Law 376 - Law and Dissent

Frances Elisabeth Olsen

Frances Elisabeth Olsen

Professor of Law
B.A. Goddard College, 1968
J.D. University of Colorado, 1971
S.J.D. Harvard, 1984
UCLA Faculty Since 1984
Course Description:

As dissent becomes criminalized and activity that has previously been considered legitimate dissent can land one in jail,  the distinction between exercising freedom of speech and engaging in civil disobedience has sometimes blurred. At various times in history and perhaps in the contemporary setting, lawyers face particular challenges in representing clients and carrying out their commitment to promoting justice.

This three-unit course examines the legal representation of civil disobedience, exploring its philosophical foundations and legal and ethical issues. We will read the major classic and modern texts regarding intentional, ethically- or politically-motivated violation of the law. As well as legal philosophy and legal ethics, the course will look at a variety of issues that arise in civil disobedience trials, including defenses based on constitutional law, international treaties and international law, statutory interpretation and common law doctrines.  In lieu of a final exam, there will be a paper and one or more in-class presentations, including the opportunity to write and present a moot closing argument suitable for a civil disobedience trial. The class examines legal doctrines from a number of course areas and should be of value to many planning to become prosecutors or defense attorneys, to students interested in public interest law or promoting social justice, and to all those interested in a broader legal and jurisprudential background in general.

Course Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this course students will be able to: 
1. Defend (or prosecute) people who openly and intentionally break a law for ethical or political reasons or who are facing criminal charges for engaging in politically-motivated activity they may or may not have recognized could result in criminal charges.
2. Effectively advise clients whose political activity might be deemed to violate the law or who have been or might be charged with a crime as a result of their politically-motivated activity.
3. Have significant knowledge of the history of civil disobedience in the United States and of politically-motivated criminal investigations and prosecutions.
4. Think critically at a sophisticated level about the statutes and case laws and their applications in politically-sensitive situations.

Course Information:
​Faculty Term Course Section ​Schedule ​Units Requisite Satisfies SAW
Frances Olsen 19F 376 LEC 1 MW 9:00 AM - 10:25 AM 3.0 No Yes
Textbook Information:
Textbook for Fall 2019 LEC 1
Lynd and Lynd (eds.) Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History   3rd ed.  
ISBN: 9781626982918. Orbis Books. OPTIONAL $50.00
Tracy, James (ed.) The Civil Disobedience Handbook: A Brief History and Practical Advice for the Politically Disenchanted    
ISBN: 9780916397760. Manic D Press. OPTIONAL $10.00
Notes: Per Amazon, a new 2nd ed. will be available September 1, 2019.