Course Syllabus

UTRGV Political Science 4312 Constitutional Law – Civil Liberties Charles W. Chapman JD, PhD

Spring 2020 (956) 123-4567

UTRGV email address:

11:00 AM to 12:15 PM TTh LHS 1.312 Office location & hours: MO 1.126D

(make an appointment by email)

Course Description and Prerequisites

A study of the limitations of governmental powers in the United States by use of court cases, with primary emphasis on civil and political rights. Prerequisites: POLS 2305 (or POLS 2385).

Learning Objectives/Outcomes for the Course

Students who successfully complete this course should retain a genuine understanding of these four basic ideas about Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties:

(1) The study of the American Constitution and the Civil Liberties cases decided pursuant to the Constitution are an empirical discipline that depends on observation, research, inquisitiveness and a healthy skepticism. By “empirical”, I mean that in studying Civil Liberties within the context of Constitutional Law we may begin with working hypotheses that are testable using our observations of and experiences with the American Constitution and the judiciary’s decision-making on Civil Liberties cases under the Constitution, or even formal experiments if we had the luxury (which we don’t) in Political Science 4312 of time and resources to engage in such formal experimentation. Statements which we make in Political Science 4312 and thereafter regarding American Constitutional Law-Civil Liberties will be/should be subject to and derived from our experiences or observations.

(2) The critical analysis of the Constitution and the judiciary’s decisions regarding Civil Liberties under the Constitution is strength in that an informed public is a prerequisite to a successful republic.

(3) Because government, including the judiciary, is influenced by multiple actors and multiple factors, many questions regarding the behavior of government or the judiciary do not have simple answers.

(4) The national political environment, American judicial history, and the individual interpretations of the Constitution by judges/justices influence the behavior of the American judiciary, including the United States Supreme Court, through complex interactions.

Intellectual competencies — Learning Objectives for Core Curriculum Requirements

There are four intellectual competencies that are emphasized in the Political Science 4312-Constitutional Law-Civil Liberties course. They are as follows:

Reading (Critical Thinking Skills) – Reading at the college level means the ability to analyze and interpret a variety of printed and on-line materials. The Political Science 4312 course offers students the opportunity to master these skills primarily through reading the textbook. Reading assignments from the United States Supreme Court case decisions found on the Internet (e.g., at or, in an abbreviated context, at supplement lectures and the readings in the course textbook. Major tests in the course are objective type-examinations that call for careful reading and preparation.

Critical Thinking – One of the main objectives of the Political Science 4312 class is to help student learn to think critically about the Constitution, the Supreme Court, and judicial decisions on Civil Liberties. Critical thinking skills include: recognition of patterns of judicial behavior, practical problem solving, creative problem solving, scientific problem solving, reasoning through questions about judicial behavior and perspective taking. Students have the opportunity to learn these skills through lectures and questioning presented in the classroom by Dr. Chapman, reading of the textbook classroom exercises in critical thinking—particularly regarding the assigned cases in Civil Liberties, as well as regarding the United States Supreme Court—and any supplemental sources, and on-line activities. In order to succeed in the course, students must demonstrate their ability to understand conceptual questions that address the facts present in and factual basis of Constitutional Law as it is reflected in judicial decisions on Civil Liberties. Examinations always include items that seek to measure the mastery of the factual framework, behavior, and patterns of Supreme Court decision-making in Civil Liberties cases under the Constitution, as presented in the course material.

Use of Technology (Empirical and Quantitative Skills) – Computer literacy at the college level means the ability to use computer-based technology in communicating, solving problems, and acquiring information. Political Science 4312 provides the opportunity for students to use computer-based technology through web site activities, email and computer supplemented instruction.

Writing (Communication Skills) – Competency in writing is the ability to produce clear, correct, coherent prose adapted to purpose, occasion, and audience. These abilities can only be acquired through practice and reflection.

Grading Policies

Late work will not be accepted. UTRGV’s grading policy is to use straight letter grades (A, B, C, D, or F).

Essay – Write an essay, no less than seven (7) pages long, double-spaced, that is articulate, well-organized, and grammatically correct (the essay must follow the rules of grammar). UTRGV’s grading policy is to use straight letter grades (A, B, C, D, or F).

Tests – There will be five (5) tests. Your final course grade will be calculated as:

Total points from essay + total of five test scores = total course points/6

If you fail to take all five tests, you will receive zero (0) for the test (or tests) that you don’t take. Likewise for the essay — if you don’t submit an essay that meets the requirements described in this syllabus, you will receive a grade of zero (0).


Essay Assignment and Tests

Tests – There are FIVE TESTS. Each test will present 50 questions based on the readings and lectures. You will have 90 minutes to complete each test, once you have started. The tests will be completed using Blackboard. Blackboard will not accept for grading any test that exceeds the ninety minutes allotted for the test. Each test must be completed by the due date announced. If Dr. Chapman does reschedule any test for the entire class, he will send each student an email through the Blackboard system at least several days before the originally scheduled test date or announce the rescheduling in class. 

Students are not prohibited from using their study materials during the test, but a reliance on such materials may cause you to not be able to complete the test within the time allotted for the test.   The test is timed (ninety minutes) and students will probably not have sufficient time to look up the answer to every question.  Students must be prepared for the test ahead of time.  Students who fail to take the test within the designated window of time will be given a score of zero (0). There will be no re-testing, re-starting of a test, or any makeup test. Each student will get one opportunity to take the test. Every student must be certain that he or she has a reliable computer and is using a dependable browser (I strongly recommend Google Chrome). A mishap with a computer or browser will not justify a second opportunity at a test. Once a student starts a test, he or she must complete it—no starting, stopping, and re-starting.

TEST SCHEDULE (To be taken online at Course Materials at Blackboard)

FIRST TEST: January 31-February 2, 2020 (Friday-Sunday).

Friday, January 31 — beginning at noon and ending at 11:59 PM Sunday night, February 2. You will have 90 minutes to complete the test.

SECOND TEST: February 21-23 2020 (Friday-Sunday).

Friday, February 21 — beginning at noon and ending at 11:59 PM Sunday night, February 23. You will have 90 minutes to complete the test.

THIRD TEST: March 20-22 2020 (Friday-Sunday).

Friday, March 20 — beginning at noon and ending at 11:59 PM Sunday night, March 22. You will have 90 minutes to complete the test.

FOURTH TEST: April 3-5 2020 (Friday-Sunday).

Friday, April 3 — beginning at noon and ending at 11:59 PM Sunday night, April 5. You will have 90 minutes to complete the test.

FIFTH TEST: April 24-26 2020 (Friday-Sunday).

Friday, April 24 — beginning at noon and ending at 11:59 PM Sunday night, April 26. You will have 90 minutes to complete the test.


Essay – Write an essay, no less than seven (7) pages long, double-spaced, that is articulate, well-organized, and grammatically correct (the essay must follow the rules of grammar — be sure to use paragraphs). Use 11 pitch (font size), Times New Roman or Arial font.

Submit your well-developed, well-reasoned, grammatically correct essay to me at as an email attachment no later than 6:00 PM on Friday, February 14, 2020. It must be in a Microsoft Word format. No pdf should be submitted. Simply send me an email with your essay attached as a Microsoft Word document.

First, in the first three (3) full and complete pages, write about who you are. Include what you feel comfortable sharing regarding your personal history and what your aspirations for the future are.

Second, in your own words (but using proper grammar), in the next four full and complete pages, analyze and address the following:

Free Speech under the First Amendment, the Whistleblower, Espionage, President Trump, and Impeachment

A federal government whistleblower filed a complaint in August 2019 about one of Trump’s telephone conversations with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other dealings with the Eastern European nation. The complaint prompted House Democrats to launch a probe that ended with Trump’s impeachment in early December 2019. The matter now will presumably (eventually) head to the Senate, where the Republican majority is expected to acquit the President.

The Espionage Act of 1917 is a United States federal law passed on June 15, 1917, shortly after the U.S. entry into World War I. It has been amended numerous times over the years. It was intended to prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment, to prevent insubordination in the military, and to prevent the support of United States enemies during wartime. In 1919, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled through Schenck v. United States that the act did not violate the freedom of speech of those convicted under its provisions. The constitutionality of the law, its relationship to free speech, and the meaning of its language have been contested in court ever since.

Government employees are obviously quite often in the best position to know about government engaging in questionable, if not entirely illegal or unconstitutional, activity. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the existence of a massive domestic spying program set off a national debate about the relative importance of national security, and anti-terrorism efforts, versus informational privacy.

Because intelligence agencies invariably operate in largely non-transparent ways, only an insider — a whistleblower — could credibly confirm the existence of government domestic spying programs like PRISM. What’s more, domestic surveillance programs could easily be used in ways that thwart or inhibit democratic accountability — for example, by using embarrassing personal information to discredit political opponents of the incumbent President. Or by aiding or inhibiting the election of a sitting member of Congress—or even a Presidential candidate—through selective data dumps.

Truly, information is power — particularly when the information is stolen from smart phones, email accounts, and web surfing habits. Very few people would want to share with God and country all of their most intimate communications and online activities.

Regarding the government whistleblower who filed an anonymous complaint about the phone call made by President Trump to the President of the Ukraine, employee speech about a matter of public concern enjoys First Amendment protection, but speech related to a matter of private concern does not. If President Trump engaged in an act of official misconduct, then that action is of public concern. So, the whistleblower’s complaint would be (or is) protected speech.

The fundamental promise of whistleblower protection is to create a safe space for a witness of wrongdoing to come forward and report it — and, for the sake of his or her professional reputation or even physical safety, to remain anonymous in doing so. Nothing chills truth-telling in the halls of power like the risk of retribution, and no risk is more harrowing than unmasking potentially impeachable offenses by a President.

So, it may come as little surprise that Donald Trump — with his legacy and potentially even his job hanging in the balance — would turn the promise of whistleblower protection on its head. He has launched a spiteful and bitter campaign to publicly identify the person who exposed his problematic July 25, 2019 phone call with the President of Ukraine.

The whistleblower is a member of the U.S. intelligence community who confidentially told Congress in August 2019 that President Trump pressured Ukraine to dig up politically damaging information on a political opponent, a complaint that triggered a House investigation and subsequently an impeachment inquiry. The House of Representatives voted on the impeachment articles against President Trump and approved them.

“Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax!” Trump tweeted. “The whistleblower should be revealed,” he said later. “He must be brought forward to testify,” Trump tweeted. The fact that the whistleblower’s identity is unknown hasn’t stopped the President from labeling the person a fraud, a liar, “a big anti-Trump person,” “an Obama guy” and “a radical.”

Trump has backed up his demand with a concocted accusation that the whistleblower’s nine-page account delivered to Congress is riddled with error and lies. Actually, nearly every element of the whistleblower’s “urgent concern” complaint is exactly right, according to those notes and subsequent testimony of diplomatic witnesses:

►Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. True.

►Trump raised with Zelensky a conspiracy theory that a U.S. cybersecurity firm worked with Ukraine to frame Russia as interfering in the 2016 election. True.

►Trump told Zelensky to speak with Trump private lawyer Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr about such allegations. True.

►A White House meeting for Zelensky was contingent on opening a Biden investigation, and withholding military aid might also have been an incentive. True.

►The White House later hid records of the Zelensky call. True. 

The Supreme Court curtailed its protection of government employee speech in Garcetti v. Ceballos in 2006. In Garcetti, Richard Ceballos, a deputy district attorney working in the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, was subjected to discipline for testifying in open court his belief that a police officer submitted an affidavit in support of a request for a search warrant that contained “serious misrepresentations.” Ceballos did this even though his supervisors had decided not to amend or correct the police officer’s affidavit in support of the warrant request. Following his testimony, Ceballos claimed that he was reassigned and subjected to other forms of retaliatory action by his government employer.

Writing for the Garcetti majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy found that even if speech relates to a matter of public concern, a government employee may not claim the protection of the First Amendment if the speech falls within the scope of the employee’s work-related duties. He explained that “[a] government entity has broader discretion to restrict speech when it acts in its role as employer, but the restrictions it imposes must be directed at speech that has some potential to affect the entity’s operations.” Consistent with this view, the Garcetti majority held that “when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.”

Under Garcetti, if a government employer fires an employee based on antagonism toward comments regarding a matter of public concern, the employee enjoys no First Amendment protection if the speech arguably falls within the scope of the employee’s duties. As a general matter, when an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in political activity that the First Amendment protects, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action under the First Amendment.

This result occurs because to permit a government employer to retaliate against an employee — whether based on real or imagined partisan commitments — would discourage employees (both the employee discharged or demoted) and his or her colleagues — from engaging in protected activities because the discharge of one employee tells the others that they engage in protected activity at their peril.

Moreover, when an employer acts on a mistaken belief in the context of a partisan firing, the First Amendment still confers protection because the consequence is that a discharge or demotion based upon an employer’s belief that the employee has engaged in protected activity can cause the same kind, and degree, of constitutional harm whether that belief does or does not rest upon a factual mistake.

Before you write the second part of your required essay, read Freedom of the Whistleblowers: Why Prosecuting Government Leakers Under the Espionage Act Raises First Amendment Concerns by Catherine Taylor at HYPERLINK “”

For the purpose of writing this second part of your informal essay (four full pages), take into consideration the discussion I just provided you above — but do not repeat it in your essay. By that I mean that I want your opinion, your thinking on the issues mentioned below — not a word-for-word regurgitation of what I provided in the instructions/discussion. Please address the following:

(1)(a) Since, in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006), the Supreme Court held that public employees have no First Amendment protection for statements they make in the course of their professional duties, do you think that the anonymous whistleblower who complained about President Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should be publicly identified and fired from his or her position in the federal government for engaging in unprotected speech? or

(b) Do you think that the speech is protected speech under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and the whistleblower should remain anonymous and employed in the United States intelligence community? (You can google Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 and find information describing it at various sites, including Wikipedia).

(2) Do you think the whistleblower engaged in an espionage conspiracy with another “leaker” of information? What is espionage? President Trump said in September 2019 that whoever provided a whistleblower with details of his phone call with the President of Ukraine was “almost a spy” and suggested that the “leaker” had committed treason. The President said: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right?” “We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

(3) In your educated opinion, did the House of Representatives do the “right thing” by impeaching President Trump on December 18, 2019? What is the definition for “impeachment” of a President of the United States? For what actions can the President be impeached by the House of Representatives? Did President Trump’s telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet the definition of an action for which a President can be impeached?

(4) If and when the House of Representatives submits the Articles of Impeachment to the United States Senate, should the Senate remove President Trump from the Presidency at the conclusion of a Senate trial on the Articles?

(5) Based on what you have read in preparation for writing this part of the essay, in your educated opinion should the President’s interest prevail over the First Amendment Free Speech rights of the anonymous whistleblower? If you conclude that the President’s interest should prevail, what should the government do regarding the whistleblower (for example, fire the whistleblower, charge the whistleblower with a crime and prosecute him or her)?

Before you start writing your essay, first do readings regarding the subject matter to educate yourself about what you need to write. I want your opinion, but I want your educated opinion — not some seat-of-the-pants comments by you, based on nothing more than your own biases or prejudices. If you don’t read the articles and instead you submit an essay filled with nothing more than your guesses, “feelings”, and prejudices, the grade you will receive for such an essay will be devastating for your course grade. I want you to engage in critical thinking and critical writing. If you are unsure about your writing ability, you might want to make use of the services available at the UTRGV Writing Center.

Your essay should be no less than seven (7) full pages long. Although your essay must be at least seven (7) full pages, please do not submit more than eight pages. You do not need to provide citations to any sources that you may have read to develop your thinking regarding the issues mentioned above. I want your essay to be composed of your own original, critical thinking — not a recitation of what others have said.

As always, plagiarism will result in an “F” grade on the essay and dismissal from the course—either by you voluntarily dropping the course or your plagiarism being presented to the Dean of Students along with me dropping you from the course.

The essay will be graded on a letter basis by me, using the A, B, C, D, F designations as determined by me, at my discretion. An “A” on the essay will be a 95, a “B” will be an 85, a “C” will be a “75”, and a “D” will be a “65”. Anything below a “D” will be a “zero” (0). I will integrate the letter grade you receive with the numerical scores you receive on the five tests. Your final course grade will be a letter grade: A, B, C, D, or F.

You will not receive the essay back from me. Since it may contain private personal information from you, your essay will be shredded (if I print it) or deleted from my computer (if I just read it after opening it from your email) after the essay has been graded and the grade recorded. You are required to answer the questions above so that I can assess your comprehension of the material related to the questions, and, as I said, your ability to think and write critically.



As mentioned above, there will be five exams/tests. The test scores will be used to calculate your final course grade.

Here is the formula: Five test grades added together. (e.g., 92 + 84 + 80 + 90 + 96 = 442 points)

That figure will then be added to the essay grade. (e.g., 85 + 442 = 527 points)

That figure will then be divided by 6 to arrive at the final course grade. (e.g., 527/6 = 87.83). An 87.63 is a B course grade.



A 90-100

B 80-89

C 70-79

D 60-69



University Assessment 

University Assessment – There will be a short exam that students are required by the University to take.  Because this is a University requirement, students will not receive a grade for this course from the University unless the short exam is completed at the end of the session. It will be posted by UTRGV at Blackboard in Course Materials very near the end of the semester.



Book Title: Constitutional Law for a Changing America 10eAuthor: EpsteinISBN: 9781506380308Course: Political Science 4312 Civil Liberties

Paperback: 792 pages

Publisher: CQ Press; Tenth edition (August 31, 2018)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1506380301

ISBN-13: 978-1506380308

Retail price: From $62.00

The textbook is not an open educational resource.


Calendar of Activities

Some important dates for Spring 2020 include:

January 13First day of classes

January 16Last day to add a course or register for Spring 2020

January 20Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday – NO classes

March 9-14Spring Break – NO classes

April 9Last day to drop a course; will count toward the 6-drop rule

April 10-11Easter Holiday – NO classes

April 30Study Day – NO classes

May 1-7Final Exams

May 7Spring classes end; Official last day of the term

May 8-9Commencement Exercises


The Supreme Court, Civil Liberties and Religion

Tuesday, January 14 — What are Civil Liberties? Discuss the syllabus and course requirements. Read supplemental notes: Notes for January 14 Class for Test One on What are Civil Liberties. Also, read Notes for Test One on the Evolution of the Supreme Court and the Federal Judiciary.

Thursday, January 16 — Prior to this class, begin reading in the textbook “The Supreme Court and Constitution”, “Understanding the U.S. Supreme Court”, “The Judiciary, Institutional Powers and Constraints”, “Incorporation of the Bill of Rights”, and “Civil Liberties”. Read: Notes for Test One on the Supreme Court and the Incorporation of the Bill of Rights against the States. Also, read:

Cases: Marbury v. Madison (1803); Ex Parte McCardle (1869); Barron v. Baltimore (1833); Hurtado v. California (1884); Palko v. Connecticut; and Duncan v. Louisiana (1968). Read in Epstein & Walker pp. 2-86.

Read supplemental notes: Notes for January 14 and 16 for Test One on the Supreme Court and on Supreme Court Cases and Notes for January 16 class for Test One on United States v. Cruikshank and The Colfax massacre.

Tuesday, January 21 — Prior to this class, begin reading “Religion: Exercise and Establishment”. Cases: Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940); Sherbert v. Verner (1963); Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972); and Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990). Begin reading in Epstein & Walker pp. 88-182. Discuss in class.

Read supplemental notes: Notes for January 21 and 24 for Test One on Religion. The Notes for Test One for January 21 AND 23 Class on Religion Cases in Exercise & Establishment. Notes for January 21 and 23 for Test One on the Roberts Court and Religion — 2019-2020. Notes for January 21 Class for Test One on Landmark Supreme Court Religion Cases. Notes for Test One January 21 Class on The Cantwell v. Connecticut Story and Aftermath.

Also, read: Notes for January 21 Class for Test One on Mormons, Freedom of Religion, and Government Condemnation.

Thursday, January 23 — Continue with readings in Religion: exercise and Establishment — City of Boerne v. Flores (1997); Everson v. Board of Education (1947), Lemon v. Kurtzman and Earley v. Dicenso (1971), Agostini v. Felton (1997), Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), School District of Abington Township v. Schempp (1963), Lee v. Weisman (1992), Van Orden v. Perry (2005), and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012)..

Tuesday, January 28 — Continue with discussion of readings in Religion: exercise and establishment clauses.

Thursday, January 30 — Study day. Catch up on readings.

Friday, January 31 (beginning at Noon), Saturday and Sunday, February 1 & 2 — Test One. Test One will be available to you at “Course Materials” at Blackboard. I recommend that you use Google Chrome as your browser. You only get one opportunity with the Exam, so make sure that you use a dependable computer. There will be no second chance with the Exam if you have a mishap — whether it is your human error or a technological glitch. You will have 90 minutes to complete the Exam. It is a timed test. There will be 50 questions from the readings and lectures. Each correct answer will count 2 points towards the Exam grade. Blackboard will do the grading. The Exam will first be available to you at Noon on Friday. You must submit your completed test no later than 11:59 PM on Sunday night. Blackboard will not grade a late Exam and you will receive a zero as a result. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Freedom of Speech, Assembly, and Association

Tuesday, February 4 — Prior to this class, begin your reading of: “Freedom of Speech, Assembly, and Association”. Cases: Schenck v. United States (1919), Abrams v. United States (1919), Gitlow v. New York (1925), Dennis v. United States (1951), and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)”. Read in Epstein & Walker pp. 183-279 (ending at Contemporary tests and Constitutional guidelines).

Begin reading supplemental notes: Notes for Test Two on the meaning of Free Speech; Notes for Test Two on Free Speech and Peaceable Assembly; Notes for Test Two on Content and Context in Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association; Notes for Test Two on the clear and