First Amendment

SLN #: 71568
Course Prefix: LAW-791
Course Section: 008
Credit Hours: 2
Instructor(s): Winer

Course Description:
This course on the First Amendment is based on a unique approach and materials developed by Prof. Vince Blasi at Columbia who has offered such a course with great success at several law schools for about twenty years. The main text is Blasi’s Ideas of the First Amendment ( West, Second Ed. 2012). Students wishing more information than is in this description should consult the text. The premise is to organize the course, as Blasi puts it, “around leading thinkers rather than doctrinal topics.” Thus Blasi’s materials are organized around “seven of the most eloquent and historically significant articulations of the reasons for a strong free speech principle.” These seven classic writings range from political polemics (Milton and Madison), to philosophical essays (Mill and Meiklejohn), to “judicial opinions of unusual intellectual ambition and insight” (Hand, Holmes and Brandeis).This juxtaposition of perspectives prepares students to broadly examine and critically evaluate traditional doctrinal categories of First Amendment jurisprudence. And, as Blasi suggests, this approach also does better justice to the “majesty ...[and] complexity” of the First Amendment than a more traditional course focused on “pragmatic judgments of small compass” that emerge “by connecting the dots of numerous cases, presented in fragmentary form and organized according to problem area”. In the original Preface to his text, Blasi adds: “[I]t is the (more original) thesis of this book that such [doctrinal] questions are best studied not by examining, necessarily at a breathless pace, snippets of vast numbers of Supreme Court opinions that elaborate three- part tests and ever-proliferating doctrinal subcategories, but rather by engaging some of the greatest writings on the freedom of speech that have been generated in the Anglo-American tradition, and asking how those writings - some political polemics, some judicial opinions - might help one to think about the pivotal doctrinal questions.” Still, the course includes “most of the leading Supreme Court opinions interpreting the First Amendment,” and “virtually all of the traditional doctrinal categories are covered.” Blasi has refined his approach in the 2012 second edition of the text, which naturally is very up to date. The text, however, always will be supplemented as appropriate with the very latest Supreme Court opinions in the area. Another great benefit of studying the First Amendment in this fashion is that students will be forced to closely examine “how some of the finest practitioners of the art of persuasion went about building their arguments.” The course therefore is also a superb course in legal advocacy and rhetoric. By reading and studying virtually unedited selections by great writers (“well elaborated masterpieces of advocacy”), students should improve their own writing. Students often have difficulty “getting started” on a paper - choosing an interesting and manageable topic, developing an appropriate thesis, and the like. So, to assist this process, in consultation with the Instructor each student will be required to write an extended critique of one of the canonical writings (of the student’s choice) around which the course is built and apply his or her critique to a doctrinal issue or case. Students wishing to earn an additional credit by writing a more substantial paper may sign up for a related 1- credit Independent Study with Prof. Winer. Interested students should address any questions to Prof. Winer via e-mail at

Additional Information:
Credit Hours: 2
Grading Option: Letter Grade Only
Written Assignment: Yes. Term Paper. See course description.
Graduation Writing Requirement: Yes*
Flexible Writing Requirement: Yes*
Skills Requirement: No
Note: Only one of the above listed requirements can be fulfilled with this course.
Experiential Learning: No
Special Withdrawal Course: No
Limited Enrollment Number: Yes, but flexible
Final Exam Given: No
Mid Term Or Other Exam: No
Paper Or In-Class Presentation: Possible
Participation Points: Yes, in accord with Law School Policy
Attendance Policy: Per Statement Of Student Policies
Additional Attendance Policy: Mandatory

* The law school has a policy that Is used To calculate credit hours. Please see the Statement of Student Policies.