Syllabus for POS-310



Constitutional Issues is a course that looks at important questions involving government power, individual rights, civil rights, and public policy. Policymakers and citizens look to the Supreme Court to interpret the United States Constitution. In this course the rulings of the Supreme Court are looked at in their historical, legal, political and social context. The rulings of the Supreme Court are the last word on what the Constitution means.

The Constitution creates our government structure and organizes the balance between liberty and authority. The Constitution provides a legal framework for our political institutions. The legislative, executive, and judicial branches serve different purposes. The political system, established by the Constitution, creates checks and balances with the three branches of government. The Constitution also establishes the system of federalism. The national and state governments share governmental powers under the principle of federalism. Most importantly, the Constitution establishes a republican form of government. A republic is government ultimately dependent on the support of the public. The Supreme Court considers all of these factors, as well as legal precedent, when cases are decided.

In today's society the Supreme Court is confronted with many significant questions: Does a public policy treat citizens equally? What is required for a person accused of a crime to be proven guilty? What is fair? Should a mentally ill convict be executed? When does life begin? When does life end? Are all religious practices protected by the Constitution? Can a moment of silence be required in public schools? Each person makes his or her own personal decision on these and other matters, but the Supreme Court makes decisions that affect all of us.


After completing this course, you should be able to:

  1. Explain the origins of the Constitution of the United States and the method of its contemporary application.
  2. Describe the pivotal role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Bill of Rights and defining the scope of individual freedoms and citizenship rights.
  3. Summarize information from readings concerning the historical background and political and social setting of constitutional controversies.
  4. Identify the limits and protections extended to individuals under the Bill of Rights, through Supreme Court decisions, and through the practice of selective incorporation.
  5. Trace the development of the First Amendment rights of free speech, association, press, and religion.
  6. Describe the historic background of individual freedoms.
  7. Identify the basic constitutional safeguards provided for criminal defendants.
  8. Discuss the women's suffrage movement and recent struggles over equal opportunity and sexual harassment in the workplace.
  9. Describe the struggles for equal protection under the law for ethnic and racial minorities in the United States.
  10. Analyze recent trends in Supreme Court decisions.
  11. Make judgments about the application of law in specific situations.
  12. Assess the strength of legal arguments in key Supreme Court cases.


You will need the following materials to do the work of the course. The required textbook is available from the University's textbook supplier, MBS Direct.

Required Textbook

ISBN-13: 978-0395889879

This text examines the impact of Supreme Court decisions in the area of the rights and freedoms of the individual. It provides a glossary of legal terms and several appendices: one is information on how to brief a Supreme Court case and a second is an Internet guide to legal research. Also included is the Constitution of the United States. This is a casebook, which means abridged Supreme Court decisions are included with extensive historical information to place the decision in its contemporary context.

Supreme Court Supplement

Supreme Court Opinions

Although you will be able to complete all of the assignments and successfully take the exams using only the textbook, your understanding of constitutional law will be deepened if you read the opinions of the Supreme Court justices in key cases.

Within Course Documents there is a document called "Introduction to the Judiciary and the Supreme Court." In the section titled "Internet Sources on the Supreme Court" you will find several Internet sites that provide the text of Supreme Court opinions. (These are also available on other sites.) There is no substitute for reading the opinions of the justices in these landmark cases.


Constitutional Issues is a three-credit online course, consisting of six modules. Modules include learning objectives, study materials, and activities. Module titles are listed below.


For your formal work in the course, you are required to participate in online discussion forums, complete written assignments, and take two proctored examinations—a midterm and a final. See below for more details.

Consult the Course Calendar for due dates.

Discussion Forums

In addition to an ungraded "Introductions" forum in the first module, Constitutional Issues requires you to participate in four graded class discussions.

Communication with the mentor and among fellow students is a critical component of online learning. Participation in online discussions involves two distinct activities: an initial response to a posted question (discussion thread) and subsequent comments on classmates' responses.

You will be evaluated both on the quality of your responses (that is, your understanding of readings, and concepts as demonstrated by well-articulated, critical thinking) and quantity of your participation (that is, the number of times you participate meaningfully in the assigned forums). Responses and comments should be properly proofread and edited, professional, and respectful.

Meaningful participation in online discussions is relevant to the content, adds value, and advances the discussion. Comments such as "I agree" and "ditto" are not considered value-adding participation. Therefore, when you agree or disagree with a classmate, the reading, or your mentor, state and support your agreement or disagreement.

Written Assignments

You are required to complete five written assignments. The written assignments are on a variety of topics associated with the course modules.

Constitutional Issues includes both study questions and written assignments in every module. For these questions and assignments, see the Modules in the course Web site. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these sections of the course site, and read through the study and assignment questions before you begin each module.

Study Questions

Each module includes study questions. Be sure to answer these questions, but do not send the answers to your mentor. These are designed to aid your comprehension; in fact, you should use them (along with the graded assignments) to prepare for the midterm and final examinations. Many questions on the exams are taken from these questions and the graded assignments.

Written Assignments

In these assignments you will find both short answer and essay questions.  Answer all questions as directed. Your answers to the essay questions should be well developed and supported with references from the Supreme Court decisions you have in your text and in the 2003 supplement. Be sure to include the name of the case. For example, in an answer discussing the development of the equal protection clause you might include a discussion of the concept "separate but equal" put forth in Plessy v. Ferguson. In your written essay you might say: "In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the Supreme Court established the concept of separate but equal. In that decision the Supreme Court defined separate but equal as. .". The point of the written assignments is to demonstrate what you know from your readings and to what extent you can apply this information to new situations.


If you need help in writing, take a look at The Writing Center: University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Formulate responses in your own words. Do not merely copy answers from your reading materials. When quoting or paraphrasing from the text or other sources, be sure to cite the source of information properly according to MLA or APA guidelines (see also Basic Documentation Rules).


You are required to take two proctored online examinations: a midterm exam and a final exam. Both exams require that you use the University's Online Proctor Service (OPS). Please refer to the "Examinations and Proctors" section of the Online Student Handbook (see General Information area of the course Web site) for further information about scheduling and taking online exams and for all exam policies and procedures. You are strongly advised to schedule your exam within the first week of the semester.


Online exams are administered through the course Web site. Consult the Course Calendar for the official dates of exam weeks.

Midterm Examination

The midterm is a closed-book, proctored online exam. It is two hours long and covers material in Modules 1 through 3. It consists of definition (identification), short essay, and essay questions. As preparation for the examination, answer all of the questions listed for each unit, even though you are required to submit only a selection of these for each unit. The same types of questions, though on different cases and topics, will appear on the exam.

Final Examination

The final is a closed-book, proctored online exam. It is two hours long and covers all reading and assignments from Modules 4–6 of the course. It consists of definition (identification), short essay, and essay questions. As preparation for the examination, answer all of the questions listed for each unit, even though you are required to submit only a selection of these for each unit. The same types of questions, though on different cases and topics, will appear on the exam

Statement about Cheating

You are on your honor not to cheat during an exam. Cheating means:

If there is evidence that you have cheated or plagiarized in an exam, the exam will be declared invalid, and you will fail the course.


Your grade in the course will be determined as follows:

All activities will receive a numerical grade of 0–100. You will receive a score of 0 for any work not submitted. Your final grade in the course will be a letter grade. Letter grade equivalents for numerical grades are as follows:






























Below 60

To receive credit for the course, you must earn a letter grade of C or better (for an area of study course) or D or better (for a course not in your area of study), based on the weighted average of all assigned course work (e.g., exams, assignments, discussion postings, etc.).


First Steps to Success

To succeed in this course, take the following first steps:

Study Tips

Consider the following study tips for success:


Thomas Edison State University is committed to maintaining academic quality, excellence, and honesty. The University expects all members of its community to share the commitment to academic integrity, an essential component of a quality academic experience.

Students at Thomas Edison State University are expected to exhibit the highest level of academic citizenship. In particular, students are expected to read and follow all policies, procedures, and program information guidelines contained in publications; pursue their learning goals with honesty and integrity; demonstrate that they are progressing satisfactorily and in a timely fashion by meeting course deadlines and following outlined procedures; observe a code of mutual respect in dealing with mentors, staff, and other students; behave in a manner consistent with the standards and codes of the profession in which they are practicing; keep official records updated regarding changes in name, address, telephone number, or e-mail address; and meet financial obligations in a timely manner. Students not practicing good academic citizenship may be subject to disciplinary action including suspension, dismissal, or financial holds on records.

All members of the University community are responsible for reviewing the Academic Code of Conduct Policy in the University Catalog and online at

Academic Dishonesty

Thomas Edison State University expects all of its students to approach their education with academic integrity—the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception. All mentors and administrative staff members at the University insist on strict standards of academic honesty in all courses. Academic dishonesty undermines this objective. Academic dishonesty can take the following forms:


Thomas Edison State University is committed to helping students understand the seriousness of plagiarism, which is defined as using the work and ideas of others without proper citation. The University takes a strong stance against plagiarism, and students found to be plagiarizing are subject to discipline under the academic code of conduct policy.

If you copy phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or whole documents word-for-word—or if you paraphrase by changing a word here and there—without identifying the author, or without identifying it as a direct quote, then you are plagiarizing. Please keep in mind that this type of identification applies to Internet sources as well as to print-based sources. Copying and pasting from the Internet, without using quotation marks and without acknowledging sources, constitutes plagiarism. (For information about how to cite Internet sources, see Online Student Handbook > Academic Standards > “Citing Sources.”)

Accidentally copying the words and ideas of another writer does not excuse the charge of plagiarism. It is easy to jot down notes and ideas from many sources and then write your own paper without knowing which words are your own and which are someone else’s. It is more difficult to keep track of each and every source. However, the conscientious writer who wishes to avoid plagiarizing never fails to keep careful track of sources.

Always be aware that if you write without acknowledging the sources of your ideas, you run the risk of being charged with plagiarism.

Clearly, plagiarism, no matter the degree of intent to deceive, defeats the purpose of education. If you plagiarize deliberately, you are not educating yourself, and you are wasting your time on courses meant to improve your skills. If you plagiarize through carelessness, you are deceiving yourself.

For examples of unintentional plagiarism, advice on when to quote and when to paraphrase, and information about writing assistance and originality report checking, click the links provided below.

Examples of Unintentional Plagiarism

When to Quote and When to Paraphrase

Writing Assistance at Smarthinking

Originality Report Checking at Turnitin

Disciplinary Process for Plagiarism

Acts of both intentional and unintentional plagiarism violate the Academic Code of Conduct.

If an incident of plagiarism is an isolated minor oversight or an obvious result of ignorance of proper citation requirements, the mentor may handle the matter as a learning exercise. Appropriate consequences may include the completion of tutorials, assignment rewrites, or any other reasonable learning tool in addition to a lower grade for the assignment or course. The mentor will notify the student and appropriate dean of the consequence by e-mail.

If the plagiarism appears intentional and/or is more than an isolated incident, the mentor will refer the matter to the appropriate dean, who will gather information about the violation(s) from the mentor and student, as necessary. The dean will review the matter and notify the student in writing of the specifics of the charge and the sanction to be imposed.

Possible sanctions include:

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