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The Supreme Court of the United States – Key Issues and Landmark Cases

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About this Course

About the Course

In this course, Dr Emma Long (University of East Anglia) explores how the Supreme Court of the United States works by looking at some of its landmark cases over the past 50-60 years – especially those relating to civil rights (broadly defined). In the first module, we think about the growth of the Supreme Court’s interest in civil rights in the post-war period, including its handling of an unprecedented number of cases related to individual rights. In the second module, we think about the Supreme Court cases that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), making the argument that Brown should be seen not as the beginning of a civil rights movement, but as the culmination of a legal campaign that can be traced back to Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938). In the third module, we turn to the reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973) and think about the potential for Supreme Court decisions to turn a politically (relatively) inert issue into something much more controversial and hotly contested. In the fourth module, we think about the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which – in its majority and minority opinions – produced unusually cogent outlines of the originalist and living constitutionalist approaches to interpretation of the Constitution. Finally, in the fifth module, we turn to the issue of gay rights and the extent to which shifts in public opinion impacts how the Supreme Court interprets the law.

About the Lecturer

Dr Emma Long is Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia. Her research interests focus on the history of the US Constitution and the Supreme Court. Although interested in all aspects of this history, her particular focus is on the period since 1945 and on the rights contained in the Bill of Rights. Emma also has an interest in the interaction of religion and politics in American history, particularly issues related to the idea of the “separation of church and state” that emerge from the First Amendment.