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 2017-18 and 2018-19 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 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

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 Seminar: Black Lives Matter, Why?

Spring 2018, Herschella G. Conyers, Amy Hermalik, and Xiaorong Wu

#BlackLivesMatter, why? In this class, we will examine Black Lives Matter, its meteoric leap from hashtag to rights movement, and where it goes from here. We will explore the roots of the movement, criticisms and pushback, intersectionality, and the questions it raises for the nation's future. We will read articles and essays, and also draw on a number of podcasts and movies to round out our discussion and come to a clearer understanding of Black Lives Matter. The class will meet twice in the fall, once in the winter, and twice in the spring.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2017, Herschella G. Conyers, Amy Hermalik, and Xiaorong Wu
  • Winter 2018, Herschella G. Conyers, Amy Hermalik, and Xiaorong Wu

Greenberg Seminar: Discrimination in American Institutions

Spring 2018, Adam Chilton and Emily Buss

Although it has been over fifty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, racial discrimination remains a major problem in America's institutions. In this Greenberg seminar, each session we will watch a documentary film that explores racial discrimination in a different institution that is central to life in America. These will include areas like criminal justice, education, housing policy, political participation, and employment. We will specifically explore the de jure and de facto drivers of discrimination, and ways that legal reforms may help to address these problems. We will also discuss the extent to which the films we watch are successful at identifying and accurately characterizing institutional discrimination, and the power of media to drive awareness and change.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2017, Adam Chilton and Emily Buss
  • Winter 2018, Adam Chilton and Emily Buss

Greenberg Seminar: The McCarthy Era and the Writers

Spring 2019, William A. Birdthistle and Martha C. Nussbaum

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?

Previously:

  • Autumn 2018, William A. Birdthistle and Martha C. Nussbaum
  • Winter 2019, William A. Birdthistle and Martha C. Nussbaum

Greenberg Seminar: Unions in the American Political System

Spring 2018, Genevieve Lakier and Nicolas Stephanopoulos

In the United States and throughout much of the rest of the world, unions have historically played a tremendously important role in national, as well as local, politics. Over the past several decades, however, union strength has declined markedly, and the ability of unions to play an important role in national politics is today very much in question. In this seminar, we will explore the past, present, and future role that unions have played in the American political system.  We will examine the constitutional questions raised by union political power, the challenges that unions face in the present political environment, and the possible alternatives to unions as mobilizing institutions. We will also examine the significant differences in the nature of union political power in other industrialized countries and ask why, in this context as in others, the United States is so exceptional.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2017, Genevieve Lakier and Nicolas Stephanopoulos
  • Winter 2018, Genevieve Lakier and Nicolas Stephanopoulos

Greenberg Seminar: What is Racism?

Spring 2018, Daniel Abebe and Aziz Huq

This seminar explores the historical, sociological, and cultural roots of racism and racial ideologies.  It examines the relationship of racism and racial ideologies with different forms of political governance, including segregation and apartheid, and explores the legal mechanisms that have both permitted and prohibited racism in various settings.  The seminar will mainly focus on the meaning of racism most prevalent in the United States but will also, where appropriate, consider comparative examples.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2017, Daniel Abebe and Aziz Huq
  • Winter 2018, Daniel Abebe and Aziz Huq

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 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.

How Law & Legal Institutions Address (Or Fail to Address) the Impacts of Racial Segregation in Chicago

Spring 2019, Robert Weinstock

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 two-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, immigration, 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.  In particular, each session will feature either a skills-based component, to present how the law operates in reality, or a presentation conveying 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 short reaction paper; and 3) class participation.

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

Winter 2019, 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.

International Human Rights

Spring 2019, Thomas Ginsburg

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.

Previously:

  • Winter 2018, Thomas Ginsburg

Islamic Law: Foundations and Contemporary Issues

Autumn 2018, 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. 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. Special attention will be paid to comparative law aspects of Western legal theory and Islamic legal theory in light of the historical introduction of Western legal systems to the Muslim world through Colonial and post-Colonial experiences. Current political debates around Shari'ah law and the concept of a Caliphate will be assessed against Islamic legal theory and constitutional law, specifically in light of the Arab Spring revolutions and the phenomenon of violent extremism. As such, in addition to a theoretical understanding of Islamic Law in the modern context, students will also develop an understanding of the practical impact of legal theory on political, social, and economic realities in the Muslim world and beyond. 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 prior to attending the University of Michigan Law School where he also took advanced courses in Islamic Law. After graduating from law school, Professor Bajwa trained as a corporate transactional lawyer at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and then moved to the Middle East and practiced law in that region for 8 years. During his time working in the Middle East, Professor Bajwa continued his studies in Islamic Law and served as an advisor to major Islamic scholars and political leaders throughout the Muslim world involved in legal reform and intellectual projects. Professor Bajwa currently heads the Middle East regional practice for Kirkland & Ellis and travels regularly to the region. Grading will be based on student participation and a collaborative student presentation on a sub-topic of the student's choice. Non-law students who seek to enroll in this class should email Professor Bajwa at: Kamran.bajwa@kirkland.com.

Previously:

  • Autumn 2017, Kamran S. Bajwa

Labor History and the Law

Spring 2018, Laura Weinrib

This seminar examines the historical relationship between American workers and the law. It focuses on legal contests over workers' rights in the courts, legislatures, and administrative agencies during the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Readings explore the ways in which law has shaped labor solidarity, class formation, and strategies for organization and resistance. They also consider the influence of organized labor and of labor law on mobilization for social change, including the movements for civil liberties and civil rights. The seminar concludes by exploring current trends in American labor relations, including recent efforts to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees.Final grade will be based on a major paper or a series of short reaction papers.

Life (and Death) in the Law

Spring 2019, Herschella G. 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 G. Conyers

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

The Social and Legal Construction of Race

Spring 2018, LaToya Baldwin Clark

This seminar will examine the role of law in creating and recreating race in our decidedly non-post-racial society. Topics covered will include racial identity, reproduction, and criminal justice. Readings will include cases to understand the "law on the books;" law review articles to understand how legal academics interact the law and its implications; and social science research to understand "law in action."Final grade will be based on: a major paper (3 credits), a series of short reaction papers (2 credits), and class participation.

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.