Spring 2021 California constitutional law seminar

The spring 2021 edition of the California Constitution Center’s regular seminar on California constitutional law is open to students from several California law schools. Participating schools and their respective course numbers:

Registered students will receive access to a Gdrive folder with the course materials and a recurring Zoom meeting link for the class sessions.

Course syllabus

California Constitutional Law spring 2021, three units
Fridays 9:00 AM – 11:30 PM
David A. Carrillo carrillo@law.berkeley.edu 510-664-4953
Office hours by appointment. Textbook materials provided. A useful reference text for this course is “The California State Constitution: A Reference Guide” (Oxford, 2nd edition 2017) by Grodin, Shanske, and Salerno.

This course will cover topics in three broad categories related to the California constitution: general state constitutional law issues, constitutional design, and individual rights. Some of the course material explores theoretical constitutional design questions and asks questions about what might be possible; some of the reading takes the realities of state government as it exists and examines the common practical issues.

Class meetings

The course will be offered online-only with Zoom meetings scheduled for each class time. The class format combines lecture and student discussion. We will adjust the time division between lecture and discussion as we go or as individual topics require. Guest speakers may occasionally drop in.

Remote instruction guidelines

To participate in remote instruction you need to exercise good communication, judgment, and professionalism (and sort any technology issues). So please observe these parameters for our remote classes on Zoom: 

  • It’s best if you can see each other when interacting, so when possible please enable video while speaking.
  • Mute yourself when you are not speaking.
  • The benefits of video will be compromised if your background is distracting. Feel free to enable a simple static virtual background.
  • Try to present yourself with the same professionalism you bring to in-person classes: dress appropriately and sit upright facing your screen as you would in class.
  • Making or distributing any class records (including but not limited to video, audio, or screenshots) is banned and violating that ban is an academic rules and honor code violation; this also applies to non-Zoom course materials such as the casebook chapters and lecture notes.
  • When you would like to speak in class, use the “raise hand” function or ask a question in the chat. Either way, wait for me to call on you before speaking. 
  • I will appoint a chat czar each meeting to identify pending questions.

I do not use an on-call or panel system, preferring instead to make the discussion open to all students at every meeting. Class participation is important, but I will be very understanding of technical issues that make students unable to contribute during a meeting.


This course requires a 30-page paper. Students have two paper options: write on an original topic, or write a response to a final-exam-style hypothetical that will be available at the first class meeting. The paper may satisfy the writing requirement — but note that this requires at least one round of draft comments and revision, and substantially greater quality of thinking and writing than the ordinary paper. You may only use an original topic for the writing requirement (not the exam hypothetical) and you need advance approval from me before attempting a writing requirement paper.

The deadline for writing requirement drafts is noon Pacific on Mon 12 Apr 2021. The deadline for all final papers is noon Pacific on Wed 11 May 2021.

The minimum (and maximum) length for all papers is 30 pages. Email papers to carrillo@law.berkeley.edu in Word, double-spaced, 1” margins, Times New Roman 12-point font. Footnotes should be used sparingly, and keep them in 12-point font. Use California citation style, e.g.: People v. Smith (1969) 85 Cal.App.3d 234, 237.

A mid-semester formative assessment is required: you will submit a one-paragraph description of your paper thesis and an outline of the topics you expect to cover. This applies to both original papers and those based on the exam hypothetical.

Grading policy

The paper is 90% and the formative assessment is 10% of the course grade, and class participation will serve as a tiebreaker for students at grade borderlines. The formative assessment will be graded on the amount of thoughtfulness and effort displayed. Papers will be graded on the quality of substantive thinking, technical writing ability (i.e., bad grammar, spelling errors, and punctuation mistakes are strikes), and compliance with the format requirements (e.g., exceeding the page limit is a strike). A paper submission time-stamped after the deadline means you will receive no credit for the course.

Learning outcomes

By the semester’s end I expect students to use their papers to demonstrate these things:

  • Understand and explain the basic concepts that define the core doctrines of the subject areas we covered.
  • Describe the known contours of those doctrines and the problems they have already solved.
  • Identify the unknown areas that those doctrines have not yet defined and describe the unanswered questions.
  • Analyze those unknowns and use the fundamental principles we covered to craft a thoughtful solution to the unanswered questions.

Course schedule

Class 1 Jan 15: Chapter 1 state constitutional design

Class 2 Jan 22: Chapter 6 popular sovereignty

Class 3 Jan 29: Chapter 2 separation of powers

Class 4 Feb 05: Chapter 3 legislature

Class 5 Feb 12: Chapter 4 executive

Class 6 Feb 19: Chapter 5 judiciary

Class 7 Feb 26: Chapter 9 state and local interaction

Class 8 Mar 05: either Chapter 8 elections or Chapter 11 budget. Mid-semester formative assessment due.

Class 9 Mar 12: Chapter 7A California v. federal constitutions

»Spring break, no class Fri 19 Mar«

Class 10 Mar 26: Chapter 7B speech

Class 11 Apr 02: Chapter 7F religion

Class 12 Apr 09: Chapter 7C privacy

Class 13 Apr 16: Chapter 7D equal protection

Class 14 Apr 23: Chapter 7E fundamental rights


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