Samuel C. Rickless

Professor of Philosophy


Winter 2017

PHIL 165: Freedom, Equality, and the Law [Syllabus]

In this course we will explore the way in which the concepts of freedom and equality have been understood and applied under the United States Constitution. We will ask whether the Constitution is a moral document designed to implement justice or a document designed to enshrine a particular set of traditions into law. We will then look at how the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been applied to cases in which government has discriminated on grounds of race, ethnic background, gender, undocumented status, wealth, and sexual orientation. We will also look at how the Due Process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments have been applied to cases involving the right to make crucial decisions about one’s own life, such as whether to use contraceptives, obtain an abortion, marry a person of a different race, and marry a person of the same sex. Cases to be discussed include some of the most important cases in the history of United States law: Dred Scott, The Slaughterhouse Cases, Yick Wo, Plessy, Lochner, Brown, Palko, Carolene Products, Korematsu, Bakke, Grutter, Craig v. Boren, U.S. v. Virginia, San Antonio v. Rodriguez, Plyler v. Doe, Griswold, Roe, Casey, Bowers, Lawrence, and Obergefell. At every stage, we will be asking whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law in these cases is consistent with justice and the values underlying our constitutional republic.