The Federal Judiciary: Idea to Institution

October 3-5, 2014


In this seminar, participants will examine the role of "the judiciary" as one of the three branches of American government.  Under the Articles of Confederation there was no federal judiciary, but each state had its own judicial branch and little interest in relinquishing judicial powers to the new federal courts. Article III of the Constitution outlines the federal judiciary in very broad terms, leaving it to Congress to create by law a working judicial structure and to determine most of the federal courts' jurisdiction (or power to decide cases). Core issues to be examined in this seminar include: creation of the judicial branch and its constitutional ties to the other branches; key statutes affecting the organization, jurisdiction, and operation of the federal courts; the relationship between the federal judiciary and state judicial systems; the relationship between the Supreme Court and its co-equal branches in the national government; the doctrine of judicial review; the evolution of the Supreme Court as an institution; controversies surrounding the exercise of federal judicial power and how Congress, the Executive, states, and the people through constitutional amendments have responded to those controversies; debates over methods of interpreting the Constitution; and contemporary issues involving the role of federal courts in the American political system.

Seminar Scholars

Susan M. Leeson was a justice on the Oregon Supreme Court and a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Before her judicial service, Leeson taught political science at Willamette University (political theory and public law) and dispute resolution, legal history, and jurisprudence at the College of Law.  She also has been a Judicial Fellow at the United States Supreme Court and a law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Leeson has co-authored texts on constitutional law and dispute resolution, and published articles on law and political theory.  Currently, she is the staff mediator for the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.  She speaks regularly at teacher institutes on constitutional history and contemporary issues.   Leeson’s  Ph.D. (Government) is from the Claremont Graduate School and her J.D. is from Willamette College of Law.


Scott Casper joined the University of Maryland Baltimore College community and the Dean’s Office in July 2013. A historian of the nineteenth-century United States, he is the author of Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine (Hill & Wang, 2008) and Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 1999), and the co-author, editor, or co-editor of seven other books, most recently The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History (Oxford University Press, 2013). He has held research fellowships at the National Humanities Center and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, among other institutions. At the University of Nevada, Reno, his home from 1992 to 2013, Dr. Casper chaired the faculty senate and the history department and served as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He edits the annual “Textbooks and Teaching” section of the Journal of American History, and was acting editor of The William and Mary Quarterly in 2008-09. He has worked extensively with K-12 history and social studies educators through the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the Center for Civic Education, and the Northern Nevada Teaching American History Project. Dr. Casper earned his A.B. from Princeton University and his M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University.