What were the Founders thinking when they created the Electoral College? This lecture will provide an overview of the constitutional road to the White House. The focus will be on the complex system designed to decide who gets to be our nation’s Chief Executive—and whether it still needs to be so complicated.
Throughout American history, our legal system has struggled with a delicate balance between two sometimes-opposing objectives: the preservation of individual liberty and the obligation to ensure public safety. Highlighting circumstances and Supreme Court decisions, this discussion will illustrate how Founding-era ideals have been applied to the evolving powers and limitations of the police in modern society.
This lecture will examine the evolving role of the U.S. Supreme Court in American history. Our objective will be to get a better sense of how the Court works, how it deals with (or fails to deal with) controversial issues and how the "least dangerous branch" has secured its unique place in the American constitutional structure.
Despite the wording of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in a 1919 decision that free speech is not absolute. As a consequence, the government routinely makes laws preventing people from expressing themselves in every instance without recourse. In this lecture, landmark Supreme Court decisions will be discussed to analyze the challenge of balancing this important civil liberty and public safety in America.
This lecture examines the development of the First Amendment protection of religious freedom. Circumstances and Supreme Court interpretations of the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights will be considered to illustrate how Founding-era ideals have been applied to the controversial issue of religion and government interaction in America.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a defining moment in American history. Yet the story of how JFK's untimely death led to a change in the U.S. Constitution is less well known. In this discussion we will examine constitutional provisions dealing with a premature vacancy in the presidency and legal changes over time in the order of presidential succession.
In this lecture, we will examine two of the most important--and controversial--Supreme Court justices of the modern era. One heralded by the right and the other by the left, our analysis will look at their lives, their impact on the high court and some of their important opinions and dissents.
In this lecture, we will discuss the American legal and political struggle towards the abolition of slavery. We will focus on the structure and impact of President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as well as post-war Constitutional developments regarding the 'peculiar institution.'
Few documents have had as much impact on world history as the one-page writing that formalized the serving of ties between the American colonies and England. In this lecture, we will discuss the road to the declaration, the constitutional underpinnings of its necessity and the historical basis of its premise.
For more than 200 years, the Supreme Court has remained largely silent in interpreting whether the 27 words cited above provide an individual or collective right to own a gun. The Court has attempted to resolve some questions relating to the Second Amendment with two recent decisions. In this lecture, we will discuss the impact of these cases, the role of legislative initiative at the state and federal levels and the evolving status of this debate.
The highest court in our land often speaks in regal terms about the majesty of the law. But sometimes their opinions leave us scratching our heads trying to figure out exactly what they said and why they said it. This discussion will introduce us to cases we heard of but know little about, cases we heard of and know the Court got wrong, cases we still fight over, and decisions we think we know what to think, among a handful of others that have us perplexed, concerned or just a bit curious.
Article I of the US Constitution mandates that an “actual enumeration" be conducted every ten years to determine the number of people living in the United States. In this discussion, we will analyze the history of the census, the provisions for the process and the way the counting is used after it is conducted. Our analysis will also include the way states are carved into districts and how that process has both changed and remained the same over the history of our republic.
The outset of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 forced each of us to respond in unprecedented ways to protect ourselves and our families. Government at every level also responded extraordinarily. In this lecture, we will analyze some of the decision-making at both the state and federal level in the context of real-time challenges and compliance with the U.S. Constitution.
Few political contests have produced as much confusion, consternation and conjecture as the 2000 presidential election. In this lecture/discussion we will analyze the impact of the voters, “dimpled" chads and the electoral college as well as the Supreme Court opinion that came 36 days after Americans cast their votes for who would become the 43rd president.
Following the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, the document was sent to the states to be contemplated and debated in specially-held conventions. In this lecture, we will discuss the arguments for and against the Constitution’s approval, the process for state ratification and the impact of this period on the future of constitutional history.
The Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects us from unlawful intrusion by the government. Yet how do we determine between reasonable and unreasonable when simultaneously protecting public safety and ensuring individual liberties? The issue, older than the republic yet complicated by new technology, will be discussed by analyzing Supreme Court cases.
Headlines dominated by reports of mass shootings in our public spaces and the devastating results of these tragedies have challenged our discussion about the balance between public safety and personal liberty. In this lecture, we will discuss the active shooter threat by analyzing three tragic events and the way law enforcement has modified its own protocols in response
This lecture will focus on how the Supreme law of the land—many of its clauses written in the 18th century—has been applied to new technology. Our discussion will include some speculation about how our courts might continue to blend the document’s original text and modern reality in the future.
The decision in this landmark case has had monumental consequences on education in America and, to many historians, marks the starting point for the 20th century civil rights movement. In this lecture, we will discuss the legal development of the case and the definition of ‘equal protection’ that remains part of its legacy.
Few debates have been as lasting as the struggle to define the relationship between the states and the national government. In this lecture we will analyze the concept of Federalism--the balance of power between these two structures--envisioned by the Founders both in the constitution and in practice today.
With the recent 150th and 20th anniversaries of the impeachments of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton and the even more recent impeachments of President Donald Trump, we will visit the constitutional provisions defining this legal device as well as provide an examination of the circumstances surrounding these events.
Ask the average American about the amendments to the U.S. Constitution and they will no doubt discuss the first ten, known collectively as the Bill of Rights. In this lecture, however, we will discuss some of the other amendments that, in spite of providing structural and fundamental changes, have received far less attention.
Supporters and opponents of the death penalty would agree that no government power is more in demand of scrutiny than the ability of the state to take a life. In this lecture, we will explore the issue through the context of the Constitution’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” and what Chief Justice Earl Warren described in a 1958 opinion as the “evolving standards of decency.”
Rarely has an issue created as much fervor as the debate over a woman’s right to choose and the rights of the unborn. In this lecture, we will discuss the origins of the judicial interpretation, progress of the legal controversy following Roe--including the transformative Casey opinion and the Dobbs decision that returned the issue back to the states--and the continuing legacy of the decision beyond the issue of abortion.
“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America."
Created by Article II of the Constitution, much of the power of the presidency can be found in the actions of those who have occupied the office. In this discussion, we will analyze the intent of the Framers and the text of the supreme law of the land regarding the chief executive.
The American Revolution was the product of decades of grievances felt by many colonists to be originating from the seat of power of the British Empire. While most discussions about this time period focus on its military history, we will instead analyze the series of actions from both sides of the Atlantic that led to the declaration that “these united Colonies are, and of right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
From his advocacy for a powerful national government to the main authorship of the Bill of Rights, this lecture will present a brief biographical sketch and some of the political thinking of the fascinating Virginian who was known, even in his lifetime, as the "Father of the Constitution."
"I urge the Senate's swift bipartisan confirmation so that as soon as possible she may take her place on the Court and her place in history.”
Since President Ronald Reagan spoke these words at the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981, three other women have been nominated and serve on the Highest Court in the land. In this lecture, we will discuss the lives of the Madam Justices and their impact on our understanding of the Constitution, the law and our nation.
“You have the right to remain silent.” This sentence, and the others that inevitably follow, has been an ingredient of American criminal procedure for more than a half century. While the admonitions of the accused are familiar to most of us, the circumstances surrounding the case that mandated them remains in relative obscurity. In this lecture, we will discuss elements of the opinion, including judicial interpretation, legal technicalities and the continuing impact of Miranda on law enforcement today.
Few issues in America generate as much debate as the controversy surrounding the rights of students and teachers in the classroom. The difficulty in preserving individual liberty while providing a safe and productive learning environment has produced decades of legal action in an attempt to find the balance between these sometimes-opposing objectives. In this lecture, controversies & Supreme Court decisions are analyzed as a way to comprehend the application of the Constitution in our schools.