The University of Arizona

Law School Offering Supreme Court Class

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications, | December 2, 2011

The UA James E. Rogers College of Law has structured a new course specificially for undergraduates, offering an introduction to the institutional structure of the American legal system.

The UA James E. Rogers College of Law is offering a new course for undergraduates interested in learning more about some of the major decisions that have come out of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo credit: Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
The UA James E. Rogers College of Law is offering a new course for undergraduates interested in learning more about some of the major decisions that have come out of the U.S. Supreme Court. (Photo credit: Beatriz Verdugo/UANews)
"I am really excited about this course that brings together 13 great lecturers and 25 top law students, along with hundreds of undergrads to discuss some of the biggest issues in our society," said Christopher T. Robertson, a UA associate professor of law.

Designed specifically for University of Arizona undergraduates, a new class on the U.S. Supreme Court will involve expert scholars who will discuss a landmark case each session. 

The UA James E. Rogers College of Law course, "Sex, Race, and Power in the Supreme Court," or Law 389, will explore race, detention, executive power, the right to privacy, the power tribal nations hold, and other topics decided by the court – the highest in the nation.

Christopher T. Robertson, an associate professor of law, led the charge in developing the course, which is being offered as a series of lectures with 13 different legal scholars. 

"I have called upon 12 of my colleagues and asked them, 'If you could give only one lecture on one Supreme Court case, which one would it be?' These lecturers have chosen cases that are meaningful to them, ones they are excited to talk about," said Robertson, who will present on Wickard v. Filburn, which promises to be pivotal in the current litigation about health-care reform.

In addition to the lectures, more than 20 graduate students in the law school will faciliate 15-member discussions with the undergraduates and also host one-on-one meetings to aid in student learning and progress.

"They will see the interaction of law, politics, evidence, public opinion and social values," Robertson said. "I also want to spark their intellectual curiosity and develop their ability to think and write clearly."

Additionally, two doctoral students will facilitate an online component for the course, which will include a section for Honors College students and also fulfills requirements for the pre-law thematic minor and philosophy, politics, economics and law interdisciplinary major.

It is an unconventional, but increasingly popular, approach in structuring a course.

Robertson joins others at the UA experimenting with courses that pull in a broad range of guest speakers with varying backgrounds, levels of expertise and experience to help create a richer learning environment for students. 

In recent years, faculty members in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, speech, language and hearing sciences, the mathematics department, and also special education, rehabilitation and school psychology have introduced forums and symposium-style courses. 

"These are very distinguished faculty," said Courtney Henson, who is pursuing her juris doctor and will serve as a preceptor for the course. 

Speakers for the law course include: 

  • College of Law Dean Lawrence Ponoroff, the Samuel M. Fegtly Chair in Commercial Law, will give a talk on race in his discussion of Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • Regents' Professor of Law S. James Anaya, the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy, will co-present with Robert A. Williams, the E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program director. Anaya and Williams will discuss Nevada v. Hicks, offering an analysis of power tribal nations maintain in comparison to states.
  • Regents' Professor of Law Toni Massaro, the Milton O. Riepe Chair in Constitutional Law and Dean Emerita, will discuss issues related to sex and privacy in her talks on Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade.
  • Sally Rider, the law school's associate dean for administration and chief of staff, will discuss executive power in her talk on Youngstown v. Sawyer. Rider also directs the William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government
  • Thomas A. Mauet, the Milton O. Riepe Professor, will talk about the confrontation of witnesses in his presentation on Crawford v. Washington. 

Henson said these topics "are so interesting and so important," noting that they are excellent for classroom debate while also offering a comprehensive understanding of how the Supreme Court operates. 

"Many people don't understand the importance of Supreme Court decisions and the affect they have on our everyday lives," Henson said, noting that it is especially important because the Supreme Court generally decides on highly contentious national issues. 

"This is the one court where the decisions always matter," Henson said, emphasizing the nationwide impact of Supreme Court cases. "We also hope this class will give undergraduate students a better understanding of what the legal arguments are and what is just politics."

The course will give students the chance to critically interpret some of the most important landmark cases while also questioning issues around impact and constitutionality.  

Having taken similar courses with some of the speakers, such as Massaro, Henson said that students often come away "feeling like they've gained critical insight into the inner workings of our country." 


Christopher T. Robertson

UA James E. Rogers College of Law