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Patrick McNulty: U.S. Constitutional Law and Federal Civil Trial Practice

8-19 October, 2018

Course outline

This series of four lectures provides an introduction to American constitutional law and the federal judicial system. In the first lecture, I will discuss the three branches of government created by the founders of our constitutional republic in 1787: Congress (Article I); the President (Article II); and the Judiciary (Article III). Special emphasis will be placed on the doctrine of separation of powers, particularly the role judicial review has played in checking and balancing Congressional legislation and Presidential power.

The second lecture presents an overview of the limited jurisdiction federal courts possess, that is, what kind of cases and controversies they are empowered to decide arising under the Constitution and the laws enacted by Congress. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern pre-trial and trial procedures, are then discussed. Finally, the techniques of trying a civil case at each stage of a trial are presented. These stages include jury selection, opening statements, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and closing arguments. Assorted videos will be shown to illustrate the lessons of trying a case before a federal jury.

The third and fourth lectures discuss the leading Supreme Court cases on the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution ratified in 1791) and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th amendment (ratified in 1868 - three years after the American Civil War ended). Much of the third lecture deals with the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Topics include defamation and libel, invasion of privacy, prior restraint, hate speech, symbolic speech, and corporate speech. The final lecture examines the constitutional right to bear arms, various protections afforded criminal defendants, and the history of racial discrimination in the US and the ever-evolving role of the Supreme Court in confronting it.

Course schedule

  • October 10, Wednesday, 10,00-13,00 (classroom B302)
  • October 11, Thursday, 10,00-13,00 (classroom B302)
  • October 17, Wednesday, 10,00-13,00 (classroom B302)
  • October 18, Thursday, 10,00-13,00 (classroom B302)

Lecturer bio

Pat McNulty has been practicing law for 41 years. He is a retired partner at Grefe & Sidney, PLC in Des Moines, Iowa. He has represented clients in all aspects of civil trial law, including personal injury and wrongful death, products liability, defamation, invasion of privacy, contract, securities, and banking. He has tried over 100 civil trials, argued numerous appeals, and appeared before the United State Supreme Court in 1985. After retiring as a partner, he served as an intern for six months in the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands. He has authored or co-authored ten law review articles on such subjects as defamation, invasion of privacy, the free exercise of religion, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.


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