Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Syllabus for my course on Civil Liberties at Princeton

Princeton University

Politics 316


Professor Robert P. George

Spring 2022

This course explores the moral premises of controversial claims of civil rights and liberties in light of moral, religious, and cultural pluralism. We shall consider real and hypothetical cases in which claims to rights and liberties come into conflict, or are alleged to come into conflict, with the rights and liberties of others, or with other important values. We shall consult philosophical, historical, and sociological writings as well as opinions of courts that have adjudicated disputed claims of civil rights and liberties as matters of constitutional law.

Readings. All course readings are available on E-Reserves.

Attendance. Students are required to attend lectures and precepts and to participate in class discussions. Any student who will miss a precept or a lecture must inform his or her preceptor in advance.

Grading. The grading breakdown for the course is as follows: mid-term paper 30%; final paper 50%; class participation 20%.

Assignments. There are two written assignments. A mid-term assignment and a final paper.

Late Penalty. Due dates are strictly enforced. Papers received with a time stamp after 4 p.m. but before midnight on the date on which they are due will be penalized one half letter grade. Papers will be penalized another half letter grade if they received by 4 p.m. on the subsequent day and another half letter grade for each day after that.

General Education Requirement:  The Civil Liberties course has been designated to fulfill the General Education Requirement for both Ethical Thought and Moral Values (EM) and Culture and Difference (CD). The course explores the moral premises of controversial claims of civil rights and liberties in light of moral, religious, and cultural pluralism. The focus is on American cultural pluralism and the issues it generates in the areas of constitutional law and political theory—issues often implicating questions of race, religion, sex, socio-economic class, and alienage. Readings are drawn from key judicial opinions in landmark cases (e.g., Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Citizens United v. FEC, Kelo v. City of New London, Obergefell v. Hodges) as well as from scholarship in the fields of constitutional law, moral and political philosophy, political science, history, sociology, and cultural studies. Many different approaches and perspectives are presented, and students are encouraged to examine problems by sympathetically considering the points of view of people who are quite different from themselves.

The course explores questions on which there is profound division in American culture, reflecting the differences in worldview that shape contemporary American cultural pluralism. Students are asked to consider these issues on the merits, of course, in light of the arguments on the competing sides set forth in the readings; but they are also asked to reflect on the question of how and by whom, in a constitutional democracy marked by cultural pluralism, such issues ought to be decided. When is a national resolution required? Under what circumstances are regional or local resolutions to be preferred? What is the proper scope of legislative authority? What is the role of courts? What, if anything, provides institutions of various sorts with legitimacy? If democracy is a legitimating value, what constitutes authentic democracy, especially in circumstances of cultural pluralism? What sort of representation is necessary? What is the place of minority rights in democratic decision-making?


Freedom of Thought, Expression, and Discussion. As set forth in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities section 1.1.3, Princeton University strictly respects the right to free speech of everyone in our community of scholars and learners. That right is sacrosanct in this class and is possessed by faculty and students alike. With the aim of advancing and deepening everyone’s understanding of the issues addressed in the course, students are urged to speak their minds, explore ideas and arguments, play devil’s advocate, and engage in civil but robust discussions. There is no thought or language policing. We expect students to do business in the proper currency of intellectual discourse—a currency consisting of reasons, evidence, and arguments—but no ideas or positions are out of bounds.



January 25, 2022, Week 1: E PLURIBUS UNUM?  WHOSE IDEA OF LIBERTY?


Precepts will not meet the first week. But do not, for that reason, neglect the readings. They are required and aim to frame the issues presented by this course.

Declaration of Independence

U.S. Constitution (all)

Federalist Papers ## 10, 51, 78

John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”

Michael Sandel, “Rawls’ Political Liberalism


Lochner v. New York (1905)

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address (1861)

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852)

Hadley Arkes, Beyond the Constitution, ch. 4

Antonin Scalia, “Originalism: The Lesser Evil”

Sonia Sotomayor, “Originalism vs. the Living Constitution”

February 8, 2022, Week 3: POLITICAL EXPRESSION

United States v. O’Brien (1968)

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)

Cohen v. California (1971)

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Snyder v. Phelps (2011)

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty” (chapters 1 and 2)

Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance”

David Lowenthal, “The Constitutional Revolution of Holmes and Brandeis”

February 15, 2022, Week 4: OBSCENITY AND PORNOGRAPHY

Miller v. California (1973)

Barnes v. Glen Theatre (1991)

Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002)

Ronald Dworkin, “Is There a Right to Pornography?”

Robert P. George, “Private Acts, Public Interests”

Lynn & Goldsmith, “Is Antipornography Legislation …?”

Catherine Mackinnon, “Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: Pleasure Under Patriarchy”

February 22, 2022, Week 5: FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION

Reynolds v. United States (1878)

West Virginia v. Barnette (1943)

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Employment Division v. Smith (1990)

Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. CO Civil Rights Commission (2018)

Asma Uddin, “The First Amendment: Religious Freedom for All—Including Muslims”

Eisgruber & Sager, “Equal Liberty,” in Religious Freedom and the Constitution

John Finnis, “Does Free Exercise of Religion Deserve Constitutional Protection?”


Note: Mid-term exercise posted on Blackboard.

March 1, 2022, Week 6: RELIGION AND PUBLIC LIFE

Everson v. Board of Ed. (1947)

Lee v. Weisman (1992)

Good News Club v. Milford Central School (2001)

American Legion v. American Humanist Assoc. (2019)

“Clergyman John Witherspoon Couples Religion with Politics”

“Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison Admits of No Compromise…”

“Bishop Fulton Sheen Makes a Wartime Plea”

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Leo Pfeffer, Church, State and Freedom, ch. 5

Stephen Carter, “Reflections on the Separation of Church and State”

Note: Mid-term exercise due at end of this week on Friday March 4, 2022, at 4 p.m





Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Bolling v. Sharpe (1954)

Regents of the Univ. of CA v. Bakke (1978)

Adarand Constructors v. Pena (1995)

Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

Gratz v. Bollinger (2003)

“The Compelling Need for Diversity in Higher Education: Introduction,” Reports Prepared for

the [Gratz & Grutter] Lawsuits, University of Michigan

Patricia Williams, “We Need Race-Based Affirmative Action”

Cornel West, “Beyond Affirmative Action: Equality and Identity”

Robert George, “Some Questions about Affirmative Action”

March 22, 2022, Week 8: “… OF LIFE LIBERTY OR PROPERTY ...”

John Locke, “On Property,” 2nd Treatise of Government (1690)

Simmons, “The Lockean Theory of Rights”

Friedrich Engels, “The Principles of Communism” (1847)

John Finnis, "Justice," in Natural Law and Natural Rights (2d ed.)

Penn Central Transportation, Co. v. City of New York (1978)

Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff (1984)

Kelo v. New London (2005)


Roe v. Wade (1973)

Doe v. Bolton (1973)

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)

Naomi Wolf, “Our Bodies, Our Souls”

Michael Paulsen, “Unbearable Wrongness of Roe”

Peter Singer, “Killing Babies Isn’t Always Wrong”

Michael Sandel, “Epilogue: Embryo Ethics: The Stem Cell Debate,” The Case Against


Robert George, “Embryo Ethics”

NB: Find on e-reserve optional reading for students interested in the debate over embryo- destructive research, viz., George & Tollefsen, “The Exchange with Saletan,” in Embryo: A Defense of Human Life


Cruzan v. Missouri Dept. of Health (1990)

Washington v. Glucksberg (1997)

Vacco v. Quill (1997)

Ronald Dworkin, “Do We Have a Right to Die?”

John Finnis, “Euthanasia, Morality, and Law”

“Assisted Suicide: The Philosophers’ Brief”

Luke Gormally, et al., Euthanasia, Clinical Practice, and the Law


Griswold v. Conn. (1965) (again)

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)

Andrew Koppelman, “Homosexual Conduct”

Girgis, George & Anderson, What Is Marriage, chs. 3-5

Elizabeth Brake, “Minimal Marriage: What Political Liberalism Implies for Marriage Law”

Sherif Girgis & John Corvino, “Same-sex Marriage,” in Contemporary Debates in Applied

Ethics (2d ed.)

April 19, 2022, Week 12: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Furman v. Georgia (1972)

Gregg v. Georgia (1976)

Coker v. Georgia (1977)

Roper v. Simmons (2005)

Jeremy Bentham, “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation”

Immanuel Kant, “On the Right to Punish”

Becky Pettit and Carmen Gutierrez, “Mass Incarceration and Racial Inequality”

Gerard Bradley, “Retribution: The Central Aim of Punishment”


NB: Final Paper will be posted after the final lecture. It must be submitted on Dean’s Date, by 4 p.m.



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