Politics & Government 411                                                                                                                                                    Professor Bill Haltom

Senior Seminar in Public Law                                                                                                                                                 Wyatt 214  879-3445

Autumn Semester 2004                                                                                                                                         Office Hours:  MWF 1300-1350


Common Places, Common Sense, and

the Juridico-Entertainment Complex


Politics and Government 411, the “Senior Seminar in Public Law,” will guide your original research in public law under my supervision.  That means, first, that you must already have studied U. S. pol­itics and courts to take this seminar. 


I presume, further, that you intend to create knowledge through both independent and co­operative exer­tions. In meetings of the seminar, you will personally master and collectively as­sist others in mas­ter­ing common material.  In seminar-papers, you will ap­ply learning to specific problems to expand knowl­edge.  In the seminar-room, you are part of our team; when you write your paper, you are on your own.  You must work with us and by yourself to succeed in this seminar.


I presume, third, that you can generate some enthusiasm about our general topic and your particular pro­ject.  In this sem­i­nar, the common topic concerns interactions among the justice system, politics, and common sense.  The seminar will begin from the work of others but will demand that you augment knowledge: your knowledge, our knowledge, and the world’s knowledge.


These presumptions, expectations, and goals demand that we all pull together to teach one another.  I fa­­cil­itate class­room meetings and carefully edit your written work.  During sem­i­nar-meetings, I refine your ability to make and judge arguments.  I then assure that all seminarians prepare thoroughly and par­­ti­cipate rou­tinely and well.  In reading written work, I prod you seminarians into writing the best sem­i­nar-papers of which you are capable, papers that meet the high­est standards for college students.  However, our highest priority will always be your teaching yourselves, others, and me.


Onerous Rules


1.  All written work in this course must be typed or word-processed, on any unlined paper except onionskin, double-spaced, with margins at least 1.00 inches but at most 1.50 inches.  


2.  I deduct one whole grade (1.0) for tardy submissions.


3.  Please feel free to see me about papers or other class matters.  However, I shall insist that you wait a day after I return any graded effort.


4.  Please feel free to call me at my office to set up appointments if you cannot make my office hours. I shall be happy to talk to you immediately after the meetings of this seminar. You may also contact me electronically.  How­ever, only emer­gencies that you could not have foreseen will excuse con­tacting me at my home.  [If you discover me at your home, you may speak to me on any matter you choose.]


5.  All members of the seminar must secure computer accounts on the UPS computer or at any other spot on the Inter­net that we can reach.  If you have not contacted me at “haltom@ups.edu” by September 6, 2004, you will receive a failing grade for the first week.  You will receive a failing grade for each week until you contact me through cyber-space.  This rule will save all of us time and energy because we shall be able to speak to one another routinely.


6.  Your draft on which members of the seminar are to comment must be in my office ¾ physically or elec­tronically ¾ at least forty-eight hours prior to your presentation of the draft.  If your draft is not available to your classmates, you will receive an “F” [0.0] for that presentation.  Absolutely no exceptions!



You are free to research any subjects that seminarians and I approve for your seminar paper.  Please select a project that will inter­est you and your class­mates.  Projects that you and the rest of us care about will generate discus­sions, disagreements, and superior papers.


Please see me early and often to get ideas.  I have some bizarre but revealing projects in mind.


Please note that you must propose a thesis to the seminar on September 7, 2004 





I urge you to present your proposal to me and to the class with the format below.  Your proposals will be much more detailed.  The format suggests only the kinds of questions that sophisticated listeners will want you to answer.


            TITLE              Some arresting title to inspire interest among your classmates


            TOPIC             A succinct statement of the sort of puzzle or problem that you will study


            THESIS            A proposition that is contestable and interesting to you and us


            DATA              What sorts of information you will use and where you will find those sorts


            METHOD        How you expect to proceed, step by step


            BIBLIO-          What resources, books, articles, interviews, and other information

            GRAPHY         you have already located, secured, and annotated


Thus, I shall expect all proposals to be written and to state a tentative title, general topic, preliminary thesis, strategic sample of data, detailed steps by which the thesis will be tested, resources located and needed, and plans to collaborate with others in the seminar.  Your proposal will guide your paper:  the flimsier your proposal, the more haphazard your plan­ning;  the more haphazard your planning, the lower the likelihood of your success.


You will adapt your plans as research proceeds.  If you propose a thesis that seems reasonable and provocative but your research disconfirms that thesis, you will write up the seminar paper showing why the thesis was a worthy conjecture but untrue or only partially reliable.  The thesis you start out with need not be the thesis you end up with.  To test presumptions and to reassess them in light of new evidence is learning.  Learning is good.  We like learning.


Most undergraduates write their papers haphazardly.  I certainly did and arguably still do.  Designing a sample and planning a procedure will be a new challenge for many in the seminar.  This is necessary preparation for life, however.  People who plan ahead and who work smart so they can produce more with less tend to get more from life, financially and otherwise.  You must learn to organize your time and effort.  If you do not do so in Politics and Government 411, the workload¾and I¾will bury you.





Many seniors believe that “more is more” when it comes to their seminar-papers.  They long to wave fifty pages of prose bloated by need­­­less documentation and larded with every fact and fiction they discov­ered in their research.  These seniors forget some important facts of which I want to remind you. First, you may want to show your senior thesis to someone who will actually read it.  If your thesis demon­strates that you will work like a mule without purpose, your reader will be impressed only if he or she needs assistance moving rocks.  Se­cond, you will likely read your paper someday.  If your paper shows that you were a bit thick, you will not be able to use it to prove to your spouse or offspring that you were once intellectual or at least literate.  Third, your class­mates and I have to read your thesis.  If you burden us with thirty pages of blather when you could have wrapped your project up in ten pages, we shall think you a gas bag. In this seminar, all gas bags must have PhDs.


“Less is more.”  If you doubt that adage, just consider how much shorter this syllabus should be!


At least two days before your any drafts are to be presented to the seminar, you must give me a copy of your draft.  I shall then make copies for all members of the seminar. All mem­bers of the seminar will then comment on your drafts.  All members of the semi­nar will annotate your draft and will return their copies of your draft with helpful annotations legibly inscribed thereon.  The sem­inar will then discuss only the most important, general, and interesting aspects of your drafts in class.




You will be graded according to the quality of participation in the seminar and of the seminar-paper.  Par­ticipation [all activities and submissions aside from the paper, including all drafts] and paper each account for half the grade for the seminar.




8-31      Introducing the Juridico-Entertainment Complex


            Read                This syllabus and “The Juridico-Entertainment Complex”


9-7       Testing the Juridico-Entertainment Complex ¾ Seminar Projects


            Present             an inchoate research proposal according to directions in this syllabus


9-14      Common Places and Commonplaces of Law and Litigants


            Read                Ewick & Silbey, The Common Place of Law


            Official Presenters:


9-21      Less Common Places and Uncommon Perspectives on Law and Litigants


            Read                Asim (ed.), Not Guilty: Twelve Black Men Speak Out on Law, Justice, and Life


            Official Presenters:


9-28      Project Proposals 


            Submit              a formal research proposal consistent with this syllabus and consultations


            Official Presenters:        Everyone in P&G 411



10-5      Dialectics of Proposed and Evolving Projects


            Official Presenters:



10-12    Dialectics of Proposed and Evolving Projects


            Official Presenters:



10-19    Dialectics of Proposed and Evolving Projects


            Official Presenters:



10-26    Troubleshooting Projects



11-9      Troubleshooting Projects



11-16    Three Drafts





11-23    Three Drafts





11-30    Three Drafts





12-7      Presentations of Penultimate Drafts