6 Insights Into the Foundations of Legal Studies Elective

Read what previous students have written about as part of their education

One of the electives you can take as part of the Legal Studies Global Access Program is Foundations of Legal Studies. In this course, you gain an understanding of law as a cross-disciplinary field that is influenced by the humanities and social sciences. During your time in class, you'll receive a comparative and historical introduction to the diverse forms, ideas, institutions and systems of law. Then, you’ll learn about the theoretical issues and cross-disciplinary scholarly methods of understanding questions of law and justice.

As you start to envision yourself studying Legal Studies at world-renowned UC Berkeley, we thought you might want to do some "advanced reading" for this course: previous student projects that explore how law works in society, politics and the economy.

Through these essays, previous Legal Studies undergraduate students explore the gap between "law on the books" and "law in action."

Read on:

California's Proposition 36—Three Strikes Reform

Throughout this article, I plan on evaluating the formal aspects of California's Proposition 36 in relation to Three Strikes and compare it to the ways in which members of society choose to implement this law. In order to establish a firm understanding of this proposition, I will begin by exploring its history, the specific content within Proposition 36, prominent proponents and opponents, and the proposed implementation. Continue reading.

Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection

James Kirkland Batson was charged with burglary and receipt of stolen goods. At his trial the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike all four African Americans from the jury pool. At the time, it was not uncommon for a black man to be tried before and convicted by an all-white jury. Batson raised a challenge to these strikes, asserting that they violated his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. Batson's challenge was denied and a guilty verdict along with a twenty-year sentence was handed down. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed the ruling and the case was accepted to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. Continue reading.

Indiana Feticide Law: Criminalizing Abortion

In April 2008, a masked gunman shot Katherin Shuffield, a teller working at Indiana’s Huntington Bank, in the abdomen. While Shuffield survived the encounter, the twin girls she was five months pregnant with did not. Indiana State Law, requiring a fetus to have attained viability in order for murder charges to be brought against a suspect, prevented prosecutors from charging the shooter with murder for the killing of the twins. Instead, the perpetrator was charged with two counts of feticide, defined by Indiana Code 35-42-1-6 as, "A person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth, or to remove a dead fetus."

As a result of the incident, Indiana Senate Bill 236—significantly enhancing the penalty for the crime of feticide—was signed into law in 2009. "On the books," S.B. 236 appeared to embody the underlying principle of protecting pregnant women from violence. However, "in action," the law has taken on a radically different meaning in the eyes of some state prosecutors, who have used it to criminalize women for terminating their own pregnancies. Continue reading.

City of L.A. Spay, Neuter and Breeding Laws of Dogs and Cats

Preceding the amendment to the City of L.A.'s municipal code 53.15.2 Breeding and Transfer of Dogs and Cats, the city was dealing with a pet overpopulation issue that resulted in threats to public safety, mass euthanasia, inhumane treatment of animals, and escalating city costs . In February 2007, California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced Assembly Bill 1634, the California Healthy Pets Act, with the intent to decrease the state's pet overpopulation issue. AB 1634 mandated sterilizing cats and dogs by the age of four months, citing owners for intact pets, and increasing punitive fines. In April 2007, L.A. City Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Tony Cardenas took interest in the state bill due to the gravity of their city's situation and presented a motion similar to AB 1634, catered to L.A.'s needs, to City Council. The motion was followed by a request from the city to the Department of Animal Services General Manager, Ed Boks, to coordinate with the city attorney to draft an ordinance. Upon completion, the law was adopted by city council, which amended municipal code 53.15.2 in October 2008 (Boks, 1-2). Continue reading.

Rodriguez v. Robbins (2015): Introducing Due Process for Long-Term Detained Immigrants

The Constitution holds that neither the federal government nor the state governments "shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." However, the right of detained non-citizens—specifically those with prior criminal convictions and those who have sought asylum at the U.S. border—to bond hearings has become a contested issue in the courts since the 1990s, when Congress expanded mandatory detention for criminal and asylum-seeking immigrants in response to the War on Drugs. Civil immigration detention has skyrocketed since then: In 2015 alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detained 310,000 immigrants. Prior to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Rodriguez v. Robbins, criminal and asylum-seeking immigrants could not even request a hearing to determine their eligibility for bond. As a result, thousands of immigrants remained in detention as they fought deportation for months or even years in immigration courts. Continue reading.

Workplace Justice: Does FEHA Work?

California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), Government code section 12940, subsection (j) aims to prevent harassment in the workplace and makes employers liable for failure to rectify misconduct. This law has made it illegal for an "employer," any other executive entity, or "any other person" to harass an employee based on "race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, or military and veteran status." To enforce the regulations prescribed by FEHA, the government has established "a policing agency" called the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This agency investigates claims of "unlawful employment practice" and can "issue a written accusation that requires a hearing before the Commission." The law states that "an entity shall take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring." Therefore, the law's enforcement lies not only in the means of correction (which could be as immediate as firing the employee or another remedy within the workplace, or as bureaucratic as filing a suit against responsible parties), but also in preventative action. Continue reading.


You can read more intriguing essays from our Legal Studies undergraduates.


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