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Understanding politics can be difficult, especially the ideals of those who have different values in terms of party ID, such as Democrats, Moderates, Conservatives and those who are in between. There are also different facets to politics: international, constitutional and national.

The track I am on in my major is constitutional politics. Most of the reading is cases that have been decided by the Supreme Court and essays written by the founding fathers explaining the fundamental rights that are guaranteed by the United States Constitution. These arguments are found in the Federalist Papers. To understand all of the arguments of the Supreme Court judges, you have to have some understanding of the Federalist Papers. The older cases are written in legalese that is often difficult to understand; therefore there is a format for reading these cases.
Every case presented by the Supreme Court has certain outlined sections. These are:

  • Facts
  • Opinion of the court
  • Concurring opinion
  • Dissenting opinion

All the other sections shown in the brief below have to be pulled out of the text.

Writing Briefs

Brief writing is a way to wade through the dicta (extra opinions that have nothing to do with the decision of the court) and find the argument of the court. This will also help in class when you are

  • discussing the case and the opinions of the court
  • deciphering why they have the opinions that bring them to their decisions
  • the impact the decision/case made or will make on society

The briefs will also be a great studying tool when it comes to exams because you would have already has the constitutional issue and its impact when you are arguing a case.

Sample heading and outline brief:

Title of Case, its number and year

Knowles v. Iowa
525 U.S. 113 (1998)

  1. Facts: this just tells the facts of the case
  2. Constitutional Question/issue: the question the court is answering or the plaintiff is asking the court to decide on (this has a constitutional basis in the articles or amendments)
  3. Decision: What the court decided
  4. Opinion of the court: what was the reasoning the court used to get their decision
  5. Concurring Opinion: certain members of the court agree with the decision of the court but not with the reasoning that was given; therefore, they give a different reasoning for the decision
  6. Dissenting Opinion: certain members of the court who do not agree with the decision or reasoning of the court, and they also give what their decision would be and their reasoning behind it.