Legal History Courses

Professor Alison LaCroix

The courses listed below provide a taste of the Legal History courses offered at the Law School, although no formal groupings exist in our curriculum. This list includes the courses taught in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. Not all of these courses are offered every year, but this list will give you a representative sample of the variety of courses we might offer over any two-year period. Other new courses will likely be offered during your time at the Law School.

PLEASE NOTE: This page does not include courses for the current academic year. To browse current course offerings, visit my.UChicago.

American Indian Law

This course will consider two distinct bodies of law regarding the 565 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States. First, we will study the law governing the relation between non-tribal law and tribal law. This is the law of treaties, federal jurisdiction, and sovereignty. The Supreme Court has several cases on tribal issues each year, and with the rise of gaming and natural resources as major sources of wealth, the stakes in these cases for tribe members and non-members is increasing. The materials for the course will be mostly Supreme Court cases, as well as some historical materials necessary to understand the context of the judicial consideration of tribal jurisdiction. The flavor for this part of the course will be international law, although with a decidedly American approach. Second, we will study the law within several prominent tribal areas. The Hopi, for instance, have a court system that is roughly parallel to the American one, but with key differences for handling crimes, contracts, torts, and so on. The flavor for this part of the course will be comparative law, since we will compare how different legal rules develop in distinct but related legal systems. This course is mandatory for students interested in participating in the Hopi Law Practicum (serving as clerks to justices of the Hopi Appellate Court on live cases), but it is open to all students with an interest in tribes, federal jurisdiction, sovereignty, or comparative law.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2019, M. Todd Henderson

American Indian Tribal Law

Most of American legal education focuses on federal, state, and local government laws. Yet, there are 574 tribal governments in the United States that receive precious little attention from legal academia and American society broadly. Why do we generally ignore or exclude the laws of American Indian tribes from the mainstream study and conception of of "American law"? When we take the time to look at tribal law, what might we learn? These questions will guide this seminar as we examine the complex history of tribal law in America and the current state of American Indian tribal law. A series of short research papers on different topics in tribal law will be required (20-25 pages.)

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Elizabeth Anne Reese

American Legal History, 1607-1870

This course examines major themes and interpretations in the history of American law and legal institutions from the earliest English settlements through the Civil War. Topics include continuity and change between English and American law in the colonial period; the American Revolution; changing understandings of the U.S. Constitution; the legal status of women and African Americans; federalism; commerce; slavery; and the Civil War and Reconstruction. The student's grade will be based on a take-home final examination.

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, Alison LaCroix

American Legal History, 1800-1870: Revolution to Reconstruction

This course examines major themes and interpretations in the history of U.S. law and legal institutions from the early Republic through Reconstruction.  Topics to be discussed include changing ideas of the Constitution; the federal-state relationship; the role of the federal courts; membership and citizenship; slavery and race; the Indian Removal Act and federal relations with Native nations; and the constitutional and legal consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The student's grade will be based on a take-home final examination. This class will begin the week of January 4, 2021.

Previously:

  • Winter 2021, Alison LaCroix

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States, 1865-Present

This class examines the history of the African American Freedom Struggle  in the United States from emancipation to the present.  Although the course will move chronologically, our emphasis will be thematic, covering such topics as voting rights and political participation, sex and marriage rights, criminal justice reform, the role of courts, and the relationship between law and social movements. A series of research papers will be required for this class (20-25 pages). Participation may be considered in final grading.

Previously:

  • Winter 2020, Jane Dailey

Critical Race Studies

This course provides an introduction to critical race theory through reading canonical works by critical race scholars; it explores a selection of current legal debates from a critical race perspective; and it contextualizes critical race theory through the study of related movements in legal scholarship, including legal realism, critical legal studies, and social science research on discrimination and structural racism. We will attempt to identify the ways in which critical race scholarship has influenced, or should influence, legal research and law school pedagogy. Requirements for this course include thoughtful class participation and a final examination.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, William J. H. Hubbard

European Legal History

This seminar aims to give students an appreciation of the basic themes and most important events in European (as opposed to English) legal history. It begins with the Roman law formulated under the Emperor Justinian and moves forward to the 19th century. Among the subjects covered are Germanic law, the rise of legal science beginning in the 12th century, the nature of the ius commune, legal humanism, the reception of Roman law, the natural law school, and the movement towards Codification. In addition to the text book, students are expected to read one law review article each week and to share it with the class. They are permitted to write a research paper (20-25 pages), but a final examination will also be offered as an option.

Previously:

  • Winter 2021, Richard H. Helmholz
  • Autumn 2018, Richard H. Helmholz
  • Winter 2018, Richard H. Helmholz

Greenberg Seminar: Law and Politics in the Irish Literary Renaissance

* All meetings will take place in Winter and Spring quarters of 2021.*

Just over a century ago, Ireland underwent a tumultuous period of rebellion and civil war, generating a body of literature that captured the law and politics of a new nation.  In this Greenberg, we will read the following selection of classic works for their insight into the history of a society attempting to slough off imperial and colonial legacies to define itself anew.  Perhaps Ireland's most celebrated author, James Joyce, published two of his greatest works -- Dubliners (1914) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) -- during World War I and the Easter Rising.  Ireland's first Nobel laureate, William Butler Yeats, was a leading force in the Irish revival, founding the Abbey Theatre and chronicling the age in poems such as Easter 1916, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, Sailing to Byzantium, and The Second Coming.  One of the first plays to open at the Abbey was Playboy of the Western World, by J.M. Synge, which led to riots in Dublin during its opening run in 1907; we will read it together with another celebrated play that also debuted at the Abbey: Juno and the Paycock by Sean O'Casey.  To close the moment, we will read Ireland's leading modernist and third Nobel laureate, Samuel Beckett: specifically, his novel, Molloy, and landmark play, Waiting for Godot.  What do these works tell us about how societies capture political moments in art and what makes them lasting parts of literary history? Graded Pass/Fail.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Martha C. Nussbaum and William Anthony Birdthistle
  • Winter 2021, Martha C. Nussbaum and William Anthony Birdthistle

Greenberg Seminar: Migration, Labor Mobility, and Economic Development

Finding ways to facilitate migration will be one of the most pressing policy problems of the 21st century. This is in part because finding ways to move workers to where they are more productive-for instance, people from rural settings to urban settings or people from poor countries to rich countries-is the most effective way to reduce global poverty. Additionally, major global trends like climate change, sustained regional conflict, and declining birth rates in developed countries are also making finding ways to ease migration more important than ever. But at the same time there is increased need for migration, the combination of growing populism around the world and the COVID pandemic are leading countries to erect new barriers to movement. This seminar will explore this topic by watching a series of documentary films that explore different issues related to migration and labor mobility. We will also discuss the extent to which the films we watch are successful at identifying and conveying these issues to the broader public.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2020, Anup Malani and Adam S. Chilton
  • Winter 2021, Anup Malani and Adam S. Chilton
  • Spring 2021, Anup Malani and Adam S. Chilton

Greenberg Seminar: Reconciliation in Ireland and South Africa

Despite its apparent peace and prosperity today, Ireland is an island with a long history of division and conflict, from the sectarian Troubles in Northern Ireland to religious cruelties in the Republic of Ireland.  This Greenberg looks at a collection of those ordeals, compares them with other paths to reconciliation in South Africa, and then considers where the two Irish nations are today.  We will begin by reading two non-fiction accounts: SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and THE MAGDALEN LAUNDRIES by James M. Smith about cruelties inflicted upon unwed mothers in the Republic of Ireland.  Then we will look at writings by Nelson Mandela (LONG WALK TO FREEDOM), Desmond Tutu (NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS), and Martha Nussbaum (ANGER AND FORGIVENESS) to examine ideas of reconciliation, anger, and forgiveness in other contexts.  Next, we'll look at a celebrated fictional account of the Troubles in the north (MILKMAN by Anna Burns) before concluding with an account of ordinary life in the Republic today through NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney.  Have the Irelands reconciled with their past, or does they still need to?

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, Martha C. Nussbaum and William Anthony Birdthistle
  • Winter 2020, Martha C. Nussbaum and William Anthony Birdthistle
  • Autumn 2019, Martha C. Nussbaum and William Anthony Birdthistle

Greenberg Seminar: The Conservative Legal Movement

We will study the rise of the conservative legal movement as a competitor to legal liberalism.  Topics will include both influential persons and organizations, such as the Federalist Society, and jurisprudential ideas, including originalism and law and economics. Participating students earn one pass/fail credit. Attendance at all sessions is required to earn the credit.

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, John Rappaport and Joel Isaac
  • Winter 2020, John Rappaport and Joel Isaac
  • Autumn 2019, John Rappaport and Joel Isaac
  • Winter 2018, Saul Levmore and Julie Roin
  • Autumn 2017, Saul Levmore and Julie Roin

The History of American Federalism: Origins to the Civil War

This seminar examines the history of American federalism, both as a constitutional value and as a product of intellectual history, from its early modern European antecedents to the U.S. Civil War. Topics include the legal and political organization of the colonies and the British Empire; early American federal experiments; the American Revolution and the Articles of Confederation; the drafting and ratification of the Constitution; the nullification crisis; secession; and the Civil War. Readings will come from primary historical sources, secondary sources in history and law, political theory, and cases. Grades will be based on a series of short response papers and an in-class presentation. Students wishing to take the seminar for three credits must write an additional short research paper of 10 to 15 pages in addition to the rest of the coursework. Participation may be considered in final grading.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Alison LaCroix

History of the Common Law

A survey of the development of Anglo-American legal institutions. Among the subjects covered will be the origins and growth of the legal profession, the origin and use of royal writs, the growth of the court system and the nature of trials at common law, law reporting, and the development of the common law in the American colonies and the new Republic.

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, Richard H. Helmholz

The Interbellum Constitution: Union, Commerce, and Slavery in the Early 19th Century

This seminar examines the legal and intellectual history of debates concerning American constitutional law and politics between the Revolution and the Civil War, approximately 1800 to 1860. Topics to be discussed include the federal-state relationship, the commerce power, internal improvements, the market revolution, federal regulation of slavery in the territories, and the role of the federal courts. The grade will be based on a final written paper 20-25 pages, a short in-class presentation, and class participation.

Previously:

  • Winter 2020, Alison LaCroix
  • Winter 2019, Alison LaCroix

Introduction to American Law and Legal Institutions

This course will consider a variety of legal institutions and how they interact to produce a distinctly American configuration of law.  Since Tocqueville, observers have noted that Americans have a distinctly legal mode of organizing society: as he put it "Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question."  More than citizens of other advanced democracies, they seem willing to turn to courts to resolve disputes, from those about mundane traffic accidents to major disputes of politics and public policy, and to emphasize punitive legal sanctions. The causes and consequences of this litigiousness will be explored through the lens of legal institutions.  The course will begin with an introduction to the constitutional structure and then proceed to examine particular legal institutions. Subjects will include the civil and criminal jury, the role of lawyers, the political role of the judiciary,  and legalistic modes of administrative regulation.  The emphasis will be on how the institutions actually operate, and readings will be drawn from both legal and social scientific literature. This class will have a final exam. This class is only open to LLM students and is required for LLM students to take.

Previously:

  • Winter 2021, Thomas Ginsburg

Is Our Constitution Undemocratic?

It is often said that the U.S. Constitution is the oldest democratic constitution in the world. But how democratic is it? This seminar will explore that question both historically and by examining, in some detail, the constitutional design. Topics to be discussed include: the Framing and the legacy of slavery; constitutional war powers and U.S. imperialism; presidential power; Article III and the powers of judicial review; the Senate; the Electoral College and the constitutional organization of voting more broadly; Article V and the difficulties of amending the Constitution.  Grades will be based on some combination of class participation, reaction papers and/or a short final research paper.

Previously:

  • Winter 2020, William Baude and Genevieve Lakier

Islamic Law: Foundations and Contemporary Issues

Since its inception, Islamic Law has grown from a set of rules governing life in 6th century Arabia to a global body of law developed across time and place with application to religious, civil, criminal, constitutional, commercial, and international law. The primary objective of the seminar will be to give students a basic understanding of Islamic Law and the issues faced in applying Islamic Law in the modern context, including current political and social events globally that have roots in Islamic Law issues. The seminar will cover the origins and historical development of Islamic Law, Islamic legal theory, scope and application of Islamic Law, and selected current issues such as Islamic Finance. Modern constitutional law issues regarding sources of law, religious freedom, public interest, and related issues in Muslim majority countries will be reviewed as well as the debates around the application of Islamic Law for Muslim minorities living in secular states.  This is a one semester seminar for 2L and 3L students. There are no pre-requisite courses required in Islam. Weekly readings will be assigned in English language source materials. A series of research papers is required (20-25 pages). Participation may be considered in final grading.The seminar will draw on the lecturer's extensive personal experience with the subject matter and knowledge of the legal systems of Muslim majority states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, and elsewhere. Professor Kamran Bajwa studied classical Islamic Law and Islamic Theology at the Al-Azhar seminary in Cairo, Egypt. Professor Bajwa currently heads the Middle East regional practice for Kirkland & Ellis and travels regularly to the region.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2020, Kamran Bajwa
  • Autumn 2019, Kamran Bajwa
  • Autumn 2018, Kamran Bajwa
  • Autumn 2017, Kamran Bajwa

The Law and Economics of Trump Trade

This seminar will explore the law and economics of U.S. Trade Policy under the Trump Administration.  The seminar will include readings, lectures, and discussions on (1) the economic theory of trade, (2) how recent developments in U.S. trade policy fit into this economic theory, (3) the historical and legal background of current U.S. trade regulation, and (4) the domestic and international legal frameworks that enable and/or constrain recent developments in U.S. trade policy. This class requires a series of short reaction papers.

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, Cree Lane Jones

Law and the American Revolution

This class will be taught by Farah Peterson, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law. www.law.virginia.edu/faculty/profile/fp9r/2708426. This class explores five different views of the legal order in late-eighteenth-century America and delves into the major legal questions raised by the American Revolutionary movement. Students will be graded on class participation and a series of reaction papers. This is a short class meeting 5 times: Wed/Thur April 29/30, Wed/Thurs May 6/7 from 6:10-8:10 p.m. and Friday, May 8 from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, Farah Peterson

Legal History of the Founding Era

This class explores the legal world of the late eighteenth century from the period just before the Revolution to the ratification of the Constitution.  Among other topics, the class covers debates over the economic and political conditions that shaped the constitutional moment, and the implications of those debates for constitutional interpretation. This class requires a series of reaction  papers and substantial out of class work. Participation may be considered in final grading. Students who have already taken the short course Law and the American Revolution may not enroll.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Farah Peterson

Life (and Death) in the Law

This seminar will explore the various definitions and valuations of life across diverse areas of the law. Readings will include seminal cases in reproductive rights, assisted suicide, right-to-die, and capital punishment. Background readings in related areas, i.e., scientific journals, papers, etc. will also be required. The seminar will discuss policy decision-making including actuarial analysis and social, medical and religious values inherent, implicit or ignored in the legal analysis. Students will be required to write two response papers, co-draft a statute in one area of law, and participate in jury deliberations. Grade will also be based on class participation.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Herschella Juanita Glenn Conyers
  • Spring 2020, Herschella Juanita Glenn Conyers
  • Spring 2019, Herschella Juanita Glenn Conyers
  • Spring 2018, Herschella Juanita Glenn Conyers

The Original Meaning of the Privileges or Immunities Clause

The Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in the wake of the Civil War, provides that "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." But this Clause was quickly diluted by the courts, so its true meaning remains obscure. But if the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment is to be recovered, the Clause's meaning is central to debates over the incorporation of the Bill of Rights, the status of unenumerated rights, and principles of antidiscrimination. This seminar will be a deep dive into the original meaning of that Clause, via a mix of primary sources and competing scholarly theories. It will presume a great deal of constitutional law background, so students should have prior or concurrent enrollment in Con Law III, or the permission of the instructor. This class requires a major paper (20-25 pages). Participation may be considered in final grading.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, William Patrick Baude

Originalism and Its Discontents

Originalism is a major school of constitutional interpretation and an important field of study. Both legal discussions and public debates regularly feature originalist arguments or criticisms of originalism. To engage these arguments, lawyers and citizens must weigh the merits of a diverse set of originalist theories. Prerequisite: any constitutional law course.

This short seminar is designed to acquaint you with a number of originalist and nonoriginalist arguments; to enable you to assess their strengths; and to give you an opportunity to sharpen your own views on the topic.

This class requires a series of response papers (combined page total = 10-12 pages). Participation may be considered in final grading.

Previously:

  • Winter 2020, Stephen E. Sachs

Regulating the Mass Public Sphere

As the events of the last few months have made clear, there are serious problems with how the mass public sphere operates in the United States. Lies, conspiracy theories and disinformation circulate widely. Threats and harassment make it difficult for many (particularly women and minorities) to participate freely. Meanwhile the lowering of barriers to entry has encouraged a fracturing of the public conversation. This seminar will explore the extent to which these problems result from and/or might be solved by, regulation. To do so, it will take a deep dive into the regulatory history of the mass public. The seminar will examine the history of federal postal policy, telegraph common carrier laws, twentieth century radio regulation (including the Fairness Doctrine) and the internet platforms. It will also ask students to critically examine some of the reform proposals that have been suggested to correct the problems with the mass public. Knowledge of First Amendment law is recommended but not required. Grades will be based on class participation and a final research paper.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Genevieve Lakier

Responses of Law and Legal Institutions to the Impacts of Racial Segregation in Chicago

Chicago is among the most racially segregated major cities in America and also has one of the greatest disparities in poverty rate by race.  Racial segregation in Chicago is the product of governmental policies & socio-economic trends.  Such segregation has in turn given rise to many social justice issues that impact Chicago communities.

This three-credit seminar is designed to examine social and legal problems in Chicago that are connected to racial segregation in the city.  In doing so, the seminar will provide an opportunity to evaluate how different areas of law interact with and effect a complex web of social problems.  This seminar will meet once a week, for two hours. 

The introductory session will provide an overview of the historic drivers of racial segregation in Chicago, key contemporary racial, socieo-economic, administrative and political dynamics in the City.  After that introductory meeting, each subsequent session will be led by a different faculty member and focused on exploring the ways key laws, policies, and legal institutions within a particular area of law create or exacerbate social ills related to racial segregation.  Sessions in prior years have focused on criminal law, policing, environmental justice, human rights, corporate law,  education, & housing.  Each session will present a tailored mix of legal doctrine, interdisciplinary insights, & practical perspectives on the way law and legal institutions redress or reinforce a particular social challenge in contemporary Chicago.  Many sessions will feature either a skills-based component, to present how the law operates in reality, or a guest speaker, to convey the real-world effect of legal institutions on a community. This year, we will follow a similar format, but focus on events from the past year.

Students will be assessed in the following ways:  1) weekly blog-style reactions to the readings in advance of the week's seminar; 2) a final research paper; and 3) class participation."

Previously:

  • Winter 2021, Robert A. Weinstock
  • Winter 2020, Robert A. Weinstock, Nino Guruli, and Amy Marie Hermalik

Roman Law

The seminar develops skill in analyzing legal problems according to the processes of the Roman civil law, in contrast with those of the common law, and does not purport to give a comprehensive treatment of its detailed workings. The material provides an outline of the sources and procedure of Roman private law, followed by an examination of the Roman institutional system, the basis of most modern civil law codes. Particular emphasis is given to property and to obligations (contracts and torts). No knowledge of Latin is required for the seminar. A major paper of 20-25 pages is required for this class.

Previously:

  • Spring 2021, Richard A. Epstein
  • Spring 2019, Richard A. Epstein
  • Spring 2018, Richard A. Epstein

Voting Rights from Reconstruction to the Roberts Court

This course examines the intersection of race and voting rights. From debates about voter ID laws to legal battles over redistricting, race and voting rights are inextricably intertwined in our society. This course analyzes the development of voting rights over U.S. history, starting with the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments during Reconstruction. Other topics include the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the constitutionality of race-conscious redistricting, and the legal significance of racially polarized voting. Students will leave the course with an understanding of the major issues in voting rights today. Students will be graded based on short reaction papers as well as the quality of their preparation and participation in the seminar. There will not be a final examination. Prerequisites: Constitutional Law is recommended but not required.

Previously:

  • Spring 2020, Travis Crum