• Length:
    1 Weeks
  • Effort:
    1–3 hours per week
  • Institution
  • Subject:
  • Level:
    Introductory
  • Language:
    English
  • Video Transcript:
    English
  • Course Type:
    Self-paced on your time

About this course

Skip About this course

The hallmarks of our system of government are a written constitution with judicial review, federalism, and separation of powers. What do these involve, exactly? What are the differences between federal and state law, and how do they relate to one another? What is the relationship between a legislature and an administrative agency? What role does our centuries’ old federal Constitution play in the formulation, implementation, and interpretation of contemporary law?

Despite the fact that U.S. governments and U.S. laws shape the day-to-day life of every U.S. citizen and resident (and indeed the lives of people around the world), many do not fully understand key elements of these institutions. This course offers an introduction to them that is at once concise, clear, and sophisticated.

Topics covered include:

  • Distinguishing laws from other kinds of rules
  • The role of state versus federal law
  • Key differences among the many sources of U.S. law, such as the federal and state constitutions, and federal and state statutes, regulations, and court decisions
  • The legislative process
  • The distinctive features of the modern administrative state.
  • The principle of separated powers.
  • The changing place of the U.S. Constitution and the practice of judicial review over our nation’s history.

What you'll learn

Skip What you'll learn
  • Understand the design of the U.S. government and the distinctive roles of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches.
  • Grasp the major sources of U.S. law: constitutions, statutes, regulations and court decisions.
  • Appreciate what is distinctive about the modern “administrative state” and the important role administrative agencies play in modern U.S. government.
  • Distinguish the roles of federal and state law in the U.S. legal system.
  • Recognize the centrality of the U.S. Constitution to the operation of our political and legal system, including major moments in U.S. constitutional history.

List of Modules:

  • Kinds of Law
  • What is Law?
  • Federal vs. State Law and Order of Authorities
  • How a Bill Becomes a Law
  • Introduction to the Separation of Powers
  • An Historical Overview of the Constitution
  • Law and History

Meet your instructors

I. Glenn Cohen
Professor, Harvard Law School
Harvard University
Charles Fried
Beneficial Professor of Law
Harvard University
Randall Kennedy
Michael R. Klein Professor of Law
Harvard University
Susan Davies
Story Senior Lecturer on Law
Harvard University