Legal History Seminar: the Marshall Court 1801 - 1835

Course Description

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.

Students will be assigned a judicial decision from the time of the Marshall court and be responsible for an oral presentation to the seminar and a case study research paper. Students will be encouraged to locate and use primary sources (including contemporary treatises and court records), as well as biographical and historical materials. Alternately, students may be assigned a modern case that has interpreted one of the Marshall Court’s cases, and trace how the legal principles or doctrine has been projected, revised, or rejected in the intervening years. Each student will be called upon to put his or her decision in its social, economic, and political context.

Students may use their papers in satisfaction of the Law School’s Advanced Writing Requirement.

Current and Previous Instructors

Key to Codes in Course Descriptions

P: Prerequisite
C: Prerequisite or Concurrent Requirement
R: Recommended Prior or Concurrent Course

Currently Scheduled Sections

CRN: 99964

May satisfy Advanced Writing Requirement