Course Subject
Course Number
Course Credit

The Legal Context for Policy and Public Management

Course Description

Law is a central element of policy development and the end result of public policy. In its various forms, the law shapes policymaking and the administration of government; it affects how officials make and implement policy, and informs the work of those in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors that provide direct services, engage in advocacy, and otherwise interact with the state. An understanding of the broader framework of law and basic legal processes is essential to undertaking any of these activities effectively.

This course will provide an overview of the structure and sources of law, and an examination of how the law is interpreted and applied in the context of public policy and government administration. We will explore the issues through the lens of theory and practice by drawing on a broad array of materials, including scholarship in the fields of law, history, and the social sciences; case law, statutes, and regulations; news and media; and case studies. Students will gain an understanding of the various legal actors -- those who create, influence, interpret, and enforce the law -- and how those actors can support or limit their work as public policy decision-makers. They will also develop concrete skills in research, writing, and strategic and analytical thinking to help them navigate the legal thicket as policy professionals.

Major course themes include: (1) the sources of law and legal actors (2) legal analysis and interpretation for public policy and practice; (3) conflicts between legal precedent and official actions; and (4) navigating the legal frameworks from the government, nonprofit, and private sectors.

Each class will cover a broad topic (e.g. the Executive branch) and at least one specific sub-topic (e.g. the Administrative State and Regulatory Policy), which will expose students to one or more sources of law and the actors behind them. The course will also refer to substantive areas of law (e.g. ethics/lobbying) to highlight the themes listed above. Because law is a dynamic field and does not operate in isolation of others, students should expect a cross-disciplinary approach to the class, and expect to revisit themes, topics, and cases throughout the term. Some classes will feature invited speakers working in the relevant field.


CORE-GP.1022, or permission of the instructor

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