PHIL 114 A: Philosophical Issues in the Law

Winter 2022
TTh 11:30am - 12:50pm / ARC 147
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

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Philosophy 114A: Philosophical Issues in the law

Winter 2022

Prof. Amelia M. Wirts

Tu/Th 11:30-12:50 ARC 147

Office Hours F 10-12 on zoom

(office hours week 8 will be held Monday, Feb. 21 instead of Friday, Feb. 25)

All information and readings for this course are available on the Course Canvas Page

Graduate Teaching Assistants 

Michael Ball-Blakely - Sections AA & AB 

    - Email:

    - Office Hours: Thursday 1:00-3:00. Philosophy Department Big Table (Savery Hall, 3rd Floor) 

L. Ramona Márquez - Sections AC & AD

    - Email:

    - Office Hours: Wednesday 2.15-3.15 pm IN PERSON SAV 372 & Friday 9.30-10.30 am (Zoom ID: 990 1929 6131)

Sam Sandoval - Sections AE & AH

    - Email: 

    - Office Hours: Wed/Fri 10:30-11:30. Zoom Meeting ID: 306 761 6330

Course Overview:

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.


Grade Scale

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



Short Writing Assignments: 20% each (60% Total)

For units 1, 2, and 3, there will be 1 or 2 page writing assignments designed to help students identify the reasoning judges use in important cases that we read. These assignments will become more complex as the term goes on and students build on their skills in reading and interpreting case law. Students will receive feedback that they should use in writing their final writing project.

Final Writing Project: 35%

As a final writing project, students will write two mini-opinions where they act as a judge and apply the precedent we have covered to new cases. Students will be able to choose from 3 cases for the first mini-opinion, and they should use parts of one of the three short writing assignments, revised according to feedback, as a part of this mini-opinion. The second mini-opinion will require that students draw from the precedent from Unit 4. 

Section Participation

Students should participate in sections regularly. If a student needs to miss a section, they can post on the discussion board by 11:59pm on the day of the section they miss. They should contact their TA if illness prevents them from attending or posting on the day of section. 

Poll Everywhere Participation: Throughout lectures, there will be several poll everywhere questions. Students who complete at least 50% of Poll Everywhere questions throughout the term get extra credit (you don't need to get any answers correct, just complete!). You must attend class to get the points, and there are no make-ups. Students who complete at least 50% of the polls will have an extra .5% added to their final grade.


All readings will be available on Canvas either as PDFs or as links to websites. You can find readings in the weekly modules. You can find weekly modules on the modules page or by clicking the links below in the tentative schedule section of the syllabus. Modules will be added as we progress through the course. 

Class Policies:

Late Assignments

Late assignments (including exams) will be penalized 5% for each day they are late, up to 40%.  If you are late with an assignment, please do still turn it in! Talk with your TA or Prof. Wirts about the circumstances. We would always rather have you turn in something so that you can get some points. 

Extensions and Absences:

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. It is enough to say, "I have a family emergency" or "I am sick." While your TAs and I care about your situation, you only have to share what you are comfortable sharing.

If you will be missing more than 2 classes, please be in touch with your TA to make a plan for how you will catch up. 

COVID Stuff:

Please always stay home if you are feeling sick, not only to protect others from the spread of COVID, colds, and flus, but also to take care of yourself! 

Don't forget that masks are required for this class, and to maintain masking compliance, no eating or drinking is allowed in class. 

Please be sure that you follow all University, State, County, and City regulations regarding COVID. Get tested if you have symptoms, and follow the instructions if you test positive. 

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, especially during COVID. 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 use discord servers to violate the academic honesty policy. Do not share completed assignments with classmates over discords or through any other methods. 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.

Tentative 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.

Week 1: This week will take place online. Lectures and Sections will take place via Zoom, and the link is here. (passcode Law22)


How to read a Case

Pierson v. Post

Week 2: This week will take place online. Lectures will take place via Zoom, and the link is here. (passcode Law22)

Start Unit 1: Reproductive Rights

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)

Roe v. Wade

Week 3: This week will take place online. Lectures will take place via Zoom, and the link is here. (passcode Law22)

Start Unit 2: LGTBQ Rights

Planned Parenthood v. Casey

Short Writing Assignment 1 due

Week 4: This week will take place online. Lectures will take place via Zoom, and the link is here. (passcode Law22)

Bowers v. Hardwick

Lawrence v. Texas

Obergefell v. Hodges

Week 5: Meeting IN PERSON IN ARC 147

Review of Fundamental Rights from Griswold to Obergefell

Start Unit 3: Civil Rights/Racial Equality

Background on Slavery, the Constitution, and the Reconstruction Amendments

Week 6: Meeting IN PERSON IN ARC 147

Plessy v. Ferguson

Brown v. Board of Education

Loving v. Virginia 

Washington v. Davis

Week 7:

Gibbons v. Ogden

Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States

Katzenbach v. McClung

Week 8:

United States v. Morrison

Week 9:

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

Read 4th Amendment, United States Constitution

Mapp v. Ohio,

US v. Weeks

U.S. v. Leon 

Herring v. U.S.

Week 10:

Terry v. Ohio

Utah v. Strieff 

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.

Face Coverings and Social Distancing in the Classroom during COVID

The health and safety of the University of Washington community are the institution’s priorities. Until otherwise stated face coverings are required per UW COVID Face Covering Policy: indoors where other people are present and outdoors when keeping a 6-foot distance may not be possible. This includes all classrooms and buildings/public spaces on each of the UW campuses.

If you physically can’t wear a mask, you choose not to wear a mask, your mask isn’t appropriate/sufficient, or if you aren’t wearing a mask properly (covering both your nose and mouth-diagram below), you CANNOT be in the classroom and will be asked to leave.

If you have a medical condition or health risk as outlined in the UW COVID Face Covering Policy, you may request an accommodation. Please contact Disability Resources for Students office BEFORE GOING TO CLASS at (Seattle) (Tacoma) (Bothell).

A face covering must:

  • Fit snugly against the sides of the face
  • Completely cover the nose and mouth
  • Be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands, or other equally effective method
  • Include at least one layer of cloth, although multiple layers are strongly recommended
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be capable of being laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

CDC: How to Wear Masks




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)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
May 23, 2024 - 8:14 am