Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights : The Great Courses: Modern History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor John E. Finn
  • Series: The Great Courses: Modern History
  • 18 hrs and 2 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

The civil liberties and constitutional rights possessed by our nation's citizens - not only in theory, but in the courtroom, where the state can be forced to honor those liberties - are a uniquely American invention.
And when we were taught history and learned about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, we were always made aware of that uniqueness, of the extraordinary experiment that gave to every citizen of this new nation a gift possessed by no others.
Now you can learn exactly what that gift was - in a series of 36 lectures based on Supreme Court opinions from dozens of the Court's most important landmark decisions, presented by an award-winning teacher who is also an internationally recognized expert in constitutional law.
You'll learn just what liberties and rights the Founders wanted the new government to protect, as well as how we get from what Professor Finn calls the Constitution's "wonderfully elastic and vague" language to the finely tuned specifics of the Supreme Court's opinions about speech, abortion, and religion, and so much more. And you'll grasp the hard truth that no matter how unwavering the Constitution's language on any subject may appear, things are almost invariably more complicated than it would seem at first reading.
The result is a legacy of questions that multiplies with each passing decade, and explains why generations of jurists and legal scholars, not to mention legislators, presidents, and citizens, have argued so long and hard about the meaning of what often appears to be unambiguous phrasing.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great Course. Good Narration.

I'm only writing this review because I saw where another review stated how terrible the narration is. While it's true, the professor does correct himself here and there, I found it no more irritating than any other college lecture course I've taken over the years. He's human. He makes mistakes. He corrects himself. Get over it.

The substance of the course is EXCELLENT. If you're interested in the cases that have shaped our Bill Of Rights, this is the course for you. Prof. Finn knows this subject like the back of his hand, and educates you in a clear, entertaining manner that I found to be very enjoyable.
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- aaron

Great overview of the Bill of Rights per the Law.

36 Lectures

1 What Are Civil Liberties?

2 The Bill of Rights—An Overview

3 Two Types of Liberty—Positive and Negative

4 The Court and Constitutional Interpretation

5 Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review

6 Private Property and the Founding

7 Lochner v. New York and Economic Due Process

8 The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment

9 Fundamental Rights—Privacy and Personhood

10 Privacy—Early Cases

11 Roe v. Wade and Reproductive Autonomy

12 Privacy and Autonomy—From Roe to Casey

13 Other Privacy Interests—Family

14 Other Privacy Interests—Sexuality

15 Same-Sex Marriages and the Constitution

16 The Right to Die and the Constitution

17 Cruel and Unusual? The Death Penalty

18 The First Amendment—An Overview

19 Internal Security and the First Amendment

20 Symbolic Speech and Expressive Conduct

21 Indecency and Obscenity

22 Hate Speech and Fighting Words

23 The Right to Silence

24 Why Is Freedom of Religion So Complex?

25 School Prayer and the Establishment Clause

26 Religion—Strict Separation or Accommodation?

27 The Free Exercise Clause—Acting on Beliefs

28 Free Exercisee and “the Peyote Case”

29 Two Religion Clauses—One Definition?

30 Slavery and Dred Scott to Equal Protection

31 Brown v. Board of Education

32 Equality and Affirmative Action

33 Equality and Gender Discrimination

34 Gender Discrimination as Semi-Suspect

35 The Future of Equal Protection?

36 Citizens and Civil Liberties



I enjoyed these lectures on the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties. I have an idea that this course was designed for pre-law or law school classes as it does go in great depth on certain cases and issues.

I do not remember a case on the second amendment at all. What I liked about these classes was learning how the Supreme Court works and what their job is. They are required to interpret the Constitution and whenever they step outside of those boundaries they are called “Lochnering” after a famous case in lecture 7. The justices in this case seemed to make up the law as they went along and did not use the Constitution as the basis of the judgement.

Another portion that struck me was the duality of the Freedom of Religion laws. The first is that no establishment of a religion is allowed and the second is that people are allowed to believe in their own religions. Obviously, if your religion believed that killing your neighbors would have you attain heaven, that would have to be restricted. Most of the cases dealt with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

The next lectures had to do with slavery and civil rights. The professor explained the Dred Scott decision differently than I had ever learned before. Basically, since a black man in those days was considered property, the Court treated Dred Scott as stolen goods.
That goes way back to the compromise in Founding the Constitution. Thank goodness our Constitution is fluid enough that we can do away with bad laws without destroying our government.

These lectures were produced before the Gay Marriage decision but he does touch on what was happening at the time he taught. Women’s rights are also touched on as well as Roe vs. Wade. The reason we are still fighting over Roe vs. Wade is that per the professor it was a badly written ruling.

These lectures last around 30 minutes and I believe it was well worth my time.
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- Kristi Richardson

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses