503.01 The Constitution in Congress

Many of America’s formative constitutional struggles occurred in the halls of Congress, rather than the courts. Principles now taken for granted were once vigorously contested, often along partisan or sectional lines. This course will explore moments of congressional deliberation that shaped the trajectory of American constitutional development. Likely topics include debates over the spending power, the acquisition of foreign territory, the criminalization of dissent, military conscription, women’s equality, Indian removal, the right to petition, the rendition of fugitive slaves, and the legacy of Dred Scott. Students will analyze key floor debates and committee reports alongside later Supreme Court decisions covering similar substantive ground. 

Throughout the course, we will encounter sophisticated and wide-ranging arguments on matters of first impression. These episodes provide rich historical insight into contemporary debates over how the Constitution should be interpreted. We will also consider the extent to which modern constitutional law has been shaped by concepts that have fallen out of favor (such as the idea of powers inherent in sovereignty) and by practices that are now viewed with moral revulsion. And we will reflect on the absence of perspectives that were systematically excluded from Congress until well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The course will be taught as a two-hour weekly seminar, focused on class discussion of assigned readings. Students will complete either a series of reflection papers or one longer research paper that can be used to satisfy the upper-level writing requirement.

Special Notes: 


Spring 2021

Course NumberCourse CreditsEvaluation MethodInstructorMeeting Day/TimesRoom
Reflective Writing
Research paper option, 25+ pages
Class participation
Daniel Rice
10:30 AM-12:20 PM
Sakai site: https://sakai.duke.edu/portal/site/LAW.503.01.Sp21
Email list: LAW.503.01.Sp21@sakai.duke.edu
Degree Requirements
Course Areas of Practice