Vol. 9 No. 7 (July 1999) pp. 294-295.

by James R. Bowers and Stephen Daniels. New York: Longman, 1998. 216 pp.

Reviewed by Stephen S. Meinhold, Department of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.


HYPOTHETICALS is long overdue! This 216 page paperback workbook contains 28 original hypothetical Supreme Court cases. Each case is followed by a set of questions that can be used as homework assignments, exam questions, or to stimulate class discussion. The cases address the range of constitutional areas normally covered in a course(s) on Constitutional Law from "Government Powers" to "Civil Rights and Liberties." They are carefully crafted and present interesting, relevant and complex constitutional questions.

When I began teaching Constitutional Law several years ago I was shocked by the lack of ancillaries to supplement Constitutional Law textbooks. Especially the lack of readily packaged hypothetical cases that could be used for a moot court or to provide material for classroom discussions. Some time ago there was a debate on the Law and Courts Discussion List about the merits of conducting moot courts in Constitutional Law courses. For instructors who believe in the merit of these exercises a primary problem has always been what to use as the case. Until now instructors had basically three choices: 1) rely on a case currently before the Supreme Court, 2) use their own creative genius to develop a case, or 3) rely on the creative genius of a colleague and borrow her hypothetical case. Each option has advantages and limitations. Using a case currently before the Court keeps the course contemporary but may result in the Court handing down a decision before the students finish their work (as has happened to me) and seems to limit students’ creativity as there is too much existing legal argument available to borrow from (e.g., lower court opinions and attorney’s briefs). Crafting your own case has the benefit of allowing the instructor to write something that she/he knows will interest the students but has the drawback of needing to be done for every course. And it depends heavily on the creativity of the instructor. Borrowing a hypothetical case from a colleague is the least cumbersome of the three options but has the drawback of depending on the depth of the instructor’s "constitutional law circle of friends."

HYPOTHETICALS fills an important void. Bowers and Daniels draw on their considerable experience in teaching Constitutional Law to develop 28 hypothetical cases suitable for a wide range of classroom use. HYPOTHETICALS is divided into seven parts. Part I presents an "Introduction to Supreme Court Decision Making and Constitutional Interpretation" and includes chapters on "Supreme Court Decision Making", "Interpreting the Constitution", and "Briefing, Analyzing, and Opinion Writing." Part II "Government Powers" develops 6 cases and includes a timely hypothetical case dealing with the impeachment of the president. Part III deals with "National Powers, the Commerce Clause, and Federalism" and contains 3 cases. Part IV "First Amendment Liberties" raises 6 constitutional questions. Part V "Equal Protection" includes 4 cases. Part VI "Rights of the Accused" contains 4 cases. And Part VII "Rights Retained" covers 5. At the end of each hypothetical case is a set of homework/discussion questions. The questions complement the cases well and will force students to think critically about the issues that were raised. Many of questions ask the student to consider the political context of the case and to draw on their knowledge of political philosophy.

HYPOTHETICALS is not without a couple of drawbacks. The discussion of Supreme Court decision making in Part 1 is too brief (just 5 ½ pages) and is unlikely to satisfy instructors who want to introduce their students to the most recent scholarship in this area. Another concern for some might be the accessibility of the existing Supreme Court cases that are referred to in the questions section after each hypothetical case. By my count 138 Supreme Court cases are referred to in the questions at the end of each section but only 52 are excerpted in a common Constitutional Law text (Epstein and Walker 1998). Thus students are going to have to do a bit of digging in Court Reporters and on the Internet to locate these cases. This is not a significant drawback but with the accessibility of these cases on the web perhaps the authors will consider offering a web page with links to all of the cases used in the workbook with future editions. Neither of these drawbacks is substantial and they detract little from the real utility of the workbook—its hypothetical cases.

For instructors who are considering the adoption of a supplement for their Constitutional Law course or for those who use moot courts and are looking for good hypothetical cases I strongly encourage you to consider HYPOTHETICALS.



Copyright 1995