KC Johnson

US Constitutional History (Fall 2018)

This course examines American constitutional history from the colonial era to the present.

Tuesday/Thursday, 2.15-3.30


  • Midterm and final examinations: 55%
  • Moot Court: 25%
  • Participation: 10%
  • Quizzes: 10%


Primary documents—such as court rulings, congressional documents, and relevant policy-related material—are posted on the course website. All journal articles will be e-mailed.

Current Events in Constitutional History:

This course deals with issues that resonate in current affairs. I urge you to keep up (as do I) with current constitutional questions, from a variety of ideological perspectives, at the websites below:

American Constitution Society Balkinization
Constitutional Law Prof Blog Election Law Blog
How Appealing National Review: Bench Memos
Scotus Blog Slate‘s Jurisprudence
The Wall Street Journal: legal reporting Volokh Conspiracy


Contact info: kcjohnson9@gmail.com

Office hours: Thurs., 1.00-2.00pm  (1127a Boylan)



August 28: Introduction: Colonial Foundations of the Constitution

August 30: The Revolution and Constitutional Experimentation

Sept. 4: Creating the Constitution

  • Shlomo Slonim, “Securing States’ Interests at the Constitutional Convention: A Reassessment,” Studies in American Political Development(2000), (with Gordon Wood reply).
  • Jack Rakove, “Thinking Like a Constitution,” Journal of the Early Republic (2004).
  • US Constitution (as written, 1787)

Sept. 6: Debating the Constitution

  • Jack Rakove, “The Madisonian Theory of Rights,” William and Mary Law Review (1989-90).
  • Bill of Rights (1789).
  • Brutus v.  Federalist, New York ratifying debate, re:
  • size of the republic; Brutus No. 1; Federalist No. 10
  • judicial power: Brutus No. 11; Federalist No. 78
  • military affairs: Brutus No. 8; Federalist No. 8

Sept. 13: Implementing the Constitution

  • Arthur Garrison, “The Internal Security Acts of 1798: The Founding Generation and the Judiciary during America’s First National Security Crisis,” Journal of Supreme Court History (2009)
  • William Casto, “Foreign Affairs Crises and the Constitution’s Case or Controversy Limitation: Notes from the Founding Era,” American Journal of Legal History (2005)
  • Sedition Act (1798)
  • Virginia Resolution (1798)

Sept. 20: The Evolution of American Constitutionalism

  • Johann Neem, “Developing Freedom: Thomas Jefferson, the State, and Human Capability,” Studies in American Political Development (2013)
  • Ethan Davis, “An Administrative Trail of Tears: Indian Removal,” American Journal of Legal History (2008)
  • Stephen Engel, “Before the Countermajoritarian Difficulty: Regime Unity, Loyal Opposition, and Hostilities toward Judicial Authority in Early America,” Studies in American Political Development (2009)
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803)
  • Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819)

Sept. 25: Slavery, Union, and the Constitutional Order

  • Justice Steven Breyer, “A Look Back at the Dred Scott Decision,” Journal of Supreme Court History (2010).
  • Justin Crowe, “Westward Expansion, Preappointment Politics, and the Making of the Southern Slaveholding Supreme Court,” Studies in American Political Development (2010)
  • Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)

Sept. 27: Civil War & Its Aftermath

  • William Gienapp, “Abraham Lincoln and the Border States,” Law and History Review (1992).
  • Bruce Tap, “Amateurs at War: Abraham Lincoln and the Committee on the Conduct of the War,” Law and History Review (2003).
  • James Simon, “Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney,” Journal of Supreme Court History (2010)

Oct. 2: Reconstruction

  • Kurt Lash, “John Bingham and the Second Draft of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Georgetown Law Journal (2011).
  • Civil Rights Cases (1883)

Oct. 4: The Constitution & the Gilded Age

  • David Tanenhaus, “Between Dependency and Liberty: The Conundrum of Children’s Rights in the Gilded Age,”Law and History Review (2005)
  • Eric Schepard, “Great Dissenter’s Greatest Dissents: The First Justice Harlan, the ‘Color-Blind’ Constitution and the Meaning of His Dissents in the ‘Insular Cases’ for the War on Terror,” American Journal of Legal History (2006)
  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Oct. 9: Progressivism & The Law

  • George Lowell, “’As Harmless as an Infant’: Deference, Denial, and Adair v. United States,” Studies in American Political Development (2002).
  • David Bernstein, “Lochner Era Revisionism, Revised: Lochner and the Origins of Fundamental Rights Constitutionalism,” Georgetown Law Journal (2003).
  • Amendments 16-19

October 11: Midterm Exam

Oct. 16: The Conservative Turn

Michael Klarman, “Scottsboro,” Marquette Law Review

Oct. 18: The New Deal

  • James Henretta, “Charles Evans Hughes and the Strange Death of Liberal America,” Law and History Review (2008).
  • Kevin McMahon, “Constitutional Vision and Supreme Court Decisions: Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race,” Studies in American Political Development (2002)
  • Wickard v. Filburn (1942)

Oct. 23: National Security & The Constitution

  • Elizabeth Borgwardt, “A New Deal for the Nuremberg Trial: The Limits of Law in Generating Human Rights Norms,” Law and History Review (2008)
  • William Wiecek, “The Legal Foundations of Domestic Anticommunism: The Background of Dennis v. United States,” Supreme Court Review (2001)
  • Korematsu v. United States (1944)

Oct. 25: Civil Rights & The Warren Court

  • Michael Belknap, “God and the Warren Court: For a ‘Wholesome Neutrality’,” Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal (1999)
  • Michael Klarman, “Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant? Race and the Southern Criminal Justice System in the 1940s”, Journal of American History (2002)
  • Sweatt v. Painter (1950)
  • Miranda v. Arizona (1965)

Oct. 30: Confirmation Struggles: LBJ, Nixon

  • Chris Hickman, “Courting the Right: Richard Nixon’s 1968 Campaign against the Warren Court,” Journal of Supreme Court History
  • Richard Hixson, Pornography and the Justiceschapter 4 (click on “contents” in the google books link)

Nov. 1: Nixon & the Constitution

  • Hugh Davis Graham, “Richard Nixon and Civil Rights: Explaining an Enigma,” Presidential Studies Quarterly (1996)
  • Mark Rozell, “President Nixon’s Conception of Executive Privilege: Defining the Scope and Limits of Executive Branch Secrecy,” Presidential Studies Quarterly (1992)
  • United States v. Nixon (1974)

Nov. 6: Confirmation Controversies

  • Steven Teles, “Transformative Bureaucracy: Reagan’s Lawyers and the Dynamics of Political Investment,” Studies in American Political Development (2009)
  • Vesla Weaver, “Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime Policy,” Studies in American Political Development (2009)

Nov. 13: Constitution & the Culture Wars

  • Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, “Before (and After) Roe v. Wade,” Yale Law Journal
  • Andrew Koppelman, “Romer v. Evans and Invidious Intent,” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal (1997)

Nov. 15: Impeachment, 2000, Terrorism

  • Michael Klarman, “Bush v. Gore Through the Lens of Constitutional  History,” California Law Review (2001)
  • Bush v. Gore (2000)

Nov. 20: The Bush Era

  • Rosemary Foot, “Exceptionalism Again: The Bush Administration, the ‘Global War on Terror’ and Human Rights,” 26 Law and History Review (2008).
  • John Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel memo, justifying use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) against Guantanamo detainees. (This memo was subsequently repudiated by the OLC.)
  • Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006)

Nov. 27: The Obama Era

Nov. 29: The Trump Era

Dec. 4: Moot courts

Dec. 6: Moot courts

Dec. 11: Review

Learning objectives for this course include: (1) ability to read and interpret key historical sources, including primary sources, court cases, and congressional debates; (2) ability to determine how important themes in U.S. constitutional history change over time; (3) ability to present key legal arguments orally. Item (1) will occur throughout the course; item (2) will occur in the midterm and final examination; item (3) will occur in the moot court.

The faculty and administration of Brooklyn College support an environment free from cheating and plagiarism. Each student is responsible for being aware of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and for avoiding both. The complete text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for implementing that policy can be found at this site: http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/policies. If a faculty member suspects a violation of academic integrity and, upon investigation, confirms that violation, or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member MUST report the violation.

In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services. Students who have a documented disability or suspect they may have a disability are invited to set up an appointment with the Director of the Center for Student Disability Services, Ms. Valerie Stewart-Lovell at 718-951-5538. If you have already registered with the Center for Student Disability Services please provide me with the course accommodation form and discuss your specific accommodation with me (which will, of course, be granted).

State law regarding non-attendance because of religious beliefs can be found in the Bulletin.

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