Briefs That Changed History

This course will focus on the persuasive structures and strategies deployed in a selection of briefs that arguably change the course of events in the United States. They will be drawn from such cases as Muller v. Oregon, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Furman v. Georgia, Miranda v. Arizona, Bowers v. Hardwick, Gideon v. Wainwright, and the Pentagon Papers cases. In studying the briefs themselves, the historical contexts out of which they arose, and the opinions to which they gave rise, together with selected secondary readings, students will explore traditional theories of persuasion; the utility of arguments rooted in policy and cognitive science; the value and limits of narrative and thematic strategies; the power of metaphor and archetype. Each of these elements entails particular skills, and each has the potential to raise profound professional and ethical questions. That being so, classroom discussion will necessarily encompass both specific practices and large themes, with a consistent emphasis on the choices made by advocates and the potential reach of these choices.

(1) All students will be expected to read all of the assigned briefs and secondary materials, and to contribute to classroom discussions. A portion of the final grade will reflect their preparation and participation.

(2) Each student will serve as a “expert” for two briefs and selected secondary readings, presenting and critiquing the materials in helping to lead class discussion.

(3) Each student will select a case pending before the Supreme Court of the United States in the current term; choose a party or amicus to represent; write the substantive portions of a brief in that case, together with a series of annotations explaining her persuasive strategies; and present a moot oral argument intended to elicit comments that will help her improve the final product.

Meets the WIE writing requirement