Empirical Social Science Research and Law (Heaton)
M 4:30PM - 6:30PM
Research from the social sciences has figured prominently in recent federal and state appellate and Supreme Court decisions addressing a wide range of issues, affirmative action, health care, the death penalty, racial profiling, voting rights, and environmental protection. This course is designed to equip students with the tools necessary to synthesize and evaluate empirical social science research for use in legal arguments. For the first part of the course, we will review some basic concepts needed to intelligently consume empirical research such as data quality, statistical uncertainty, and correlation and causation. We will also provide an overview of how to read empirical papers, including identifying key paper elements, dealing with jargon and technical terms, digesting statistical results, and identifying weaknesses. The focus here will be on providing practical approaches to assessing these issues as a non-scientist. The remainder of the course consists of a series of guided readings organized around particular legal controversies (e.g. "Does use of a risk assessment tool in criminal sentencing contribute to racial disparities?", "Does the University of North Carolina unfairly discriminate against Asian applicants in its admissions process?", etc.). For each controversy, we will review a set of social science papers selected by the instructor that are relevant to question at hand, and discuss how these papers might be incorporated into a legal argument concerning the controversy. Emphasis will be placed on identifying which research is most relevant, what is says, and what weaknesses or research gaps exist that might be exploited by opponents. In addition to engaging with the research itself, we will also consider a range of other primary sources including legal opinions, Congressional testimony, and popular media to consider how empirical social science evidence is used (and in some cases misused) is the discussion and analysis of legal issues. Specific controversies for this part of the course will be selected based on student input and interest. Evaluation will be based upon class participation and a final project where each student will summarize and critique the available social science research on a legal issue. Project topics will be mutually agreed upon by the student and instructor during the course of the term.
Skills Learning outcomes: Demonstrate an understanding of the individual course skill; Demonstrate the ability to receive and implement feedback; Demonstrate an understanding of how and when the individual course skill is employed in practice.
Constitutional Law Learning outcomes: Demonstrate a core understanding of constitutional law; Perform legal analysis in the context of constitutional law; Communicate effectively on topics related to constitutional law; Demonstrate an understanding of constitutional law affects other areas of law.
Courts and the Judicial System Learning outcomes: Demonstrate a core understanding of both substantive and procedural issues in the operation of our legal system; Perform legal analysis in the context of procedural issues and the judicial process; Communicate effectively on topics related to procedure and the judicial process; Demonstrate an understanding of how procedural issues and the judicial process affect all other area of our legal system.
Criminal Law and Procedure Learning outcomes: Demonstrate a core understanding of criminal law and procedure; Perform legal analysis in the context of criminal law and procedure; Communicate effectively on topics related to criminal law and procedure; Demonstrate an understanding of the role criminal law and procedure play in society and their impact on other areas of law and society.
Health Law Learning outcomes: Demonstrate a core understanding of health law and policy; Perform legal analysis in the context of health law and policy; Communicate effectively on topics related to health law and policy; Demonstrate an understanding of the interconnection among health law and policy and issues of access to services, public and private financing of health industries, and the political and economic issues surrounding issues of health law and health services.
Administrative and Regulatory Law Learning outcomes: Demonstrate a core understanding of administrative and regulatory law and the administrative process, including the role of statutory authorization and work of administrative agencies; Perform legal analysis in the context of administrative and regulatory law; Communicate effectively on topics related to administrative and regulatory law; Demonstrate an understanding of the role administrative and regulatory law play in our legal system and in society as a whole.