Legal History Seminar: The Marshall Court, 1805-1835

John Marshall (1755 – 1835) was the fourth, and longest-serving, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1801– 35). Marshall dominated the Court. His opinions created the foundation of American constitutional law and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. For instance, the Marshall court inaugurated the concept of judicial review, struck down the first statute as “unconstitutional,” and emphasized the supremacy of federal power. The Marshall court’s strongly nationalist opinions supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers of the Constitution. Under Marshall’s leadership, the judiciary was confirmed as an independent and co-equal branch of government.

This seminar will examine some of the most significant opinions of the Marshall court, through close readings of the cases and some of the best writings about them. The cases will be discussed in their historical and legal settings. Topics covered will include: judicial review; federal supremacy; treason; piracy and the slave trade; interstate commerce; property rights, citizenship and the American Indians; and slavery. In addition to grappling with the legal doctrine, the seminar will pay attention to the process in the lower courts, the people involved (judges, lawyers, and parties), and will analyze the arguments made (and not made), and the alternate ways the cases might have been decided.

Each student will be responsible for writing a research paper. In addition, each student will make an oral presentation to the seminar regarding his or her topic. Students may use their papers in satisfaction of the Law School’s Advanced Writing Requirement.

Key to Codes in Course Descriptions
P: Prerequisite
C: Prerequisite or Concurrent Requirement
R: Recommended Prior or Concurrent Course