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Fall 2022 Reading Group

Congress and Public Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

This reading group will examine Congress as a public law institution. Our first branch of government is often decried as broken or dysfunctional. While legal scholars have developed rich accounts of the internal workings of the presidency and the courts, Congress is too often left behind. But Congress is critical to the functioning of American government, and a fuller understanding of public law requires examining how Congress works and its place in our constitutional system.

Our six meetings will cover the following topics: (1) the motivations and duties of members of Congress; (2) Congress’s internal procedures; (3) the causes and consequences of congressional polarization, with an emphasis on consequences for structural constitutional law; (4) the role of norms and norm-breaking in Congress; (5) the ways in which Congress’s internal operations can inform statutory interpretation; (6) Congress’s role in oversight of the executive branch. In exploring these topics, we will examine both recent events (from the Obama and Trump eras) and historical episodes (such as the passage of the Civil Rights Act).

Major themes will be the intersection of law and politics, the role of Congress in relation to the other branches, and the criteria for understanding whether Congress is succeeding or failing in performing its constitutional functions. Prior background is welcome but not assumed; all are welcome to enroll.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following days: 9/7, 9/21, 10/12, 10/19, 11/2, and 11/16.