Univ of San Francisco and St Ignatius church from the air

Undergraduate Programs

"Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question."This observation came from Alexis de Tocqueville, the French philosopher, during his U.S. travels, early in our history. If we were a legalistic society then, what shall we call ourselves now? Laws have proliferated at an astounding pace, the courts are widely overcrowded with cases, despite the legal short-cuts we've devised. The threat of lawsuits lingers ever-present: we scheme about how to avoid them, and how to bring them.


Besides resolving disputes, we rely on the law to govern ourselves: to create our institutions, regulate our behavior, and make our policy. We believe the law provides fairness, and thus guarantees democracy. Most importantly, we rely on the law to solve our problems. While our confidence in the law, lawmakers, and lawyers ebbs and flows, we nevertheless believe that the law can change our society for the better. These are powerful myths, yet not everyone believes the law serves such benevolent objectives. Grant Gilmore, writing in the Yale Law Journal, argues:

 “Law reflects, but in no sense determines, the moral worth of a society.…The better the society, the less law there will be. In Heaven, there will be no law, and the lion will lie down with the lamb.…In Hell, there will be nothing but law, and due process will be meticulously observed.”

Others point to the many “unfulfilled promises” of U.S. law. Some view the law as biased, reflecting an ideology that helps the few at the expense of the many. Still others believe that lawyers do more to impede social change than to promote it. However one assesses the law, its extraordinary role in U.S. culture cannot be denied. Thus, the law ought to be studied widely, and not merely by those who want to practice the law.

Toward that end, the Department of Politics offers a Legal Studies minor, open to all USF students. The minor provides students a broad understanding of the U.S. legal system, including the role law plays in U.S. culture: what legal philosophies have we adopted and rejected, what is the law’s history, what practical purposes does it serve, how well does it work. We’re interested in the relationship between law and politics, and law and society. What can law contribute to improve society? What is justice? Can the law help to achieve it? Does the law help promote social change, or rather impede it? We’ll examine both U.S. law and international law, and study the judicial system from the trial courts to the Supreme Court. We’ll consider legal disputes over issues such as capital punishment, human rights, pornography, terrorism, corporate crime, affirmative action, privacy, flag burning, defendant’s rights, war powers, euthanasia, drug testing, school prayer, gun control, and so forth. Students will see the law in action, not merely in the classroom. Our fieldwork courses place students in law-related internships with organizations such as La Raza Centro Legal, the Legal Aid Society, the Prisoner’s Union, the Tenderloin Legal Clinic, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Some will use Legal Studies as preparation for law school. Others may find our courses useful for other educational and career pursuits.



Under our 4 + 3 Law Program, USF students (in any major) will have the opportunity to gain automatic admission to USF's School of Law if they have a minimum 3.2 GPA, a minimum 56th percentile LSAT score, and complete either the Legal Studies or Criminal Justice Studies minor.