Class: Special Faculty - Our Experimental Constitution (Corte Madera)

Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 7:00pm

 8 Thursdays: Sept. 14 - Nov. 2 • 7:00 - 8:30pm • $250

Our Experimental Constitution
“That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.” -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Special note: All proceeds from this class will go towards the purchase of Khizr Kahn’s book This Is Our Constitution for distribution to students in local schools Faculty: The faculty for this extraordinary course is being assembled under the gracious leadership of David Faigman, Chancellor & Dean of the U.C. Hastings College of Law

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Sept. 14 • 7:00—8:30 pm
The Constitution is the Guide: Founding Principles and the Original Meaning of “Original Intent”

“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.” -- George Washington

The historical context for the founding of the United States, including the circumstances preceding the Constitutional Convention of 1787. This includes the Articles of Confederation, Washington’s reluctant agreement to participate, the ratification debates, the commitment to a Bill of Rights, and the early federalist structure of the American government.

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Sept. 21 • 7:00—8:30 pm
If Men Were Angels: Checks & Balances of American Government, from Separation of Powers to Federalism

“What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” -- James Madison

We will look at both the theory and practice of checks and balances built into the federal government—from the founding through the Civil War and until today. We look at the doctrines of Separation of Powers (i.e. the division of power between the branches of the federal government) and at Federalism (i.e. the division between the States and the Federal government).

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Sept. 28 • 7:00—8:30 pm
In Giving Freedom to the Slave: The Civil War and the Changes Wrought by the 13th, 14th & 15th Amendments

“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in that we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” -- Abraham Lincoln

We look at the events that led to the South’s succession and the constitutional battles that followed the Union victory. We’ll include the political debates preceding the Civil War (e.g., Missouri Compromise, Fugitive Slave Act), and judicial precedents (e.g., Dred Scott). We look at the major principles embedded in the reconstruction amendments, with particular emphasis on the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.

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Oct. 5 • 7:00—8:30 pm
The Equal Rights of Others: The Principle and Promises of Equality, from the Declaration of Independence to Same-Sex Marriage

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual. “ -- Thomas Jefferson

The principle of equality before the law was stated in the 14th Amendment, but it was not really realized until Brown v. Board of Education. Constitutional guarantees of equality were applied to women in the 1970s and to marriage in 2015. The remedies for inequality are complex, however, as shown by the debate over affirmative action to cure historical inequality.

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Oct. 12 • 7:00—8:30 pm
Not Agreed Upon a Definition of Liberty: Identifying the Line Dividing the Individual’s Right to Act and the Majority’s Right to Forbid

“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.” – Abraham Lincoln

We explore the many difficult ways in which “liberty” can be defined—looking at the fine distinctions between the rights of an individual to act against the legitimate reasons the government advances to forbid that act. Contemporary debates—like abortion and physician-assisted suicide—present these problems. How does a Supreme Court guarantee that liberty will not be deprived without “due process of law?”

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Oct. 19 • 7:00—8:30 pm
The Function of Speech: The Many Expressions of Free Speech in American Constitutional Jurisprudence

“Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” —Louis D. Brandeis

What are the boundaries of “free speech?” We look at the modern doctrine, developed in the 1920s by Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and consider it in terms of modern issues. Some of the issues we consider are speech in the age of terrorism, use of the internet (child pornography?), and corporate speech.

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Oct. 26 • 7:00—8:30 pm
If Tyranny and Oppression Come to this Land: The Limits of Executive Authority, Both Foreign and Domestic

“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” — James Madison

We examine the vast expansion of executive authority in the modern age, which arguably began in the 1930s with FDR’s intervention to deal with the Depression and, in the 1940s, to fight World War II. The modern presidency is marked by extraordinary power, but its limits are not well defined. This session will consider both informal and formal limits on executive authority.

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Nov. 2 • 7:00—8:30 pm
It is a Constitution We Are Expounding: The Future of the Constitution, Our Shared Experiment

“We must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.”—John Marshall (McCulloch v. Maryland (1819))

This session explores the issues likely to confront the Supreme Court in the years ahead, ranging from the battle against terrorism, affirmative action, changing understanding of the death penalty, States’ Rights (and the future of federalism), and so forth.

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A Few Corners of American History

While thinking about the Constitution, it may be a good time to look at a few books about American history. These books all have one thing in common: they shed light on periods of American history that we thought we knew but maybe really didn’t.

Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence & The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1788-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis
These two captivating books set the stage for the birth of the United States. 1776 follows the crucial moments for the war and the political steps towards independence. But in 1788 the political leadership had to sit down and write a Constitution, seemingly needing to create America all over again.

A Wicked War by Amy S. Greenberg
According to Ulysses S. Grant, there was never “a more wicked war than that waged by the United States on Mexico.” Wicked or not, the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-48) is one of the most understudied events in our history. Greenberg captures all of the ominous overtones for future conflicts over slavery and imperialism.

The Fall of the House of Dixie by Bruce Levine
As Levine describes the ante-bellum South “Of the more than twelve million souls who resided there, almost one out of every three was enslaved . . . [their value] exceeded the value of all the farmland in the states of the South, a sum fully three times as great as the construction costs of the railroads that then ran throughout all of the United States.” The collapse of this formidable economic empire in the Civil War makes for compelling reading. Levine puts the issue of slavery at the center of the conflict —a place where it belongs but is sometimes forgotten.

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner
What did you learn about Reconstruction in school? Probably as little as we did — and most of it was wrong. Foner provides an exhaustive look at one of the tragically missed opportunities in American history.

Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot
Under the bland facade of the early ‘60s there were forces at work undermining the Kennedy administration and our constitutional government. This story has been hinted at before, but it has never been told in such riveting fashion as David Talbot (The Season of the Witch) does in this haunting book.

 

Location: 
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA 94925