Leadership in Law: Social Change and the Supreme Court

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 21, 2021 - July 21, 20216/21 - 7/214 WeeksOnlineWaitlistedOnlineLiza Williams

Course Description

What promise does the law have in generating social justice? What explains why the substantive meaning of the law changes over time and how does it happen, exactly? In this course, students will assess the role and record of the U.S. Supreme Court in transforming collective ideals of justice for social groups in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. We will analyze the ways political activists and social movements have organized, strategized, and engaged with the legal system and judiciary to enact social justice goals and values. In particular, the course will ask students to consider the interplay between social movements and the Court’s landmark decisions on racism and the legacy of slavery, immigrant rights, and the rights of LGBTQ+ groups. In doing so, several questions will be addressed, including: How do social movements change the understanding of the law and constitutional values? Are judges insulated from politics? Should they be? Is the Supreme Court a political or legal institution? What is the relationship between the role of the Court and the promotion of social justice?

Course materials will be presented to students through an array of mediums, including documentary films, photography, podcast audio recordings, and texts from diverse fields such as political science, legal studies, political philosophy, and sociology. Additionally, students will read and evaluate major decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court that have impacted social justice for African Americans, immigrants and non-citizens, and LGBTQ+ groups.

The course will be taught in an asynchronous, online format where students will complete daily written assignments, interact with peers in simulated discussion, and develop a working Action Plan with other students in the course that aims to enact social justice by utilizing the law, the courts, and the broader legal system as a path to reform.

Upon successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1. Understand theoretical and legal frameworks related to the concept of social justice
  2. Understand the role of the United States Supreme Court in American government and politics
  3. Critically evaluate the legal rationale behind landmark cases relating to race, membership, citizenship status, and sexual orientation
  4. Explain how political activists, advocates, and lawyers engage in making the law and upholding its meaning
  5. Identify processes and modalities for enacting social justice
This course will help students gain essential analytical skills for the further study of law and politics.


This course is part of the Leadership Institute Online, a four-week academic program that helps students cultivate the knowledge, skills, and attitudes associated with effective and socially responsible leadership. This unique program consists of two core elements: academic content based on the course of one's choosing and leadership content common to all courses, including the development of an Action Plan.

Enrollment in this program requires participation in one-hour synchronous or "live" sessions every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30am Eastern Standard Time (EST) - 12:30pm (EST). Other than participation in these two weekly synchronous or "live" sessions, participation in the course may be completed daily, at any time.

Additional programmatic information may be found here.

Prerequisites: Proficiency in English is required. Knowledge of United States history is helpful, but not required.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0995

Program Information

Leadership Institute

Brown's Pre-College Program focused on developing socially responsible leaders and creating positive change. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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