Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law

Course No. 2017
Professor Eric Berger, JD
University of Nebraska College of Law
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Course No. 2017
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What Will You Learn?

  • Consider how the US Constitution allocates power to federal and state governments.
  • Untangle the complex legal battles over hot-button issues, including same-sex marriage and abortion.
  • Investigate how the Commerce Clause was used during the New Deal to expand the powers of Congress.
  • Learn how different Supreme Court justices approached seminal constitutional cases.
  • Understand how to read the US Constitution with an eye to how its language can be interpreted-and misinterpreted.

Course Overview

The U.S. Constitution is at the core of the American political system. Yet, despite its central role in our lives, this ever-controversial founding document is vague about many of the issues confronting modern society.

Americans wage many of today’s fiercest policy debates and culture wars as battles over constitutional meaning. Constitutional law implicates everything from abortion to same-sex marriage to the scope of presidential power in times of war. Quite simply, many of the most important issues of the day are ultimately questions of constitutional interpretation, and the Constitution rarely answers these questions clearly.

Law schools across the country teach constitutional law, because the subject is so fundamental to our democracy. It's the area of law that determines what federal and state governments are permitted to do, and what rights you have as an individual. It is, as award-winning law professor Eric Berger of the University of Nebraska College of Law describes it, “both law and politics.”

In this class, you will examine many facets of constitutional law, including:

  • How should lawyers and everyday citizens alike interpret the Constitution?
  • How should we apply the Constitution to situations the Founders couldn’t imagine?
  • Is the Constitution working well as is, or does it need fundamental changes?

Questions like these lie at the heart of Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law. In 12 lectures, you’ll get the same accessible, well-rounded, and balanced introduction to constitutional law as Professor Berger’s own law students. You’ll examine pivotal Supreme Court cases to learn how interpreting the Constitution has radically affected American society. You’ll consider the Supreme Court’s role in deciding—and sometimes avoiding—questions of constitutionality. And you’ll investigate how changes in public opinion can influence how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution. While the open-ended nature of the Constitution’s language makes constitutional law often uncertain, you’ll come away from this course with a better understanding of its many nuances and complexities, as well as its profound importance for the future of the United States.

Probe the Open-Ended Nature of the Constitution

Constitutional law, as Professor Berger explains it, is about “power—the division of power between state and federal governments; the division of power between different branches of the federal government; and the limitations placed on governmental power to protect individual liberty.”

Taking you through all three branches of the federal government, Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law uses some of the most important legal cases in United States history to probe the open-ended nature of the Constitution’s language and illustrate how legal reasoning has defined—and in some cases, redefined—the relationship between the Constitution and power.

  • McCulloch v. Maryland: This early Supreme Court case interpreted broadly Congress’s powers under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, thereby asserting the predominance of the federal government over the state governments. It also established a practice of eclectic constitutional interpretation that continues to this day.
  • Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer: The executive branch, led by the president, is the only branch of the federal government that can plausibly act quickly to deal with urgent problems as they arise. This famous case, which arose during the Korean War, offered a nuanced theory of executive power and still helps define the scope of presidential power today.
  • Lawrence v. Texas: Some legal cases—including this one about the liberty interests of same-sex couples—don’t fit neatly into pre-existing doctrinal categories. The opinion of this case is perhaps best understood, says Professor Berger, as a hybrid decision blending both liberty and equality norms.
  • Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey: When it comes to the contentious issue of abortion, this case refined the analysis originally offered in the more famous Roe v. Wade. Here, the Court focuses on decisional autonomy and equality to support the right to an abortion, rather than the privacy rational articulated in Roe.

What Does the Constitution Mean to Your Life?

Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law draws you into some of the most fascinating and intriguing questions, issues, and debates over the nature and meaning of the Constitution as it pertains to our lives. Throughout these lectures, you’ll explore how various articles, sections, and clauses in the U.S. Constitution have been interpreted in the past—and how they continue to be interpreted today. These include the:

  • Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the power to regulate commerce “among the several states” and which was interpreted to tremendously expand the size and reach of the federal government during the New Deal era;
  • Due Process Clause, on which the Supreme Court has relied to protect many controversial liberty interests and to apply most of the provisions for the Bill of Rights against state governments; and
  • Equal Protection Clause, which, forms the basis of decisions invalidating both race and sex discrimination.

Enriched by Professor Berger’s experience clerking on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, his eye-opening scholarship on issues of constitutional law, and his award-winning work as a professor of constitutional law and constitutional history at the University of Nebraska, Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law is a unique look into how we think about and understand the U.S. Constitution. It is both an accessible legal education and a powerful reminder of just how far-reaching constitutional issues can be.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 32 minutes each
  • 1
    Origins and Functions of the Constitution
    While the U.S. Constitution left many important issues unresolved, it was clearly designed to serve several primary purposes (regardless of disagreements over how it serves those purposes). Travel back to the 18th century and investigate the origins of the founding document of the American experiment—a story of crisis, rebellion, and compromise. x
  • 2
    The Marshall Court and the Constitution
    At the core of most issues in constitutional law is one question: Who decides? So why is it that the U.S. Supreme Court became the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions? Explore this question by examining a pair of Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous opinions—Marbury v. Madison and McCulloch v. Maryland. x
  • 3
    The Scope of the Executive Power
    Using the 1952 opinion of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer, probe the slippery issue of how much power the U.S. president wields under the Constitution. One nuanced perspective comes from Justice Robert H. Jackson and his theory of executive power that views presidential power primarily through the lens of Congressional action. x
  • 4
    Congress and the New Deal Commerce Clause
    Learn how Congress’s power—as we understand it today—was shaped significantly by constitutional transformations that occurred during the 1930s. See how the Court ultimately vindicated robust Congressional powers under the Commerce Clause, and how President Franklin D. Roosevelt packed the courts with judges sympathetic to his transformative New Deal policies. x
  • 5
    Congress and the Commerce Clause Today
    Turn now to the ways the Commerce Clause has been interpreted in the decades since the New Deal era. Discover how the Court expanded Congress's power still further in Wickard v. Filburn, and how the Court revisited the Commerce Clause in cases addressing a variety of pressing social issues, including racial segregation and affordable health care. x
  • 6
    Individual Liberty: Contracts and Privacy
    According to Professor Berger, individual liberty is one of the most doctrinally and culturally controversial topics in constitutional law. Find out how crucial a role the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause has played when it comes to individual rights with a look at famous cases, including Lochner v. New York and West Coast Hotel v. Parrish. x
  • 7
    Liberty Disputed: Abortion and Gay Rights
    Court decisions on some of America's most controversial issues have relied on substantive due process. Take a closer look at how the Court confronted two of these issues: abortion (in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey) and LGBT rights (in Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges). x
  • 8
    Equal Protection and Civil Rights
    Explore the history of the Court’s civil rights decisions—including Korematsu v. United States and Brown v. Board of Education—as a way to better understand the complex relationship between law and culture. Just how did changed attitudes about race help shape seismic changes in constitutional law? x
  • 9
    The Affirmative Action Conundrum
    Here, Professor Berger walks you through the constitutionality of affirmative action, in which public institutions give preferences on the basis of race. Key to this insightful lecture is a look at strict scrutiny, in which the Court reviews policies extremely carefully—and ostensibly without giving the government the benefit of the doubt. x
  • 10
    Sex Discrimination and Women's Rights
    Of all the constitutions in the West, the U.S. Constitution is the only one without a provision that explicitly declares equal rights for the sexes under the law. From Minor v. Happersett in 1875 to United States v. Virginia in 1996, discover how the courts have ruled on sex-based classifications. x
  • 11
    The Nature of the Judicial Power
    Sometimes, the courts don't decide important issues before them. In this lecture, take a closer look at why courts quite often choose not to decide a particular case on its merits. Topics here include justiciability doctrines (court-made decisions under which courts impose limitations on their power), sovereign immunity, and official immunity. x
  • 12
    The Politics of Constitutional Law
    While judges are not (as some people assume) politicians in robes, they are certainly not immune from political influences. Explore the role of politics in constitutional law through the high-stakes confirmation battles over judicial nominees (including the battle over the seat of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 120-page printed course guidebook
  • Photographs
  • Illustrations
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Eric Berger

About Your Professor

Eric Berger, JD
University of Nebraska College of Law
Eric Berger is a Professor of Law and the Associate Dean for Faculty at the University of Nebraska College of Law. He received his BA with honors in History from Brown University and his JD from Columbia Law School, where he was a Kent Scholar and an Articles Editor on the Columbia Law Review. Professor Berger teaches Constitutional Law I, Constitutional Law II, Constitutional History, Federal Courts, Legislation and...
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Reviews

Law School for Everyone: Constitutional Law is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 7.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! Prof. Berger does a terrific job of distilling and summarizing the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and, at much greater length and even more impressively, of presenting the historical and current debate over the Constitution's proper interpretation in a fair and balanced way that articulates and respects strongly held differences in points of view. Although Prof. Berger's last lecture includes sharp criticism of Senate Republicans for failing to act on the 2016 nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, for whom Prof. Berger clerked, the professor's political sympathies are not otherwise on obvious display. Unlike some broad surveys, this course gets down in the weeds, dissecting the language of specific Constitutional provisions and the holdings of significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and Prof. Berger does an excellent job of tracing relevant Supreme Court precedent since 1787 and providing important historical context to permit a better understanding of our current debates on proper Constitutional interpretation. I listened to the audio version of this course (Prof. Berger has a fast-paced but comfortable lecture style), which was entirely satisfactory. Highly recommended for the expert and novice alike!
Date published: 2019-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking We took this course after the Law School for Everyone course and were glad we did. We liked the instructor and he continuously challenged our previously held thoughts on the Constitution.
Date published: 2019-08-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Rather Dry Great topic but dry, almost boring presentation. I'd hoped for more!
Date published: 2019-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information, great course. I'm happy with the information. This is a great deal of complete information. Gives you a leg up.
Date published: 2019-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tremendous content This is a very current course for anyone interested in the potential ramifications of recent developments in state laws. It reminds me why 'Constitutional Law' was one of my favorite courses in college. My only criticism is that the studio lighting seems drab - but this doesn't detract from the superb content. Overall excellent course!
Date published: 2019-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good presentation and kept interest I was drawn to this series because of current events. Will make it easier to put into perspective some of the current court controversies. Sufficient background provided
Date published: 2019-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Perfect time to take this course with all that is going on. As well as the upcoming election this material is spot on.
Date published: 2019-05-10
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