once specific and general. Under what economic and political conditions did apartheid come into being? What legal traditions and practices authorized its codification? What academic disciplines and intellectual formations rendered it intelligible and enabled its theorization? What specific arrangement of juridical institutions, practices, and theories together comprised the apartheid state? What was the place and function of law in the critique of and resistance to apartheid? What new and specific problems did apartheid pose for legal theory?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Fall 2009, Fall 2011, Spring 2015, Fall 2019

212 Psychoanalysis and Law

Although psychoanalysis is not usually considered a part of the discipline of jurisprudence, its theories allow for comprehensive answers to the fundamental questions of jurisprudence, and its lexicon permits us to refer with clarity and precision to realities of juridical experience about which disciplinary jurisprudence remains silent. Psychoanalysis interprets law within a field defined by the vicissitudes and impasses of unconscious desire, giving us a way to speak about the pathologies that are constitutive of law’s normal operation, and this amounts, in effect if not in name, to a jurisprudence as compelling as it is unorthodox. At the same time, however, psychoanalysis also has been constrained, at key points in its history, by some of the very juridical forms and forces it seeks to analyze and to question, sometimes even to the point where those forms and forces have reappeared, internalized, within its own most basic theories and practices. If psychoanalysis allows for a comprehensive theory of law, so too then can law serve as an exemplary point of departure for the rethinking of psychoanalysis itself. The purpose of this course will be to pursue this twofold inquiry. After tracing the way that law emerges as a question within the thinking of Sigmund Freud, and considering the ways in which certain juridical problems and events are prior to and generative of Freud’s thought, we then will explore the various ways in which post-Freudian thinkers have not only applied but also rethought Freudian psychoanalysis in their own studies of law.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Sitze.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2017

214 What's So Great About (In)Equality?

In our world, commitment to "equality" in one sense/form or another is nearly uncontested. At the same time, the form that it should take, its normative ground, scope, limits and conditions, the ways in which it may be realized, and much else are deeply contested. It is also the case that the world in which we live is characterized by profound, enduring and intensifying inequalities and numerous exceptions to the principle. These may be justified with reference to various countervailing commitments that are accorded ethical or practical priority (desert, liberty, efficiency, political stability, ecological integrity, pluralism, etc.). This suggests that while for many "equality" may be normatively compelling, its realization may be subordinated to any number of interests and desires; or, to put it bluntly, there may be such a condition as too much equality or not enough inequality, privilege and "disadvantage." This course treats these themes as they have arisen in distinctively legal contexts, projects and arguments. It will engage a range of debates within political philosophy and legal theory as to the appropriate limits of equality. While many forms and expressions of inequality have fallen into relative disfavor, some seem virtually immune to significant amelioration. Among these are those associated with social-economic class. Following general investigations of egalitarianism and anti-egalitarianism in social thought and legal history, we will devote closer attention to the legal dimensions of class inequality in contexts such as labor law, welfare and poverty law, education and criminal justice. We will conclude with an examination of the limits of legal egalitarianism vis-à-vis international class-based inequalities under conditions of globalization and cosmopolitan humanitarianism.

Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2020-21.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2023

217, 317 Thinking Law with Shakespeare

It is well known that Shakespeare's texts put into play an intricate set of juridical terms and forms. The premise of this course is that we can retrieve from this "putting into play" a unique way of thinking about modern juridical order at the moment of its inception. Through the close reading of three Shakespearean texts, we will trace the way these works "put into play" some of the most basic concepts of modern Anglophone jurisprudence (such as person and impersonation, inheritance and usurpation, contract and oath, tyranny and sovereignty, pardon and mercy, matrimony and patrimony, civil war and empire, and marriage and divorce). The aim of this inquiry will not be to appply jurisprudence to Shakespeare's texts; nor will it be to use Shakespeare's texts to humanize a legal training that otherwise would risk remaining sterile and unfeeling; nor, finally, will it be either to historicize Shakespeare's texts (limiting them to a particular place and time) or to universalize those texts (treating them as the exemplar for all of humanity). It will be to treat the play of juridical terms and forms within Shakespeare's texts as an occasion to think law with Shakespeare, and as such to learn to rethink the genesis and basis of modern Anglophone jurisprudence more generally.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Class will be taught online. Professor Sitze

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2024

221 Law and Waste

The term "waste" is used so widely in common parlance that it hardly seems necessary to consider its meaning. Yet, it is not always clear who has the authority to decide what is useful or efficient, and what is waste. This course takes up this problem of authority and examines how different concepts of waste relate to the law. “Waste” historically has been linked to the legal right to own and manage property. But the determination of whether an act, a thing, or a person is "waste" has implications not only for private law, but for public laws regulating labor, health and welfare, education, global trade, and the environment. Descriptions of certain bodies, cultures and lands in terms of waste justify exploitation and violence by states and other powerful actors. How do we reconcile the imperative to avoid waste with the demands of order and justice? We will look closely at this question as we consider the social and legal construction of waste.

Limited to 18 students. Spring Semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021

224 Experiments in Legal and Cultural Production

The idea of law as experimental runs counter to the common view of law as well settled and historically rooted. Yet, under the federal system in the United States, states have long been regarded as "laboratories" for law. Moreover, Supreme Court decisions arise as “test cases” that painstakingly mix plaintiffs, procedures, and venues and are timed to move law in a hoped-for direction. What is a test case but a kind of experiment? This course examines legal experiments alongside experimental aesthetic works. Convention may “govern” art and literature, but both are also regulated by real laws, like copyright and obscenity. When artists go beyond the norms of their fields, they may also test the limits of the law. Artistic experimentation can suggest new ways to think about property, identity, sex, work, power, and language. How are different forms of experimentation connected? How do they challenge or extend our visions of what society might be otherwise?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21.  Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2023

226 Critical Legal Geographies

The spatiality of social life is a fundamental element of human existence, not least through its involvement with power of various sorts. Spatiality is also a significant—and problematic—dimension of law (think of sovereignty, jurisdiction, citizenship). At the same time, law is a significant force through which spatiality is produced, reinforced, contested and transformed. Law literally constitutes social spaces through constitutions, treaties, statutes, contracts, modes of surveillance and policing, and so on. As it does so, it constitutes itself as a force in the world. Law may also be an arena in which other social-spatial conflicts are played out and, provisionally, resolved. The course will consider both the changing spatiality of law (its scope, scale, limits; its vectors and circuits) and the changing legal constitution of other social spaces. This will be done through an engagement with contemporary socio-spatial and legal theories and through a survey of exemplary events and situations. Among the more specific topics we will consider are privacy and property; public space of speech and dissent; migration, displacement and sanctuary; colonialism and occupation. The contexts of our study will not be limited to/by American law but will include examples involving international law, forms of legal pluralism, and other legal-cultural contexts. The course will conclude with an investigation of globalization and the emergence of cyberspace and their posited effects on the very possibility of law as we have come to understand and experience it.

 Limited to 30 students. Spring Semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2021

227 Sustainability and the Fate of Law: Can Law Save the World?

Most people are aware that "the world" (the sum of planetary environmental systems) is changing in ways that are already generating dramatic and largely negative consequences for "the world" (Earth as the home of Life) and that the trajectories of change presage even greater instability. Since the blossoming of environmentalism a half-century ago, those most concerned and involved in responding to these challenges have recognized that a robust engagement with law is required for reversing or mitigating these changes. This has resulted in a massive body of environmental law from local land use regulations to national environmental regulatory regimes and international conventions. While some of this has been effective, the velocity of global political, economic and cultural change appears to undermine or render ineffective many legal interventions. As scientists revise predictions regarding the severity and rate of environmental degradation, doubts have been raised about the sufficiency or capacity of existing law to respond appropriately. This course undertakes a broad, critical examination of the role of law in promoting and perhaps impeding environmental sustainability and asks what this reveals about the possibilities and limits of law. It begins by posing such questions as: Does "sustainability" entail sacrifice? If so, what role do distinctively legal practices and institutions play in giving effect to such sacrifices? Might something that we feel is fundamental to law itself need to be sacrificed? Following a brief survey of key aspects of existing environmental law, in which we assess what has and has not worked, we will engage a range of recent arguments in environmental legal theory (such as earth justice, wild law, green legal theory) which ask us to rethink what we want—or need—law to be.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2022

228 Police Power

Demands to reform, defund, or abolish the police have a long history, even as contemporary calls to curb law enforcement are hotly debated. Some worry that demands for radical changes to policing spell political doom. Others hope they toll the final bell for racism. And some think even minor cuts to police will trigger a Hobbesian “war of all against all.” What is the relationship between the police and what jurists name “police power”: the state's legal authority over public health and welfare? How did this relationship originate, and how has it changed? What does it look like outside of the US? What other social and economic factors intersect with law in debates over the redistribution and transformation of police power? Can the US continue without police as we know them? We will examine these questions using cases and statutory law, critical race and feminist scholarship, political theory, and literary and visual culture to guide our inquiry.

Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

230, 330 Law, Speech, and the Politics of Freedom

In the United States, the idea of free speech is held to be both a political and moral ideal. The First Amendment makes freedom of speech a centerpiece of liberal democratic values and processes, and thus of American identity itself. But what, precisely, do we mean when we link the ideas of freedom and speech? What kinds of speech, and what kinds of freedom, are implicated in that linkage? Correlatively, what does it mean to "censor"? Drawing upon political philosophy, literary theory, court cases, imaginative writing, and examples from contemporary culture, this course will explore the multiple meanings of "free speech," their legal regulation, and their deployment in American public culture. Why should we value "free" speech? Who do we imagine to be the speaker whose speech ought to be free: the man on the soapbox? The political protestor? The media conglomerate? The anonymous chat-room inhabitant? What does it mean to say that various kinds of speech may be dangerous, and under what conditions might it be conceivable to shut down or regulate dangerous speech, or conversely to promote "politically correct" speech in either formal or informal ways? How do speech forms (for example, parody, poetry, or reportage) differ, and should some garner more legal protection than others? Can silence be considered a kind of speech?

 Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Umphrey.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

231 Social Movements and Social Change

This course examines social movements (and related phenomena) as integral elements of legal orders and as significant sources of legal transformations. Through interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and historical analyses, the course will explore the ways in which non-state actors engage formal legal institutions to shape or reform law, in order to affect the conditions of social life. Of particular interest are not merely desired changes in laws but resultant changes in the culture of law more broadly. The course will draw on a wide range of movements (historical and contemporary; “progressive” and conservative; broad-based and narrowly focused; American and non-American; local, national and global; North and South; activist and bureaucratic; from “below” and from “within”; etc.) and study two or three in closer detail. The over-arching objective is to achieve a richer understanding of both the inner workings of “the law” and the dynamic life of law outside of formal institutions.

Limited to 30 students. Fall Semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022, Spring 2025

235 Law's Nature: Humans, the Environment and the Predicament of Law

“Nature” is at once among the most basic of concepts and among the most ambiguous. Law is often called upon to clarify the meaning of nature. In doing so it raises questions about what it means to be human.

This course is organized around three questions. First, what does law as a humanistic discipline say about nature? Second, what can law’s conception of nature tell us about shifting conceptions of humanness? Third, what can we learn by attending to these questions about law’s own situation in the world and its ability to tell us who we are? We will address these questions by starting with the environment (specifically wilderness). We will then expand our view of nature by examining legal engagements with animals (endangered species, animals in scientific experiments, and pets), human bodies (reproductive technologies, involuntary biological alterations, the right to die) and brains (genetic or hormonal bases for criminal defenses). Throughout, we will focus our attention on the themes of knowledge, control and change. We will look, for example, at relationships between legal and scientific forms of knowledge and the problematic role of expert knowledge in adjudicating normative disputes. We will also look at law’s response to radical, technologically induced changes in relations between humans and nature, and to arguments in favor of limiting such transformations.

 Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21.  Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2024

238 Contract Cultures

Do contracts always involve a “meeting of minds”? Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called that commonplace a fiction. But, whether it is or not, real contracts continue to proliferate. We might even call some cultures contractual. This course considers this idea by examining different forms of contract: from the reciprocated gift and the social compact to “boilerplate” and “click-to-agree" terms of service. We will discuss how contracts came to be, how they work now, and what could be their future. Contracts are mundane, yet powerful tools. They are said to endow personhood but can also deny agency. They can alter or displace law, making and unmaking whole social frameworks. What happens when common narratives of contract enter the realm of cultural production? Who bears the costs of misalignments between the law of contract and social norms? Are there such things as sexual, racial, or constitutional contracts? Do we make contracts, or do contracts make us?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2018, Fall 2019

247 Incarcerating Blackness

(See BLST 237)

248 Law And War

This course explores the effort to control the violence and chaos of war with legal rules and processes. With classic theorists of war, such as Vattel, Clausewitz, Schmitt and Michael Walzer as our guides, and drawing our examples from conflict zones such as Vietnam, Kosovo, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq, we will ask whether the law of armed conflict has “civilized” the waging of war or simply serves as another tool in the arsenal of armed conflict.

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Douglas.

253 Arendt's Judgments 

Fearlessly independent, tenaciously unclassifiable, frequently controversial, and always thought-provoking, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is without question one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Setting aside the conventional interpretation of Arendt as a political theorist, this course will focus on Arendt’s contributions to the study of law, with special attention to Arendt’s unusual inquiries into human rights, international criminal law, constitutional law, and civil disobedience. By carefully reading select writings by Arendt alongside key events in twentieth century history, we shall trace in Arendt’s texts a relation between thought, crisis, and judgment that is often occluded by the dominant reception of her thought. Along the way, we shall ask how Arendt arrived at her various judgments, what it means for thought to relate to law and to the world, and why judgment might offer a way to respond to, and live through, the crises of one’s present.

Limited to 40 students. Fall Semester. Professor Sitze. Class will be taught online only.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Spring 2025

277 Islamic Constitutionalism

(Offered as LJST 277 and ASLC 277) Islamic constitutionalism is now a global phenomenon. References to Islam or Islamic law have been incorporated into more than two dozen constitutions. Many states that are constitutionally Islamic also espouse commitments to liberal rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech, and nondiscrimination. Rather than rehearse common binarisms that assess the compatibility of Islam and liberalism, this course considers the dilemmas that emerge in societies where individuals are subject to multiple normative orders. We will consider how classical Islamic law varies from its modern codification, as well as how colonial inheritances such as British common law and French civil law shape legal systems in post-independence states. Drawing on an array of case studies, we will address issues like religious liberty, criminal sentencing, and personal status. How do judges adjudicate between various and often competing sources of authority? What discursive resources become available to complainants, litigators, and jurists living under these hybrid legal regimes? How does Islamic constitutionalism compare with other varieties of religious establishment?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020

280 Sectarian Modernity

Sectarianism and modernity are often understood as diametrically opposed phenomena. Subnational ethnic and religious identities, it is said, prevent the development of modern politics, cultures, and social affinities. And yet, sectarian differences in states like Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq seems to be a necessary condition for their coherence as modern political entities. What if sectarianism, which undermines the secular national ideal of universal citizenship, is instead understood as distinctly modern, its emergence dating no further back than the nineteenth century? This course examines the intertwined genealogy of sectarianism and modernity, paying particular attention to the administration of law, religion, and society in three phases of historical development: the late Ottoman Empire, the French and British Mandate periods, and the postcolonial present. Under what conditions did sectarianism emerge as a meaningful analytic category for the study of Middle East politics? What legal innovations have constituted and transformed the meaning and practice of sectarianism over time? In what ways do global sovereignties contribute to the persistence of sectarian identities? Why does sectarianism endure?

Limited to 30 students. Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018

341 Interpretation in Law & Literature

(Offered as LJST 341 [Analytic Seminar] and ENGL 310) Interpretation lies at the center of legal and literary activity. Both law and literature are in the business of making sense of texts—statutes, constitutions, poems or stories. Both disciplines confront similar questions regarding the nature of interpretive practice: Should interpretation always be directed to recovering the intent of the author? If we abandon intentionalism as a theory of textual meaning, how do we judge the "excellence" of our interpretations? How can the critic or judge continue to claim to read in an "authoritative" manner in the face of interpretive plurality? In the last few years, a remarkable dialogue has burgeoned between law and literature as both disciplines have grappled with life in a world in which "there are no facts, only interpretations." This seminar will examine contemporary theories of interpretation as they inform both legal and literary understandings. Readings will include works of literature (Hemingway, Kafka, Woolf) and court cases, as well as contributions by theorists of interpretation such as Spinoza, Dilthey, Freud, Geertz, Kermode, Dworkin, and Sontag.

Limited to 15 students. Open to juniors and seniors. Fall Semester. Professor Douglas. Online only.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2020

346 Law's Classifications (Research Seminar)

(Research Seminar)  When courts decide cases, they engage in knowledge production, and so must use logical, enforceable classifications to distinguish among persons, things, and rights. Legal doctrines that enshrine these classifications may conflict with broader commitments to equality or tradition, even as they help remedy past injuries, protect existing rights, or create durable guidelines for the future. Such conflicts come into full view when these doctrines leave the courtroom and collide with other social forces and frameworks, like market rationality, medical science, political movements, or religious beliefs. How does law create its classifications? How do race, gender, class and other social identities intersect with them? What external taxonomies are invoked in their making, and to what ends? By attending to the ways law’s classifications are developed, used, resisted or changed, we will come to see the law’s internal tensions, its civic limits, and its social power.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

349 Law and Love

Offered as POSC 349 (Analytic Seminar) and SWAG 349) At first glance, law and love seem to tend in opposing directions: where law is constituted in rules and regularity, love emerges in contingent, surprising, and ungovernable ways; where law speaks in the language of reason, love’s language is of sentiment and affect; where law regulates society through threats of violence, love binds with a magical magnetism. In this seminar, placing materials in law and legal theory alongside theoretical and imaginative work on the subject of love, we invert that premise of opposition in order to look for love’s place in law and law’s in love. First we will inquire into the ways in which laws regulate love, asking how is love constituted and arranged by those regulations, and on what grounds it escapes them. In that regard we will explore, among other areas, the problematics of passion in criminal law and laws regulating sexuality, marriage, and family. Second we will ask, how does love in its various guises (as philia, eros, or agape) manifest itself in law and legal theory, and indeed partly constitute law itself? Here we will explore, for example, sovereign exercises of mercy, the role of equity in legal adjudication, and the means that bind legal subjects together in social contract theory. Finally, we will explore an analogy drawn by W. H. Auden, asking how law is like love, and by extension love like law. How does attending to love’s role in law, and law’s in love, shift our imaginings of both?

 Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring Semester. Professor Umphrey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2024

350 American Legal Theory

(Analytic Seminar) The discipline of legal theory has the task of making law meaningful to itself. But there is a variety of competing legal theories that can make law meaningful in divergent ways. By what measure are we to assess their adequacy? Is internal coherence the best standard or should legal theory strive to accord with the extra-legal world? Then too, the institutions and practices of law are components of social reality and, therefore, as amenable to sociological or cultural analysis as any other component. Here again, many different kinds of sense can be made of law depending upon how “the social” is itself theorized. This course engages the theme of law and the problems of social reality by way of a three-step approach. The first part of the course presents an overview of the main lines of twentieth-century American legal thought. We begin with a study of legal formalism and the challenges posed to it by legal realism and its various successor theories. One focus of debate between formalism and its rivals is how much social realism should be brought to bear on legal analysis. Another question is: what kind of social realism should be brought to bear on the analysis of law? The second segment of the course provides a survey of some of the candidates. These include the Law and Society Movement, neo-Marxism and Critical Legal Studies. In the final segment we look at how these theoretical issues are given expression in connection with more practical contexts such as poverty law, labor law or criminal law.

 Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-21. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022

356 Representing and Judging the Holocaust.

(Research Seminar) This seminar will address some of the foundational questions posed by radical evil to the legal imagination. How have jurists attempted to understand the causes and logic of genocide, and the motives of its perpetrators? Is it possible to “do justice” to such extreme crimes? Is it possible to grasp the complexities of history in the context of criminal trial? What are the special challenges and responsibilities facing those who struggle to submit traumatic history to legal judgment? We will consider these questions by focusing specifically on a range of legal responses to the crimes of the Holocaust. Our examination will be broadly interdisciplinary, as we compare the efforts of jurists to master the problems of representation and judgment posed by extreme crimes with those of historians, social theorists, and artists. Readings will include original material from the Nuremberg, Eichmann, and Irving trials, and works by, among others, Hannah Arendt, Zygmunt Bauman, Christopher Browning, Primo Levi, and Art Spiegelman.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-21. Professor Douglas.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

357 Property, Liberty and Law

(Research Seminar) What we call property is enormously important in establishing the nature of a legal regime. Moreover, an exploration of property offers a window on how a culture sees itself. Examining how property notions are used and modified in practice can also provide critical insights into many aspects of social history and contemporary social reality.

We will begin our discussion of property by treating it as an open-ended cluster of commonplace and more specialized notions (e.g., owner, gift, lease, estate) used to understand and shape the world. We will look at how the relation of property to such values as privacy, security, citizenship and justice has been understood in political and legal theory and how different conceptions of these relations have entered into constitutional debates. We will also study the relationship of property and the self (How might one’s relation to property enter into conceptions of self? Do we “own” ourselves? Our bodies or likenesses? Our thoughts?), property and everyday life (How are conceptions of property used to understand home, work and community?) and property and culture, (Do our conceptions of property influence understandings of cultural differences between ourselves and others? Does it make sense to claim ownership over one’s ancestors?). In sum, this course will raise questions about how property shapes our understandings of liberty, personhood, agency and power.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2020-21. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021

374 Rights

(See POSC 374)

375 The Development, Practice and Challenges Facing the Global Human Rights Movement

Over the span of seven decades, the human rights movement has transformed a utopian ideal into a central element of global discourse, if not practice. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the relevance of human rights to international relations and domestic governance (in much of the world) grew exponentially. Yet in the first two decades of this century, and increasingly in the past few years, the idea and core values animating human rights have come under new and intensifying attacks. This seminar critically examines the growth and practice of the global human rights movement in an increasingly globalized and unequal world. While we consider the role of States in the development of the international human rights framework, and in supporting (or undermining) human rights in practice, our focus is on the role of civil society, that is the global (and local) human rights movement(s). The seminar will consider the origins of the human rights movement, its Western biases, and several vital tensions (Global North vs. Global South, elitist vs. grassroots approaches, legal vs. popular mobilization strategies). We will also study the practice of human rights advocacy, analyzing fact-finding, documentation, and diverse forms of engagement to understand and grapple with the main challenges and dilemmas facing those working on and in rights promotion and defense.

(This seminar does not fulfill the Analytic or Research seminar requirement for the LJST major.)

Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2020-21. Visiting Professor Cavallaro.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019

382 Law, Religion, and Politics

(Analytic Seminar) Constitutional democracies have not been immune to pervasive and recurring debates over the so-called global resurgence of religion in public life. Though states across the political spectrum regulate religion in some way, this course asks: Why have constitutional democracies in particular encountered so much difficulty regulating religion? What explains their increased regulatory activity and constitutional litigation in this area? To answer these questions, the course foregrounds and evaluates three assumptions that undergird the regulation of religion in liberal democratic states: 1) law, religion, and politics are distinct spheres of human activity and ought to be separated in the name of political secularism; 2) political secularism renders states neutral toward religion in order to maximize citizens' religious freedom; and 3) adoption of secular law enables states to delineate and maintain clear barriers between the private world of religion and the public worlds of law and politics. We will track how these assumptions materialize in new and consolidated democracies, paying particular attention to social anxieties around religious difference that typically precede law's mobilization. The course concludes with a re-evaluation of the promises of secular law.

Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2020-21. Assistant Professor Oraby.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024, Spring 2025

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Independent work under the guidance of a tutor assigned by the Department. Open to senior LJST majors who wish to pursue a self-defined project in reading and writing and to work under the close supervision of a faculty member.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

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