Law School for Everyone: Legislation and Regulation

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Smith is THE MAN Best professor Ive had at GW so far. These videos were helpful in supplementing his classes for me. Professor Smith is a great professor and makes this subject so easily understandable.
Date published: 2021-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well-organized presentation of the subject. Presents a great overview of the complexities and nuances of our Legislative Branch of government. Well done!
Date published: 2020-12-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great title Excellent for novice reader like me. Good start for legal reasoning.
Date published: 2020-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Ins & Outs of Legislation & Regulation Having taken other law courses, I'm beginning to realize that confusion in a law course is directly proportional to my attention span. The closer I pay attention, the more doubt and confusion I will experience. By that yardstick, I've been paying close attention. The construction of a legal concept in an early lecture might be deconstructed in a later lecture. Sometimes litigants can reveal a law's flaws; sometimes the reversal of a law's interpretation follows a change of a new administration. While the lectures can shine light on concepts, they can't predict human nature. And the only real way to be sure you're getting a handle on the subject is a constant vigilance of current events. Now I have been given a lot to ponder, but l can't say the rough and tumble of legislative and administrative law is actually any clearer to me. For instance, a discussion of the auto industry using an agency's due consideration of public comments to so hamstring the agency that it's preferred choice of action was to disengage from action altogether was rather disheartening and confusing. I feel like I learned something, but I couldn't tell you what that is. It's something nebulous, like knowing there's a page missing from my book. In the end, I was left thinking about important matters and believing a repeat of the lectures will give me a better handle on the subject. And I don't think it was a case of the instructor being unclear, but the nature of the subject matter itself morphing across time and creating a path that doesn't run straight across the landscape, but meanders Willy-nilly through the wilderness.
Date published: 2020-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good class I found the professor to be very engaging, easy to listen to.
Date published: 2020-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from OK This short course (12 lectures vice the normal 24) addresses statutory and regulatory interpretation by the courts. It does not get into the legislative process itself but rather it looks at how courts should try to understand what a law says. As one might expect, it hinges on ambiguities (real or contrived) in the law and how, at least in theory, a court should interpret the law. As a natural follow-on, the course also addresses how courts should try to understand what a regulation (established by the executive branch rather than the legislative branch) says. The course is well structured and I found it persuasive, often changing my understanding or opinion about a matter. Dr. Smith presents controversial topics in an even-handed manner. He is good at building up a point of instruction so that the student can ultimately understand a counter-intuitive concept. I used the video version but I believe the audiobook version would have been just as good.
Date published: 2019-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect for non-lawyers and lawyers alike Watched this streaming and really enjoyed it. From the title the topic seemed dry, but the course was very interesting. I learned tons!
Date published: 2019-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I wasn't sure that I'd be interested in this particular topic, but I am interested in the law more generally, and this course turned out to be great. Professor Smith really held my interest with thought-provoking lectures about language and how to figure out what the law means. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2019-06-13
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Law School for Everyone: Legislation and Regulation
Course Trailer
Making Sense of Legislation and Regulation
1: Making Sense of Legislation and Regulation

Statutes, unlike judicial opinions, tend to be brief—yet they're packed with meaning. Using a deceptively straightforward law about the use of vehicles in a public park, get an introduction to interpreting legislation and regulation. Should a statute’s plain meaning govern? Should we rely on what can be discerned about the statute’s intent? Or should we give effect instead to what seems to be the spirit of the law?

31 min
Regulation by Statute and by Common Law
2: Regulation by Statute and by Common Law

What’s distinctive about legislation as a form of regulation? In this lecture, examine how courts have applied common-law tort and contract principles in order to regulate private behavior and choices. As you’ll discover through an in-depth look at environmental regulation and incentives for car manufacturers, things are rarely—if ever—simple.

31 min
Legislation and the Administrative State
3: Legislation and the Administrative State

Compared to most other Western democracies, it’s much more difficult to pass legislation in the United States at the federal level. Here, Professor Smith uses the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to unpack how the unique features of the U.S. legislative process affect judicial interpretation of statutes.

33 min
Touchstones of Statutory Interpretation
4: Touchstones of Statutory Interpretation

At the heart of statutory interpretation: the ability to read a legal text. Learn to do just that by thinking about how less formal kinds of interpretation in everyday life can help you interpret legal texts, and discover how 1892’s Holy Trinity Church v. United States highlights the differences and similarities between interpreting legal and non-legal texts.

29 min
The Letter versus the Spirit of the Law
5: The Letter versus the Spirit of the Law

A central problem related to legislation and regulation is the famous conflict between the letter and the spirit of the law. How do we reconcile the words of a statute with the legislature’s apparent purpose? Study the famous 1889 case Riggs v. Palmer and 1967’s Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and join the debate for yourself.

30 min
When Is Statutory Meaning Plain?
6: When Is Statutory Meaning Plain?

Consider just how robust our commitment to the plain meaning of statutes should be. Cases like Tennessee Valley Authority v. Hill and West Virginia University Hospitals v. Casey illuminate whether departures from the letter of the law in order to enforce the law’s spirit should be exceptions or the rule.

30 min
Semantic and Substantive Interpretive Rules
7: Semantic and Substantive Interpretive Rules

Focus on the “canons of construction”: the additional set of background understandings that courts rely on to interpret statutes. McBoyle v. United States, from 1931, helps you grasp the difference between “semantic” canons (generalizations about conventional English language usage) and “substantive” ones (presumptions in favor of a particular set of outcomes).

30 min
How Do Courts Really Interpret Statutes?
8: How Do Courts Really Interpret Statutes?

Using the famous case of man charged with distributing LSD, probe whether the enterprise of statutory interpretation is hopelessly incoherent and unpredictable. Also, ponder whether it’s possible to articulate a theory of statutory interpretation that explains what courts actually do to resolve disputes over the meaning of statutes.

32 min
Federal Agencies as Regulatory Bodies
9: Federal Agencies as Regulatory Bodies

Investigate how the U.S. federal government regulates, and the relationship between this regulation and legislation. You’ll focus on how agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission “enforce” federal law—and whether we should permit Congress to give agencies in the executive branch the power to decide important questions of policy.

31 min
Political Control of Agency Decision Making
10: Political Control of Agency Decision Making

What can Congress do when it doesn’t approve of how a federal agency exercises the power Congress gave it? With this lecture, start thinking about how regulation by federal agencies—in hot-button matters such as immigration law and trade—raises critical questions about political control and constitutionality.

31 min
Judicial Review of Agency Rulings
11: Judicial Review of Agency Rulings

In the United States, judicial review by the courts is the principal way federal agencies are kept in check. Professor Smith explains two basic forms of review the courts exercise over agency decisions: ensuring that they’re procedurally sound, and ensuring they’re well-reasoned and based on appropriate considerations.

32 min
Weighing Agency Interpretations of Statutes
12: Weighing Agency Interpretations of Statutes

Examine Chevron v. NRDC, the seminal case on the weight courts should give to a federal agency’s interpretation of a federal statute. Then, take a closer look at two other cases that offer a sense of how courts approach statutory ambiguity—MCI Telecommunications v. AT&T and FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco.  Conclude by considering the complicated interaction among legislatures, courts, and government agencies by which U.S. law and policy are implemented.

34 min
Peter J. Smith

Whether you realize it or not, we think about the substantive law all the time in our daily lives. Every time we get behind the wheel of a car, or go outside to shovel snow from the sidewalk in front of our house, or decide whether to look at a text message while we're driving, we're thinking about the obligations we have to avoid causing injuries to others.


Harvard Law School


The George Washington University Law School

About Peter J. Smith

Peter J. Smith is the Arthur Selwyn Miller Research Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. He received his B.A. (magna cum laude) from Yale University and his J.D. (magna cum laude) from Harvard Law School, where he received the Sears Prize for highest academic performance.

Before joining the faculty at GW Law, Professor Smith was an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he represented the government in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. At the Department of Justice, he defended the constitutionality of a number of federal statutes, including the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act (cases ultimately resolved by the Supreme Court). Before he worked at the Department of Justice, Professor Smith clerked for Judge Phyllis A. Kravitch of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Professor Smith has twice received the Distinguished Faculty Service Award for outstanding teaching at GW Law. He has published dozens of scholarly articles and is the co-author of a popular casebook on constitutional law, Constitutional Law: A Contemporary Approach. His research focuses on constitutional law, constitutional interpretation, and civil procedure.

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