Teaching Administrative Law Using Current Events

One of the best parts of teaching a course you’ve already taught is updating course materials. I’m teaching Ad. Law again in the fall, and I’m considering adding a few relatively recent events as introductory discussion problems. The goal is to get students thinking about how process and agency structure shape substantive decisions. I tried to choose topics which do not require students to grasp complicated substantive issues:
1. The TSA seeks comments on across-the-board, whole body imaging for airline passengers. Here students can consider the interplay between notice-and-comment procedure and privacy objections to the imaging. I’ll also explore whether procedures (and concerns with use of imaging) should be different if TSA employees require this enhanced screening only on a case-by-case basis.
2. The IRS has been accused of unfairly targeting conservative groups who claim tax-exempt status. The issue highlights agency structure and raises questions of accountability in a system with multiple bureaucratic decision-makers. It also illuminates the tension between law and politics in agency decision-making, especially where agencies operate under vague rules such as the “social welfare” organization exemption.
I welcome any suggestions you may have.

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7 Responses

  1. Jon Weinberg says:

    A problem with the second topic is that the picture we now have, indicating that the IRS did not in fact single out conservative groups, is a slightly less useful teaching tool. See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/us/politics/irs-scrutiny-went-beyond-the-political.html

  2. AYY says:

    Oops “now” should have been “not”

  3. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    I love the idea of using current events to teach law school students! I wrote a book doing that for Contracts (ad at the right side bar here at Concurring Opinions)! We hope to do a series of books on other law topics; let me know if you may want to continue toward one on Ad Law!

  4. AYY says:

    I submitted a comment with links that disputed the NYT article cited by Jon Weinberg. My comment was put into moderation and didn’t make it through, so now only the comment correcting the typo appears. Is there something wrong with disputing the NYT?

  5. Melissa Berry says:

    I have used current events in Administrative Law, Torts and Environmental Law and believe it is a useful tool to demonstrate the relevancy to the “real world”. Usually I or the students bring in newspaper articles or raise a current topic for brief discussion. While Torts and Environmental Law news is relatively easy to find, Administrative Law news is initially harder for the students to recognize. I challenge the Admin Law students to find news articles and bring them to my attention/to class. They often find interesting news. I have primarily used current events on an ad hoc basis, though, so I am intrigued by your idea of building them into your course in more depth.

  6. Christine Chabot says:

    Thanks for all of the comments. Jon, I may modify the IRS story a bit to make a better teaching exercise. Students could be asked to role play and advise other agency which is concerned about political targeting in the wake of accusations against the IRS. Then issues of accountability and limits on political decision-making would still be important, even if the IRS turned out to be more even-handed than originally assumed.

    Larry, I think the idea of a current events book for Ad. Law is fascinating. Please keep me in mind. I’ve heard rave reviews of Contracts in the Real World — I should read it as part of my prep for Sales.

  7. AYY says:

    “even if the IRS turned out to be more even-handed than originally assumed.”

    Yikes. It did not turn out to be more even handed than originally assumed. If anything it was worse than first thought.
    The NY Times article has been debunked. If you take my very first comment (the one that didn’t make it on here) out of moderation you’ll see. It has links to some of the many articles showing how much worse it is than originally assumed.