POLSC432: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

Course Syllabus for "POLSC432: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights"

Please note: this legacy course does not offer a certificate and may contain broken links and outdated information. Although archived, it is open for learning without registration or enrollment. Please consider contributing updates to this course on GitHub (you can also adopt, adapt, and distribute this course under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license). To find fully-supported, current courses, visit our Learn site.

The purpose of this course is to familiarize students with civil rights and civil liberties in the United States. While much of the reading will focus on court cases, it is not a course on the law or on the courts. Rather, this is a course on constitutional politics. The focus will center on understanding how a free society governs and controls itself. The material will address evolving opinions and doctrines of the United States Supreme Court that focus on the civil liberties and rights of both individuals and groups. This material will emphasize cases with particular relevance to political controversies of both the past and present such as the following: the civil liberties in a post-September 11th country, same-sex marriage, racial equality, gender equality, pornography, as well as speech and privacy in general. The design of this course will encourage students to take a historical view to understand contemporary issues. As mentioned above, this course primarily will explore the doctrines of the Court. This means that the substance of the judicial arguments and justifications for revision, rejection and replacement of long-standing precedent, and how the Court reasons and argues for a particular interpretation of the Constitution will all be examined. The course will also consider the political role of the Court investigating how the Court’s priorities have evolved over time and how it has responded to developments in the other branches of the government. Altogether, the purpose of the course is to provide students with a firm grasp of the theoretical and philosophical concepts that both shaped and continue to influence the rights and liberties afforded to citizens in the United States.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Interpret Supreme Court opinions.
  • Describe their own understanding of the Constitution as related to citizen rights and liberties.
  • Discuss the historical development of equality across individuals and groups in the United States.
  • Evaluate the constitutionality of laws that either afford or restrict the rights and liberties of citizens.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course you must:
√    Have access to a computer.
√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.
√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).
√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.
√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).
√    Be competent in the English language.
√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC432.  Below, please find general information on the course and its requirements.
Primary Resources: This course is composed of a range of different free, online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials.  Unit 1 will lay the foundation for understanding the difference between liberties and rights. This will be essential to understanding the rest of the course. Then the units that follow will cover a series of specific topics (e.g. speech, race, gender, etc.). Each will begin with the history of that topic as related to civil rights and liberties in the United States followed by material covering the constitutional issues and development related to each respective topic. This material will all prepare you for the Final Exam.
In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.
Time Commitment: This course should take you a total of 108 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 9 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (a total of 4.5 hours) on Monday night and Tuesday night; then subunits 1.2 (a total of 2.5 hours) on Wednesday night; then subunit 1.3 (2 hours) on Thursday night; etc.
Tips/Suggestions: Successful completion of this course will require both historical knowledge and logic. The historical knowledge will help you to understand how to interpret court cases. It is important to try to think about the context within which many of the decisions centered on people’s rights were being made. What may seem like a clear violation of rights to us was not so clear to people existing in a time with different values. Thus, considering context will help clarify the material.
Also, as you read, take careful notes on a separate sheet of paper.  Mark down any important concepts and definitions that stand out to you.  It will be useful to use this “cheat sheet” as a review prior to completing the final exam.

Preliminary Information

  • American Government and Politics in the Information Age

    Link: American Government and Politics in the Information Age (PDF)

    You will be prompted to read sections of this book throughout the course.  You may choose to download the text in full now and skip to the appropriate section as prompted by the instructions in the resource boxes below, or you can simply download the specific sections of the text assigned as you progress through each resource box.

    Terms of Use: The text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work's original creator or licensee.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.