Introduction to Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases

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Course Date: 17 September 2014 to 12 November 2014 (8 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

This course offers an introduction to the U.S. Constitution and landmark Supreme Court cases interpreting it. It explores the Constitution’s origins, its amendment over the years, and methods of constitutional interpretation. Topics include the nature and structure of the federal government, the powers of the federal government, and individual rights.

Estimated Workload: 4-6 hours/week

Course Instructors

Kermit Roosevelt

Kermit Roosevelt graduated from Harvard University, summa cum laude, and Yale Law School. After graduation, he clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams on the D.C. Circuit and Justice David H. Souter on the Supreme Court. He practiced law for two years with the Chicago office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw before joining the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and conflict of laws. He is the author of numerous law review articles and several books, including The Myth of Judicial Activism: Making Sense of Supreme Court Decisions (Yale, 2006) and a novel, In the Shadow of the Law (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005).

Course Description

The United States Constitution is a statement of America’s highest law and its deepest values. It is the document and the principles that make one nation and one people out of the several states. But where did it come from? How has it changed over the years? How do we know what it means?

This course, which debuts on Constitution Day, explores those questions. It examines the Constitution’s origins, the problems the Framers confronted and the solutions they adopted. It follows the Constitution’s changes over the years, from the initial burst of amendments that brought us the Bill of Rights, through the bloody disruption of the Civil War, and into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It discusses landmark Supreme Court cases that show how the Framers’ ideas have fared in the modern world.

The course provides a broad overview of the Constitution, including both the structure and powers of the federal government and individual rights topics. Cases discussed include Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, Miranda v. Arizona, Roe v. Wade, Korematsu v. United States, District of Columbia v. Heller, and NFIB v. Sibelius.


Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Yes, if you achieve a passing score.

What resources will I need for this class?
All you will need is an Internet connection.

What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?
What it means to be an American.


WEEK 1: Origin and Nature of the Constitution
1.1 – Why We Needed a Constitution
1.2 – Creating the Constitution
1.3 – Interpreting the Constitution

WEEK 2: The Three Branches of Government

2.1 – Article I: Legislative Branch
2.2 – Article II: Executive Branch
2.3 – Article III: Judicial Branch

WEEK 3:  Amendments

3.1 – The Bill of Rights
3.2 – The Reconstruction Amendments
3.3 – The Progressive Amendments

WEEK 4: The First Amendment

4.1 – Freedom of Speech
4.2 – Free Exercise of Religion Clause
4.3 – Establishment Clause

WEEK 5: Criminal Procedure

5.1  – The Fourth Amendment
5.2 – The Fifth Amendment: The Right to Remain Silent
5.3 – The Sixth Amendment: The Right to Counsel/Trial by Jury

WEEK 6: Federalism and Nationalism

6.1 – The Second Amendment
6.2 – The Ninth and Tenth Amendments
6.3 – The Civil War and Reconstruction

WEEK 7: The Fourteenth Amendment

7.1 – Equal Protection/What is Discrimination?
7.2 – Women’s Equality and Abortion
7.3 – Sexual Orientation

WEEK 8: Modern Controversies

8.1 – War Powers
8.2 – Campaign Finance
8.3 – Health Care Reform


This eight-week course consists of three lecture videos each week; each lecture will run about 15 minutes and include the spoken lecture, video clips, photographs and other illustrative images. Supplemental videos, book chapters and timelines are assigned to each lecture that will enhance the students’ learning experience. We encourage students to take advantage of these resources. Every two weeks, a short quiz will be available to help students test their knowledge.

Course Workload

4-6 hours/week

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