Spring 2017 Course Schedule

American Courts: Structure, People, Processes, Politics (LAW-838-001)
Russell Wheeler

Meets: 04:00 PM - 05:50 PM (T) - Warren - Room N103

Enrolled: 14 / Limit: 16

Administrator Access


There are no notices at this time.


Seminar Objectives: This seminar explores the structures, processes, and people of American judicial systems, with some (but hardly exclusive) emphasis on the federal courts. It should be of special interest to those who anticipate working in the courts temporarily as law clerks or regularly as litigators or judges.

More specifically, it considers the processes and institutions that shape the national federal rules of procedure and local variations. It analyzes the various methods by which state and federal judges are selected and the roles of executive officials, legislators, the bar, interest groups, sitting and would-be judges, and, in many cases the voting public—and the impact of selection processes on the make-up and behavior of the judiciary. The seminar examines the ethical rules that govern judges and the mechanisms for dealing with allegations of judicial misconduct and disability. It asks how the courts deal with legislators (who fund and, to a degree, govern the courts), and with the press and social media, usually the principal means by which the public learns (or doesn’t learn) what courts do. Finally, it explores the reasons for changes in recent years in how trial and appellate courts dispose of the cases before them, including the decline in the number and proportion of trials and of traditional appellate procedures.

I ask each class member to select a federal district court to provide specific focus on the seminar themes.

Seminar Sequence: The seminar has three parts. Part I (four sessions) covers “Structure and Personnel”. Part II (five sessions) covers “Dealing with the Judicial and Political Environment”. Part III (three sessions)covers “Court Performance”.

Grading and Assessment: Grading is based on three essays on assigned topics, submitted at the conclusion of each of the three course parts. The essays do not require outside research. The purpose of the essays is to allow students to demonstrate familiarity with the readings and class discussion and ability to analyze conflicting points of view. Grading also reflects participation in class discussion.

ULWR: The three essays do not meeting the ULWR standards. I have, however, occasionally agreed to supervise one or two separate Upper Level Writing Requirement projects.

Textbooks and Other Materials

The textbook information on this page was provided by the instructor. Students should use this information when considering purchases from the AU Campus Store or other vendors. Students may check to determine if books are currently available for purchase online.

The seminar does not use a standard textbook. Instead, I will post for download materials I have developed, which include excerpts of scholarly and popular articles, cases, legislation, as well as substantial amounts of original text and illustrative tables and charts that I have developed for the seminar. I will post the readings for Part I by late December or early January.

First Class Readings

The first class will provide an overview of the course elements, requirements, and grading policy; no advance reading is necessary for the first day.