This course develops a critical perspective on U.S. law through an exploration of the legal traditions, institutions, and cultures of Europe. The course is divided into three main phases: The first part will consist of historical introduction. It will begin with the history and debates about the aims and methods of comparative law. The contrasts between the common-law and civil-law traditions will be exposed through an introduction to Roman law, its reception in Continental Europe, and its evolution in the French and German civil codes. Some attention will be paid to the different and evolving understandings of the nature of law and judging reflected in these historical developments. The second part of the course will explore important institutional differences between contemporary American and European legal orders, as manifested in civil procedure, criminal procedure, constitutional review, administrative regulation, the judiciary, and the legal profession. We will engage and assess the emergence and influence of supranational law – particularly that of the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights -- on domestic legal orders in European countries. The final part of the semester will be devoted to studying specialized topics in comparative law, selected to illuminate the distinctiveness of U.S. law’s approach in some domains as well as areas of convergence across legal systems. These topics may include the civil-criminal divide, criminal punishment, labor and employment law, the enforcement of standard form contracts, the abuse of right doctrine in tort law, consumer protection and class actions, privacy, abortion, family law, and corporate governance.
This course is one of the 1L required international or comparative courses and only available to HLS first-year students.