Course code:



IM - Introductory/Intermediate

Class size limit:


Typically offered:


This course will be an exploration of the contributions of women justices to the development of constitutional guarantees and rights, 1986 to the present, based initially on Linda Hirshman, Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World (2015). Of the current eight, three women justices (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) play an increasingly important role and powerful bloc in support of social justice issues, more so with the departure of Justice Antonin Scalia. Have these justices (including O’Connor, retired) “changed the world,” as Hirshman suggests? Are their constitutional philosophies unique or “new” to the Court? This course will attempt to answer such questions by focusing on the intersection between gender and jurisprudence, with a focus on rights and liberties. Likely topic areas in this exploration will include: reproductive rights, privacy, gender-based discrimination, freedom of expression, criminal procedures and the death penalty, areas of constitutional interpretation where the sisters-in-law have played a critical role on the Supreme Court. In a more general sense, this course will serve as an introduction to the United States Supreme Court and its role in the federal judiciary and the larger political system, focusing on the doctrines of judicial review and federal authority. The focus is from 1986 to the present, with Jeffrey Toobin’s, The Nine (2008), serving as an additional—and complementary—resource, as well as readings on judicial process and constitutional interpretation, more generally. The Nine, with its detailed analysis of Supreme Court rights interpretation in the most recent three decades, will build upon and broaden the contributions of Linda Hirschman’s Sisters in Law. In addition, the former provides useful insight into the inner works of the Supreme Court and interpersonal relations among the justices, irrespective of their gender. Some case reading and briefing required. Two short papers and a summative research paper are required. The course is recommended for students interested in legal studies, law and society, political science, gender studies, social justice, biography, and contemporary U.S. history and constitutional law.



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