This course examines American democracy and political institutions. As developed in the Course Outline, we will explore a wide range of questions, including the following: what is “democracy”? What are the competing images of the practice of American democracy among scholars? Are American political institutions democratic, “captured,” or paralyzed? How does the American experiment in democracy compare to its counterparts abroad? And, finally, what about democracy in California? Is it broken? If so, can it be fixed?




This course examines the role of law and courts in society; the institutions of the American justice system; and the relationship between law, politics, and public policy in the United States. As developed more fully in this course outline, we will explore a wide range of questions, including the following: What is the promise of law in society? What are its limits? How is the American legal system organized? How does our system compare with those in other industrialized democracies? What are relative advantages and disadvantages of our system? To what extent (and under what conditions) does our system fulfill its promise of providing orderly dispute resolution, correcting political and market “failures,” and promoting social justice? Does the American legal system promote or thwart democratic values?



This course examines the role of interest groups in American democracy.  As developed in the Course Outline, we will explore a wide range of questions, including the following:  What are interest groups?  What do they do?  Are they “good” or “bad” for American politics?






This seminar is designed to introduce some of the major debates of the literature in political science on law, courts, and judicial politics.  The goal is to help you develop a point of view about the nature of law and judicial decision-making; the role of law in society; the basic functions and origins of courts; and the role of courts in American politics and the policy-making process.  Throughout the semester, particular care will be given to the relationship between competing conceptual definitions of the law and methods for studying the courts.  Students will be encouraged to write a research design proposal to help sharpen their research interests.

Of course, no seminar could adequately survey all the developments in the field of public law; the field is far too diverse and far ranging.  This course does not investigate legal pluralism, international law or the vast regulatory literature, and only briefly focuses on comparative perspectives.  Obviously, if these – or other topics – are of interest to you, you can use the term paper to explore them.



This course explores how political scientists conceptualize and study institutions and how the various approaches to institutional analysis within political science differ from other disciplines.  The central theme of the course lies in understanding the connections between one’s underlying conception of institutions and how one studies them. 

It is important to stress that this course is NOT a substantive overview of different American political institutions.  It is a conceptual exploration of how to think about institutional analysis.  We will read various substantive analyzes of American political institutions, including the courts, Congress, and the executive branch, but with an eye towards illustrating and understanding different modes of institutional analysis.  

A final caveat: no seminar could adequately survey all the developments in the field of institutional analysis; the field is far too diverse and far ranging.  Obviously, if there are topics within the field that interest you but are not explicitly covered in the course, you can use the term paper to explore them.

The Art of Political Bargaining

Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, including law, political science, economics and sociology, students will gain a greater appreciation of the federal policy-making process, the challenges facing lawmakers in building support for their policy preferences, and the prospects of our system of checks and balances for dealing with today’s major policy problems.

Is U.S. Democracy Broken?: Perspectives and Debates – Udemy

American democracy seems in crisis, as we face legislative gridlock, soaring deficits, negative campaigns awash in donations from anonymous sources, growing public distrust of government, and protest movements on the right and left on the political spectrum. This class provides an overview of competing views on contemporary American democracy and a fresh look at some key issues facing our polity, including campaign finance, the War powers, the politics of deficit spending, and the proper policy-making role of the courts.

Teaching Philosophy

Since joining the faculty, I have won a Department Outstanding Teaching Award (2005-06), a University General Education Teaching Award (2005-06), special recognition for teaching and mentoring from the USC Parents Association (2006), and Gamma Sigma Alpha’s Professor of the Year (2008).  Most recently, I have been named as a Dornsife Faculty Fellow.

My teaching rests on a simple principle—every student can succeed, but everyone learns differently.  Some students are visual learners; others prefer to listen; and some must apply what they learn to concrete problems.  In the words of Woody Hayes, a former football coach, “You got to walk it, talk it, chalk it.”

To accommodate diverse learning styles, I seek to reach out to students in a variety of ways.  I lecture.  I use interactive power point slides and multi-media presentations.  I set up debates and role playing exercises in class.  I assign individual and group projects that ask students to engage in original fieldwork.  I teach large classes, small seminars, and welcome the opportunity to work one-on-one with students. 

I also encourage students to integrate their practical experience and community service into their course of study.  For instance, I recently supervised a student in an independent study that analyzed his experiences as a campaign worker in New York City.  At the end of the semester, he confirmed the benefits of challenging students to be both producers and consumers of knowledge.  He wrote, “I want you to know that you are far and away the best professor I have had in my 2.5 years of college. …  Your focus on students learning the material, rather than memorization … is something more professors should take note of.” 

In a similar vein, I have developed a flexible curriculum for graduate students, who often struggle in the transition from coursework to fieldwork.  This curriculum involves an independent study that examines common research designs and methods and how the literature uses these tools.  At the end of the semester, students write a research design or critical literature review that helps focus their research agenda.

The common thread lies in my desire to place students at the center of their learning and give them opportunities to connect their experience with classroom materials.