Classic American Constitutional Law

The summer before my freshman year when I was picking classes for my fall semester, I noticed a constitutional law class called “Classic American Constitutional Law.” I was amazed that undergraduates could take constitutional law classes; I thought that would only be a possibility for law students. When I was in high school I loved the Supreme Court unit in A.P. U.S. Government, especially because we went over all the major landmark Supreme Court cases. Needless to say, I signed up for the constitutional law class for the fall.

By the time midterm season came, most of our grade so far had consisted of class discussions and a short paper on the constitutional provisions that allowed for slavery. Then our amazing professor, Rogers Smith, announced that for our midterm we would be engaging in a simulation and writing a long paper about the events of the simulation. He sent out the context
for the simulation, which went something like this:

Abraham Lincoln is elected in an alternate universe in 1860 with the same Constitution in place that was actually in place at that time. Southern states have threatened to secede if Congress bans slavery in the territories. Also, Louis Pasteur has invented a serum that will make humans basically immortal, as well as bring the dead back to life. Lincoln and the Republicans pass an act, LASH, that establishes free clinics to provide the immortality serum to all U.S. citizens, including slaves, but not slave-owners. Lincoln thought this would encourage slave-owners to give up their slaves in order to have access to the serum. Slave owners immediately criticized LASH for being unconstitutional.

Our class was split up into different groups: Congress, state governors, civilians, the Executive Branch, and the Supreme Court. We devoted two classes to enacting the simulation, with each group being able to sue/secede/declare war/make judicial rulings/pass new laws/lobby, etc. It quickly turned into mayhem, but was ultimately a lot of fun and taught us a lot about the warring ideologies that contributed to the start of the Civil War.

After the simulation took place, our professor wrote up a paper prompt based on the results and events of the simulation and asked us to write 8-10 page papers commenting on the constitutional forces at play with many of the key events. This was a lot more interesting than rehashing ideas about real Supreme Court cases that we had discussed in class. It also forced us to think independently; no amount of research could yield academic information on the hypothetical, totally made-up scenario that we had experienced. I felt truly challenged intellectually, which was one of the main things I was hoping to get out of college. And I must have really had fun because I signed up for the second semester of Professor Smith’s class and
agreed to go through the madness of a different simulation all over again.

-Hannah R, C'19