FA20 PHIL451

Liberty & Justice: Race, Gender, Ethnicity in American Law
Dr. Amanda Trefethen
Tuesdays  ·  7:00pm–9:45pm  ·  LA5–246
Satisfies GE categories: C2, F, HD

This course will examine the nature of basic constitutional notions, such as
 liberty, justice, due process, and equality, against the backdrop of an American legal history too frequently blighted by systematic and pervasive human inequality. In short, this course will examine the social construction of race, ethnicity, and gender, and will consider when and to what extent this construction has served as a legal sanction for perpetuating an exclusive, rather than inclusive, interpretation of justice. In the process we will ask (and find surprising answers to) such questions as: Does race exist? What is justice? Can the sexes be equal?

We will begin by considering the nature of justice, with special attention to issues of race, ethnicity, and gender. We will then consider how the law historically has identified and distinguished these groups, how these distinctions have been justified and implemented by the law, and how the law has developed to reject different treatment. We will read both philosophical texts and extensive court decisions. These include texts by Catherine MacKinnon, John Stuart Mill, Naomi Zack, Thomas Nagel, Susan Okin, Martha Minow, John Rawls, Alexis de Tocqueville, Richard Wasserstrom, and others. To comply with the University HD requirements, we will consider court decisions which address African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and women.

The course text will be Julie Van Camp’s Ethical Issues in the Courts: A Companion to Philosophical Ethics (Wadsworth, 2000). We also will use a course supplement, available at the University Bookstore in late August, e-reserve materials, and public domain readings.