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 2018-19 and 2019-20 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

Autumn 2019, M. Todd Henderson

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.

American Legal History, 1607-1870

Spring 2020, Alison LaCroix

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.

American Legal History: The Twentieth Century

Spring 2019, Laura Weinrib

This course examines major legal and constitutional conflicts in twentieth century American history. Topics include law and social movements, the role of the courts, rights consciousness, the legal profession, and legal thought. Students will connect legal texts and legal struggles to broader developments in social, cultural, and political history. Grading is based on class participation and a final take-home examination.

Previously:

  • Spring 2018, Laura Weinrib

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

Winter 2020, Jane Dailey

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.

European Legal History

Autumn 2018, Richard H. Helmholz

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 2018, Richard H. Helmholz

Evolution of Legal Doctrine

Autumn 2017, Frank Easterbrook

Legal doctrines have life cycles. They are born and mature. Many doctrines fade and die. There is a form of natural selection among doctrines, with several candidates offering to serve the same function in different ways. This seminar looks at the maturation and replacement of doctrines, posing the question why some die and others survive. Scope is eclectic: the doctrines range from "separate but equal" under the equal protection clause to the "original package doctrine" under the commerce clause, from the appointment of counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the understanding of the Rules of Decision Act (that is, why Swift gave way to Erie). The premise of the seminar is that those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.Final grade will be based on: a series of short research papers and class participation.

Greenberg Seminars: Reconciliation in Ireland and South Africa

Spring 2020, William A. Birdthistle and Martha C. Nussbaum

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:

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

Greenberg Seminars: The Conservative Legal Movement

Spring 2018, John Rappaport and Joel Isaac

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:

  • Autumn 2019, John Rappaport and Joel Isaac
  • Winter 2020, John Rappaport and Joel Isaac

Greenberg Seminars: The McCarthy Era and the Writers

Autumn 2018, William Birdthistle

During the McCarthy era from the late 1940s through the 1950s, many prominent writers and other artists were hounded by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and some were blacklisted from working in media.  This Greenberg looks at a group of distinguished left-wing writers who testified before HUAC and who dealt with the challenge in a variety of ways: Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets, and Howard Fast. We will read Hellman's SCOUNDREL TIME to examine the hearings, and then we'll look at a group of works to see how they express themes of anti-capitalism and/or anti-authoritarianism: Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN, THE CRUCIBLE, and ALL MY SONS; Hellman's THE LITTLE FOXES and WATCH ON THE RHINE; Odets's WAITING FOR LEFTY and GOLDEN BOY (as well as DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler as an international example); and Fast's SPARTACUS.  Does the political analysis stand up today, and what else helps make these works lasting parts of literary history?

Hellenistic Ethics

Autumn 2018, Martha C. Nussbaum

The three leading schools of the Hellenistic era (starting in Greece in  the late fourth century B. C. E. and extending through the second century C. E. in Rome) - Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics - produced philosophical work of lasting value, frequently neglected because of the fragmentary nature of the Greek evidence and people's (unjustified) contempt for Roman philosophy.  We will study in a detailed and philosophically careful way the major ethical arguments of all three schools.  Topics to be addressed include: the nature and role of pleasure; the role of the fear of death in human life; other sources of disturbance (such as having definite ethical beliefs?); the nature of the emotions and their role in a moral life; the nature of appropriate action; the meaning of the injunction to "live in accordance with nature".  If time permits we will say something about Stoic political philosophy and its idea of global duty.  Major sources (read in English) will include the three surviving letters of Epicurus and other fragments; the skeptical writings of Sextus Empiricus; the presentation of Stoic ideas in the Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius and the Roman philosophers Cicero and Seneca. This course complements the Latin course on Stoic Ethics in the winter quarter, and many will enjoy doing both. Admission by permission of the instructor.  Permission must be sought in writing by September 15. Prerequisite: An undergraduate major in philosophy or some equivalent solid philosophy preparation, plus my permission.  This is a 500 level course.  Ph.D. students in Philosophy, Classics, and Political Theory may enroll without permission.

The History of Civil Liberties in the United States

Winter 2019, Laura Weinrib

This seminar examines changing understandings of civil liberties in American legal history. It emphasizes legal and ideological contests over the meaning of free speech, religious freedom, and reproductive rights during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Readings explore the intersection between legal struggles and broader developments in social, cultural, and political history, with a particular focus on the labor, civil rights, and feminist movements.This class requires a major paper of 20-25 pages. Students will have option of writing a series of short reaction papers for 2 credits. Class participation may also be considered in final grading.

History of the Common Law

Spring 2020, Richard H. Hemholz

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.

History of the Law of Corporate Reorganizations

Winter 2019, Douglas Baird

This seminar reviews the development of the law of corporate reorganizations, beginning with 18th century insolvency and bankruptcy laws before turning to 19th century compositions and receiverships, followed by a study of the passage of the 1898 Bankrutpcy Act, the Chandler Act, and then the 1978 Bankruptcy Reform Act. Each session will focus on discrete issues in reorganization law. Students will both make oral presentations and write reaction papers totaling 20-25 pages. Class participation may also be considered in final grading.

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

Winter 2020, Alison LaCroix

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

International Human Rights

Winter 2020, Claudia M. Flores

This course is an introduction to international human rights law, covering the major instruments and institutions that operate on the international plane. It includes discussion of the conceptual underpinnings of human rights, the structure of the United Nations System, the major international treaties, regional human rights machinery, and the interplay of national and international systems in enforcing human rights. There are no prerequisites. Grading will be on the basis of a take-home exam at the end of the quarter. Students who wish to write, in lieu of the exam, a paper sufficient to satisfy the substantial writing requirement, may do so upon approval of the topic in advance. Participation may be considered in final grading.

Previously:

  • Winter 2018, Thomas Ginsburg
  • Spring 2019, Thomas Ginsburg

Is Our Constitution Undemocratic?

Winter 2020, William Baude and Genevieve Lakier

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.

Islamic Law: Foundations and Contemporary Issues

Autumn 2019, Kamran S. Bajwa

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. 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.  Non-law students who seek to enroll in this class should email Professor Bajwa at: Kamran.bajwa@kirkland.com. This class requires a 20-25 page paper to earn 3 credits vs. 2. Participation may be considered in final grading.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2017, Kamran S. Bajwa
  • Autumn 2018, Kamran S. Bajwa

The Law and Economics of Trump Trade

Spring 2020, Cree Lane Jones

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.

Life (and Death) in the Law

Spring 2020, Herschella Juanita Glenn Conyers

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 2018, Herschella Juanita Glenn Conyers
  • Spring 2019, Herchella Juanita Glenn Conyers

Originalism and Its Discontents

Winter 2020, Stephen E. Sachs

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.

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

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

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 and socio-economic trends.  Such segregation has in turn given rise to many social justice issues that impact the Chicago communities that surround the Law School.  

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 focused on criminal law, policing, environmental justice, human rights, corporate law,  education and housing are anticipated.  Each session will present a tailored mix of substantive legal doctrine, interdisciplinary insights, and 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.  

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 of 20-25 pages; and 3) class participation.

Roman Law

Spring 2019, Richard A. Epstein

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.This class will be assessed via a series of short research papers.Because this is a 1L elective, it will be graded on the curve usually applied to courses (as all 1L electives are) and will not count against the seminar limit.

Previously:

  • Spring 2018, Richard A. Epstein

Stoic Ethics Through Roman Eyes

Winter 2019, Martha C. Nussbaum

The major ideas of the Stoic school about virtue, appropriate action, emotion, and how to live in harmony with the rational structure of the universe are preserved in Greek only in fragmentary texts and incomplete summaries. But the Roman philosophers give us much more, and we will study closely a group of key texts from Cicero and Seneca, including Cicero's De Finibus book III, his Tusculan Disputations book IV, a group of Seneca's letters, and, finally, a short extract from Cicero's De Officiis, to get a sense of Stoic political thought. For fun we will also read a few letters of Cicero's where he makes it clear that he is unable to follow the Stoics in the crises of his own life. We will try to understand why Stoicism had such deep and wide influence at Rome, influencing statesmen, poets, and many others, and becoming so to speak the religion of the Roman world. Prerequisite: ability to read the material in Latin at a sufficiently high level, usually about two-three years at the college level. Assignment will usually be about 8 Oxford Classical Text pages per week, and in-class translation will be the norm. Note: This class has a final exam that will be scheduled by the instructor.

Voting Rights from Reconstruction to the Roberts Court

Spring 2020, Travis Crum

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.