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The Constitution is the founding document of the United States. Yet ever since the process of ratification, the document’s meaning—and questions about who gets to decide its meaning—have spurred pitched political battles, campaigns for elected office and social change, and arguments among ordinary voters from all walks of life. Americans have debated the question of what the Constitution means in courtrooms and legislatures, at lunch counters and on picket lines, outside medical clinics and in schools. Studying the Constitution in the twentieth century means learning about how law, society, politics, and culture all interact.
Through examination of nine defining cases and themes, the course explores how regular people, social movement activists and organizations, politicians, scholars, lawyers, and judges have fought about what the Constitution should mean inside and outside of the courtroom:
- Lochner v. New York (1905) and the Role of the Constitution in the Workplace and the Economy
- Debs v. United States (1918), Schenck v. United States (1919), Abrams v. United States (1919), Whitney v. California (1927) and the Rise of Free Speech
- Korematsu v. United States (1944) and Changing Ideas of Citizenship and Belonging
- Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Struggle for Racial Equality
- Roe v. Wade (1972), the Abortion Debate, and Women’s Rights
- Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and the Gay Rights Movement
In the process of studying the meaning of the Constitution throughout the twentieth century, the course looks at how we remain integral parts of the process of constitutional change today.
• Six seminar sessions led by Professor Urofsky
• Four pedagogy sessions led by a Gilder Lehrman Master Teacher
• A certificate of completion for 15 hours of professional development credit
Readings: The optional readings for each seminar session are listed in the “Resources” tab on the course page. Please note that you are not required to read or purchase any print materials. Quizzes are based on the content of the seminar recordings rather than the readings.
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Dr. Melvin Urofsky
Melvin I. Urofsky is a professor emeritus of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. Professor Urofsky received his BA and PhD from Columbia University and his JD from the University of Virginia. He has held fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the American Historical Association, and others. Among the fifty-two books he has either written or edited, Urofsky’s Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, published in 2009, won the Jewish Book Council’s Everett Award as the Book of the Year and the Griswold Prize of the Supreme Court Historical Society. His latest work is Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue (Pantheon, 2015).