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Course Information

Instructor Info:Flavio Risech-Ozeguera
Office Extension x5504
TA Info:Emilia Vecchiarelli
Term: 2014F
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 101
10:30 AM - 11:50 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 101

This course is an introduction to US constitutional law through an extended interrogation of the notion of equality. By reading historical analyses and court opinions that reflect and shape debates about the proper place of the State in queer people's bedrooms and lives, we will gain basic familiarity with modes of legal analysis, constitutional politics and the law as a historically contingent system of power. Until 2003, consensual sex between adult same-gender partners was a crime in many states. Most still prohibit same-sex marriages and refuse full legal personhood to the gender-queer and trans. We will examine and critique many of the legal arguments and political strategies that have been deployed to challenge this legal landscape of inequality, and question the normative assumptions of state regulation of sexuality and gender expression. The course will include readings of many of the key race, gender and sexual civil rights rulings of the Supreme Court on what it means to enjoy the "equal protection of the law" promised to "all persons" by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Course Objectives:

Close reading of texts will be encouraged through required reading blogs and structured discussions. Several types of writing assignments will encourage development of skills in analytical writing. Learning how to formulate questions for independent research and to develop/refine an analysis is key to the final assignment, a legal research project that carries through several stages of development, revision and presentation.

Evaluation Criteria:

There are no exams at Hampshire; your progress will be evaluated based on the quality of your written work, your critical reading of assigned materials and peer blogs,  and your class participation and oral presentation. Attendance is required; anyone missing more than 2 class sessions without good cause (illness, accident or bereavement) risks receiving no evaluation. Please arrive on time; 2 tardy arrivals=1 absence.

All writing assignments must be completed on or before due date; NO EXCEPTIONS except for good cause (as above) and arranged IN ADVANCE. Late work will otherwise not be evaluated. Incompletes will not be given. Read this paragraph again.

Reading blog postings: must be done before 11:59pm the night before the class for which the material is listed on the syllabus.You are expected to come to class prepared for discussion of that day's readings and the blogs are designed to help you prepare for discussion. All students should read all the other blogs posted before each class..  A minimum total of 14 postings is required. Late postings will not be counted. Failure to complete the minimum=no evaluation.

There will be several short and one longer writing assignments. A formal presentation of your final project results is required, in addition to the written final research paper of 12 to 20 pages.  All these will be fully described in handouts/postings.

Active, informed participation in discussions (see comportment, below) is required and is commented upon in the evaluation.This means being up to date with the readings and with the blog postings of the whole class.

All your written work (with my comments on it) should be saved for submission in a final portfolio at the conclusion of the semester. Due dates and instructions will be provided in due course.

Additional Info:

My general teaching philosophy:

I am not here to act as the font of professorly wisdom, or to tell you "what you need to know,"  but to help you approach and grapple with a complex and diverse body of knowledge, introduce you to the ways in which legal thinking and argumentation is done, and encourage you formulate serious analytical questions about it and learn how to go about  seeking your own answers in the scholarly literature.


Reading is the number one thing that students mess up on. You will need good time management skills to stay current with the syllabus. Cutting corners, skimming and otherwise faking it will not work for you at Hampshire. This is a seminar-style class in which you will encounter a range of material from new and unfamiliar sources with which you will learn to engage intellectually. You will DEFINITELY need to read most items more than once in order to fully grasp them, so do not wait until the last minute to do the readings. Your blog postings must be done the night before each class, so you should plan on reading the material 24 to 48 hours before each class. If you do not keep up with readings, you will not be able to  participate effectively in discussions, and you will miss a great deal. This is not a "professor lectures/students take notes" type of class, but occasionally I will lay out information that I think you need to have in order to understand something more fully, and you should of course take notes. But primarily we work from the readings.

Contribute to class discussions!

Many students are intimidated by class discussion because they feel they don't have anything brilliant to say, or simply because they fear exposing the limiits of their understanding or knowledge (or the fact they have not done the reading!). Well, guess what? Everyone experiences this sort of anxiety to some extent. Feel free to ask basic questions and to admit that you do not understand something. It's a great way to get discussion going.

While some are more eager than others to participate, everyone should make an effort to do so, with comments and/or questions grounded in the readings. Personal anecdotes and statements of your own opinions should be kept to a minimum. Always ask yourself, what does my proposed comment have to do with the readings? What specific passages in the material made me think about this question? What do I think a particularly difficult  passage in the text means? Or go to the basics: "What does the passage at page X mean? I am confused."

Please be aware of who is speaking most often and who is not speaking much or at all, and endeavor to create openings for those who are quieter to be able to join the conversation. If you are speaking a lot, consider the possibility of holding back so that others less vocal  can join in. Discussion should involve the class as a whole and not just be a dialogue between you and the instructor. Wait to be recognized before jumping in with comments. Please, please, do NOT jump into discussions about materials you have not read. That is just bad form and I will not hesitate to call you out on it.

Disagreements will (and should!) happen, and are not to be feared. Mutual respectfulness is key. You are here to learn how scholars approach issues and problems, not to proclaim your own opinions, and there are not necessarily wrong or right positions on given questions. Avoid judging others and remember that we are all at different stages of acquiring knowledge and insight. Keeping comments grounded in the readings is a sure way to avoid personalizing disagreements and making the discussion about yourself or others in the room.

Use a dictionary!!

In reading for this and other college courses, you are likely to encounter unfamiliar words and expressions. Do not wait until class time to ask what a given word means, unless you have really tried to find out and have not been successful. Many online dictionaries are available, some better than others, but for authoritative definitions stick to the big names such as Merriam-Webster, Oxford etc. Online access to these often requires subscription, but the  printed volumes are free for use in the reference section of the Library. Legal terms can be looked up in Black's Law Dictionary (

General comportment:

There is no real dress code, but remember that the classroom is not part of your living space but a place for collective inquiry and learning. Please be respectful and do not wear pajamas or come shirtless or barefoot to class. Sleeping is best done in your room, not in class. Also please do not leave the room during class except for unavoidable emergencies. Bathroom and water breaks should happen before and after class, not in the middle. Random comings and goings during class are noisy and distracting, and can seem disrespectful to those who are speaking. How would you feel if you were speaking or presenting and people got up and left the room? It is fine to bring coffee or other drinks to class, but please do not bring other food unless required for medical reasons.

Computers and tablets are not necessary during class and should remain closed and put away. Yes, closed. Unless you have a documented need for one as a learning accommodation certified by Student Services. All required readings should be printed out and brought to class.

Cell phones should be turned off prior to the start of class. Check your phone before the start of class, not when it starts ringing halfway into it.

Office Hours: I will post a sign up sheet on my office door; sign up for any open slot, or email me for an appointment. Please do not knock on my door without an appointment, but if you do have one please DO knock when it is time for me to meet with you. Otherwise I may not realize you are out in the hall waiting!

Communication: E-mail is best; please note that I generally respond to e-mail during working hours as best I can given the large volume I receive. Do not expect an immediate reply late at night or on the weekend, when I generally do not check Hampshire e-mail.

I will be using your Hampshire official email address for communications. Please make sure you check that mail regularly or have it forwarded to the mail account you tend to use, so that you do not miss important updates and messages from me.