PHIL 114 A: Philosophical Issues in the Law

Autumn 2022
MW 10:00am - 11:20am / KNE 110
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

image of the roman columns from Supreme Court House, but the camera angle from the ground looking up. Some blue sky is visible. In white text on a sky blue background, the text reads "Phil 114: Philosophical Issues in the Law"


Phil 114: Philosophical Issues in the Law

Dr. Amelia M. Wirts, JD, PHD

Office Hours: Th 10:30-12:30, Savery 381 (masks requested)

Lectures: M and W, 10-:00AM-11:20AM, Kane 110


Jesus Raya: (sections AD and AE, email:, office hours time and location: Wednesdays 12:30PM - 2:30PM Savery 3rd floor Big Table)

Ramona Marquez: (sections AG and AH,, office hours: Tues. 11.20-12-20, Wed. 11.30-12.30, 3rd floor Savery Hall)

Course Content:

This course is a case-based introduction to philosophical issues in the law.  Unlike standard philosophy of law courses, in which most of the readings are written by philosophers or law school professors, most of the readings in this course are actual judicial opinions from the United States' courts. We will read selections from some of the most important judicial opinions in the history of the United States and explore the philosophical issues raised by them.  This course will teach you to read American case law, analyze the arguments therein, and write about law in a philosophical way.  In this course, we will read cases in these major areas: Reproductive Rights and Privacy, LGTBQ Rights and Privacy, Civil Rights and Federalism, and Rights Against Search and Seizure and the Fourth Amendment cases. Throughout the course, we will consider what these cases say about the appropriate powers of the government up against the rights of individuals. We will also consider whether our laws are reflections of national values or if laws can be used to change national values.


Course Evaluations:

Grades in this course will be based on the following:

  • Homework Assignments (5 throughout the quarter): 35%
  • Midterm Exam (Take-Home, open book/note): 25%
  • Final Exam (Take-Home, open book/note): 30%
  • Participation in Section: 5%
  • Participation in Poll Everywhere Questions in Lecture: 5%

Homework Assignments:

Throughout the quarter, there will be 5 homework assignments in which you will answer (short answer and short essay) questions about the cases we read in class. Assignments will be approximately 1-2 pages double-spaced. Your average score will make up 35% of your grade.

Midterm and Final Exams:

You will have a midterm and final exam that will both be take home. You can use your readings, notes, and powerpoints to answer the questions, but you cannot consult with classmates in any way (including discord servers or other group messaging services) once you have received the exams. You may consult with other students while studying or preparing notes before the exam goes out. You should treat these like exams rather than writing assignments, meaning you should study in advance even though they are take home, open book, open note. In each case, you will have 24 hours to complete the exams, but they will be designed in such a way that if you have studied, they should only take 2 hours to complete.

Section Participation:

Regular, active participation in your sections accounts for 5% of your grade. You should inform your TA if you have to miss a class due to health (mental and physical) or a family emergency.

Poll Everywhere Participation in Lecture

All students should be sure that they can log into their poll everywhere accounts before the first day of class. Throughout lecture, I will ask you to participate in a variety of short quizzes, polls, and open-ended questions using poll everywhere. Some of these questions will have correct answers, and you can use those as a way to help yourself know if you are understanding the material well. Others will be the kinds of questions that do not have right answers, but help us have a conversation in class. Your participation in each poll will be recorded (not whether or not you get the right answer, when there is a correct answer), and the percentage of questions you participate in will make up your score. Thus, you must attend class regularly and participate in the Poll Everywhere questions and surveys, but there will be 1-5 per class, so missing a few days will have minimal impact on your participation grade.

Grade Scale

I convert percentage to the UW 4.0 Scale in the following way:

  • 95%=4.0,
  • 85%=3.0,
  • 75%=2.0
  • Between these, 1% =0.1., so a 93%= 3.8
  • I round 0.5% up; thus, de facto 94.5%=4.0, 84.5%=3.0, etc.
  • I round up 60% to 0.7, instead of leaving the 0.7 cutoff at 62%.

Class Policies:

Late Assignments

Late assignments (including exams) will be penalized 5% for each day they are late, up to 40%.  


If a health issue or family emergency comes up, please ask for an extension. When asking for an extension, you should email your TA, preferably before the assignment is due, and simply state your reason for needing an extension. You do NOT have to go into detail about the nature of your illness or family emergency. While your TAs and I care about your situation, you only have to share what you are comfortable sharing.

COVID Stuff:

As we have seen over the last two years, covid can disrupt our classes and lives in call kinds of ways. Please always stay home if you are feeling sick, get tested often for covid, and follow any school policies. 

Masks are HIGHLY recommended the first few weeks of classes as everyone returns and many people get up to date on their vaccines. I also encourage you to wear masks when in class throughout the quarter. 

Covid also highlighted how tough many requirements are for all of us. Let's continue to have grace with ourselves and each other as we move into yet another phase of living with this pandemic. 

Discord Servers, etc:

Students sometimes like to set up a Discord for the class to share information, get to know one another, and have somewhat of a community. If students wish to set these up, they should feel free to do so. No student must join such a group. While it is completely acceptable to share notes or discuss class material in such groups, it is never okay to share answers to the homework or to the exams. Whatever you turn in should be your work and not something that was shared with you by another student. It is a violation of the academic code of conduct to upload answers to homework or tests or to use someone else’s answers on your own assignments or tests on a Discord server, or anywhere else. Please respect these rules, and those who run any Discord or similar service should immediately remove any shared answers or any requests to share answers. There are serious academic consequences for failure to follow these rules.

Academic Dishonesty:

Please see the section below that talks more about the University's policy for academic dishonesty. If a student participates in any way in academic dishonesty in this class, I reserve the right to give them a zero on the relevant assignment or test as well as further penalties including a failing grade in the course itself. 


Tentative Class Schedule:

This schedule is subject to change, and the authoritative reading assignments will be whatever is listed in the weekly modules. Where there is a difference between this list and the weekly module, always follow the weekly module.

NOTE: All readings will be available on Canvas either as PDFs or as links to websites. You can find readings in the weekly modules, and PDFs will also be in the readings folders on the Files tab on the left. 

Week 0, September 28:


Week 1:

October 3: How to read a Case

  • How to read a court case,
  • Pierson v. Post

October 5: Start Unit 1:  Equality and the 14th Amendment

  • The United States Constitution, selections. 
  • Selections from Equality and the Constitution
    • this will include The Dred Scott Decision (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857)

Week 2: 

October 10: 

  • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
  • Hirabayashi v. United States (1943)

October 12:

  • Brown v. Board of Education 

Week 3:

October 17:

  • Loving v. Virginia (1967)
  • Washington v. Davis (1976)

October 19: Unit 2: Commerce Clause and Civil Rights

  • Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
  • Wickard v. Filburn (1942)

Week 4

October 24: 

  • Civil Rights Acts of 1964
  • Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964)
  • Katzenbach v. McClung (1964)

October 26:

  • United States v. Lopez (1995)
  • United States v. Morrison (2000)

Week 5

Oct. 31:

  • Catch up and review

Nov. 2: 

  • Take home midterm. No class (and no sections on Nov. 3)

Week 6:

November 7: Unit 3: Fundamental Rights and Privacy

  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

November 9:

  • Roe v. Wade
  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Week 7:

November 14:

  • Bowers v. Hardwick
  • Lawrence v. Texas

November 16:

  • Obergefell v. Hodges

Week 8:

November 21:

  • Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health (2022)
  • Extra credit will be available to those who attend sections on November 22. This extra credit opportunity is only available to those who attend the full sections.

November 23: 

  • Review/catch up day

Week 9: Unit 4: Rights Against Search and Seizure (4th Amendment)

November 28:

  • Read 4th Amendment, United States Constitution
  • Intro to the Exclusionary Rule
  • US v. Weeks
  • Mapp v. Ohio,

November 30:

  • U.S. v. Leon 
  • Herring v. U.S.

Week 10:

December 5:

  • Terry v. Ohio
  • Utah v. Strieff 

December 7

  • Conclusion and Review

More Policies and Resources

Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, is prohibited by the Student Conduct Code for the University of Washington and is taken very seriously by the UW. According to the student conduct code, academic misconduct includes:

  1. "Cheating" which includes, but is not limited to:
    1. The use of unauthorized assistance in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations, or completing assignments;
    2. The acquisition, use, or distribution of unpublished materials created by another student without the express permission of the original author(s);
    3. Using online sources, such as solution manuals, without the permission of the instructor to complete assignments, exams, tests, or quizzes; or
    4. Requesting, hiring, or otherwise encouraging someone to take a course, exam, test, or complete assignments for a student.
  2. "Falsification," which is the intentional use or submission of falsified data, records, or other information including, but not limited to, records of internship or practicum experiences or attendance at any required event(s), or scholarly research.
  3. "Plagiarism," which is the submission or presentation of someone else's words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:
    1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
    2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.
  4. Unauthorized collaboration.
  5. Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class instruction or in a course syllabus.
  6. Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express permission of the instructor(s).
  7. Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to gain an advantage for oneself or another.
  8. The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the instructor(s), unless approved as a disability accommodation, and/or the dissemination or use of such unauthorized records.

(Source: WAC 478-121 - Academic Misconduct)

Plagiarism may lead to disciplinary action by the University against the student who submitted the work. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved.


Incomplete grades may only be awarded if a student is doing satisfactory work up until the last two weeks of the quarter and has furnished proof satisfactory to the instructor that the work cannot be completed because of illness or other circumstances beyond the student’s control. (Sources: Office of the Registrar – Incomplete Grades), UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System)

Grade Appeal Procedure

A student who believes that the instructor erred in the assignment of a grade, or who believes a grade recoding error or omission has occurred, shall first discuss the matter with the instructor before the end of the following academic quarter (not including Summer Quarter). If the student is not satisfied with the instructor’s explanation, the student, no later than ten days after their discussion with the instructor, may submit a written appeal to the chair of the Department of Philosophy with a copy of the appeal also sent to the instructor. The chair consults with the instructor to ensure that the evaluation of the student’s performance has not been arbitrary or capricious. Should the chair believe the instructor’s conduct to be arbitrary or capricious and the instructor declines to revise the grade, the chair, with the approval of the voting members of his or her faculty, shall appoint an appropriate member, or members, of the faculty of the Department of Philosophy to evaluate the performance of the student and assign a grade. The Dean and Provost should be informed of this action. Once a student submits a written appeal, this document and all subsequent actions on this appeal are recorded in written form for deposit in a School file. (Source: UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System)

Concerns About a Course, an Instructor, or a Teaching Assistant

If you have any concerns about a philosophy course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall).

If you have any concerns about a teaching assistant, please see the teaching assistant about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the teaching assistant or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the instructor in charge of the course. If you are still not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the chair of the program offering the course (names available from the Department of Philosophy, 361 Savery Hall), or the Graduate School at G-1 Communications Building (543-5900).

Equal Opportunity

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam-era veteran in accordance with University of Washington policy and applicable federal and state statutes and regulations.

Access and Accommodations

Your experience in this class is important to the instructor. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to the instructor at your earliest convenience so you can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but are not limited to: mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 (Voice & Relay) or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is defined as the use of one’s authority or power, either explicitly or implicitly, to coerce another into unwanted sexual relations or to punish another for his or her refusal, or as the creation by a member of the University community of an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment through verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

If you believe that you are being harassed, seek help—the earlier the better. You may speak with your instructor, your teaching assistant, the undergraduate advisor (363 Savery Hall), graduate program advisor (366 Savery Hall), or the chair of the philosophy department (364 Savery Hall). In addition, you should be aware that the University has designated special people to help you. For assistance you may contact: SafeCampus; Office of the Ombud (339 HUB, 206-543-6028); Title IX Investigation Office (for complaints that a University student has violated the sexual misconduct provisions of the Student Conduct Code); University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (for complaints concerning the behavior of University employees, including faculty, teaching assistants, and other student employees).


The Office of Research Misconduct Proceedings (ORMP) coordinates the University’s handling of allegations of research misconduct against members of the University community, in consultations and cooperation with the University’s schools, colleges, and campuses.

University rules define scientific and scholarly misconduct to include the following forms of inappropriate activity: intentional misrepresentation of credentials; falsification of data; plagiarism; abuse of confidentiality; deliberate violation of regulations applicable to research.

Students can report cases of scientific or scholarly misconduct either to the ORMP, to their faculty adviser, or the department chair. The student should report such problems to whomever he or she feels most comfortable.

(Sources: Executive Order No. 61 – Research Misconduct Policy; Office of Research Misconduct Proceedings; minutes of Grad School Executive Staff and Division Heads meeting, 7/23/98.)


Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. SafeCampus is the University of Washington’s Violence Prevention and Response Program. They support students, staff, faculty, and community members in preventing violence.

SafeCampus staff will listen to your concerns and provide support and safety plans tailored to your situation. Caring, trained professionals will talk you through options and connect you with additional resources if you want them.

If you're concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up for UW Alert
  • For more information visit the SafeCampus website.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (

Food Insecurity and Hardship

Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the UW Any Hungry Husky Program. Any Hungry Husky provides hunger relief free of judgment or stigma. Go to for information about the food pantry and food security grants. In addition, UW offers emergency aid for students experiencing unexpected financial hardships that may disrupt their education or get in the way of completing their degree. Go to for more information about how to apply.

Guidance to Students Taking Courses Outside the U.S.

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.

If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.

Masks Strongly Recommended for the first two weeks of class and recommended for the rest of the term

The health and safety of the University of Washington community are the institution’s priorities. The university has stated that high quality masks such as N95s, KN95s, or KF94s are strongly recommended for the first two weeks of classes. They are recommended for the rest of the quarter. 

Please do not come to class if you have covid or flu symptoms. 




Catalog Description:
Analysis and critical assessment of various philosophical issues in law and legal reasoning. Material drawn from actual law cases, as well as writings by contemporary philosophers of law and lawyers. Topics include criminal responsibility, civil disobedience, abortion, enforcement of morals. Special legal or philosophical training not required.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Last updated:
May 23, 2024 - 4:12 pm