How does the Supreme Court really decide cases? Are judges as activist as politicians claim? In this course, we will explore these questions by addressing how political and social forces influence American law and legal institutions, and vice versa. We will explore in depth how the legal system operates and how judges actually decide cases, using examples taken from today's headlines. We will also explore contemporary controversies surrounding the courts, including the influence of politics in judicialdecision making and the possible role that race plays in criminal trials. Other topics include the structure of the legal system, the importance of judicial precedent, litigation and trial processes, and effectiveness of the law as a force for social change.