US Constitutional History

Consider the following points when researching and writing your paper:

1) Briefly describe the issues involved in the case. Identify the plaintiff and defendant.

2) When did it occur? What contexts (historical, political, judicial, etc.) are important to understanding the case and its outcome?

3) How and where did the case originate? What were the decisions of the lower courts (if any)?

4) Provide relevant details about the Court itself. What was the final vote tally on the decision? Who was the Chief Justice? Who wrote the majority decision? Discuss their backgrounds, if important. You can pay for a paper to be written here.

5) How was the decision situated with regard to existing constitutional precedents? Did it build on them or represent a new direction? Place your case firmly in the context of important related decisions.

6) Were there significant dissents to the decision of the Court majority? How was the decision publicly received? Was it politically controversial? Who favored and who opposed it?

7) Describe the significance of the Court’s decision in both the short and long term. Remember, the specific details of the case itself are sometimes less important than the platform that the decision provided for the Court to set forth doctrines of much wider significance.

Some papers may focus on one or more of these questions as opposed to others, depending on their relative importance to the particular case. But understanding historical events means placing them in contexts, so the second question always deserves attention in your paper.

Research Paper Guidelines

Each student will submit an original report of six-to-twelve full pages (plus a Works Cited list) on the origins, outcome, significance, and context of a Supreme Court decision from a preapproved list. These papers are due in three groups on dates staggered throughout the semester. Students should also be present and prepared to informally discuss their case and answer questions about it in class on the date that the decision is listed on the detailed weekly course schedule.

Format Requirements:

1) Papers should run at least 6 full pages in length and no more than 12. No headers or footers except page numbers should appear in the text of the paper.

2) Separately include a cover page (title, name, course info, etc.) and a Works Cited list.

3) Use a 12-point font (Times New Roman or Arial only!)

4) All lines of the text should be double-spaced. Do not place an extra line between paragraphs.

5) Margins should be one-inch in width (top, bottom, and both sides).

Submission: The due dates for Groups 1, 2, and 3 are listed on the syllabus. Papers must be submitted in hardcopy and also uploaded online to the E-Learn dropbox. If you have trouble, then send me the paper as an e-mail attachment. All electronic versions should be saved and uploaded as MSWord or rich text format (.rtf) files only!

Late Papers: These will be subject to steep penalties per what is described on the syllabus.

Citations: All quotes and paraphrases must be cited as footnotes (or endnotes) according to the Chicago Manual of Style, also available in the Turabian Guide. See the History Department’s website: Another good online guide to citations and other issues is These also show how to cite websites. Do NOT use the MLA parenthetical style of citations or you will get no higher than a B+ on the paper. I encourage you to speak with me with questions.

Works Cited List: This should list all sources alphabetically by author, for ex.: Irons, Peter. A People’s History of the Supreme Court (rev. ed., Penguin Books, 2006). I am somewhat less concerned with the precise form as I am with: 1) consistency; 2) being able to locate the source from the info provided; and, most of all, 3) that you acknowledge all the sources you use. Not doing so is a form of . . .

Plagiarism: E-Learn routinely runs papers through the plagiarism-detection service, which compares your work against an enormous database (including college-paper vending sevices). Moreover, your instructor is very skilled at recognizing work that has been improperly lifted or appropriated from unacknowledged outside sources. When plagiarism is detected, the penalties for it will be strictly enforced. More detailed information on plagiarism is available on the syllabus and the History Department’s website listed above—but if you have any questions or doubts, you should contact me or my graduate assistant before submitting the paper.

Doing Research

When you begin doing your research, look first at our course textbooks. Check the index of the book by Peter Irons for your case, and read that chapter carefully to get a sense of how your case fits into wider historical contexts. His book also has a bibliography.

To begin searching for outside sources, you might begin with the bibliographical essay at the end of Irons. Only a few cases are likely to have entire books devoted to them, which means that you may need to hunt for books in which your case is likely to be discussed. Some of these might be books on particular topics (for ex., judicial review, labor policies), or about particular time-periods (for ex., constitutional developments during the Civil War and Reconstruction).

Check some of the websites on the list posted on E-Learn under “Content,” Google your case, and/or look it up on Wikipedia. Wikipedia entries will often list “external references” at the end, which can direct you to books and other sources that discuss your case. I am not putting limits on your use of online vs. published sources for this project, as long as the origin of all information and quotations is properly cited. However, the more sources you show evidence of having examined, the better—and like most scholars, I prefer published sources (like books or journal articles) over web-based sources, because they tend to be more consistently reliable. I leave it up to you to decide how much effort you want to devote to this project to earn the grade you want.

Use the library catalog to look up books you’ve found listed elsewhere. If you find one or more records, be aware that you can click on the “Subject” link for that record to bring up other books that may have relevant information too. Sometimes it’s also a good idea to look through some of the other books nearby on the shelf. You may find that some books are not held in McWherter Library—they’re in the law library instead, which is located on Front St in downtown Memphis. For most items, you have the same borrowing privileges there that you do at McWherter Library.

One book worth looking up your case in is Kermit Hall / The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. This book is available in the Reference Room of the university’s McWherter Library (call no. KF8742.A35 O93) and also in an online version accessible through the library catalog portal.

Feel free to get in touch with me or my graduate assistant about your project, especially if you run into difficulties finding good sources. I’ll try to offer suggestions and help you out as best I can. But don’t procrastinate! Get started on your project as soon as possible—remember, it counts for 25% of your final grade.