Defending Constitutional Democracy

Defending Constitutional Democracy

Professor Laurence Tribe
Spring 2020 seminar
W 3:00pm - 5:00pm in Hauser Hall Room 103
2 classroom credits

Prerequisites: By Permission (see application requirements below). Priority in admission will be given to students who will have completed at least one of the two introductory Constitutional Law courses offered at HLS. Students who will not have completed either of those two courses and are not concurrently taking one of those courses are unlikely to be admitted. Although there are no absolute prerequisites, if you fall outside those parameters your statement of interest should provide convincing reasons to believe that you are thoroughly familiar with the materials covered by at least one of those two courses.

Enrollment: Enrollment will be limited to 12 and will be by permission of the instructor, based on written applications that include (1) the applicant’s CV and unofficial list of courses and instructors, including those still underway and those the applicant plans to take in AY2019-20, and (2) a brief (no more than 1 or 2 double-spaced pages) statement of background and interest in constitutional law and litigation (including undergraduate major, relevant pre-HLS work experience, and whatever career plans you might already have formulated). No auditors will be allowed.

All applications must be submitted electronically to Kathy McGillicuddy (, with copies to Professor Tribe ( by 4 PM on November 18th, and decisions will be made on a rolling basis, with notifications sent out by December 9. There’s no guarantee slots will still be open by that time. Applications began coming in during October.

Only students who are prepared to make a firm commitment to enroll in the seminar in the event they are admitted should apply. This includes a commitment to drop whatever fall electives to which you might have been admitted in the event that those electives conflict with this seminar.

Exam type: No exam.

Required texts Tribe & Matz, To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment (Paperback 2019). All assigned materials will be posted online and/or available in hardcopy form at Hauser 418.

Course contents: This seminar will assess the challenges for democracy under law, for human rights, and for fact-based government posed by the current political configuration and will explore ways of using constitutional law and politics to pressure and protect the republic and to reinvigorate its most enlightened aspirations. Those interested in this course should be aware that its contents will be adjusted to account for the fluid situation represented by the impeachment inquiry under way at the time of this writing. It now seems likely that an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate will take place in Spring 2020, while this course meets. If that is the case, the course materials will shift to a heavier emphasis on the history, purposes, and mechanics of presidential impeachments and their aftermath, with accordingly less emphasis on other topics. If, on the other hand, some development prevents such a trial from taking place, the history of how the impeachment inquiry derailed will be of interest and will consume some of the seminar’s time.

Other course requirements: In addition to attending and participating in every seminar meeting, each student will be responsible for writing one very short (4 double-spaced pages max) paper and one longer paper (10 double-spaced pages max).

Subject Areas: Constitutional Law & Civil Rights, Government Structure & Function, Legal & Political Theory, Legal History, Disciplinary Perspectives & Law