Public Law

Public law regulates the structure of government and its relations with individuals and foreign nations. Sound public law serves to promote individual well-being and the common good. The Founders of the United States Constitution sought to implement this truth, and all governments must confront it, individually and collectively. The Notre Dame Law School offers an extensive Program of Study in Public Law.

This program provides a foundational course of study for students interested in government lawyering, judicial clerkships, criminal justice, constitutional litigation, administrative regulation and adjudication, public policy, and many other public law fields.

Students interested in public law should take courses, foundational and advanced, in (1) government structure and processes, (2) individual rights within governing structures, and (3) particular fields of public regulation. In addition, we encourage students to pursue an externship in a government legal department, regulatory agency, or judicial chambers. Finally, students should develop other knowledge and skills essential for work in an array of legal fields.

Please explore the following sections:

Foundational Courses


Students should take a range of courses involving the structure of government and the processes by which institutions of government regulate. The required first-year Constitutional Law course considers the structure of the U.S. federal system, including the powers of and relationships among the branches of the federal government (separation of powers) and the allocation of power between the federal government and the states (federalism).

Students should take three other foundational courses involving the U.S. federal system: (1) Administrative Law, which considers the constitutional status and powers of regulatory agencies and the processes of regulation; (2) Federal Courts, which considers the role of the federal courts in the U.S. federal system, including their relationship to the other branches of the federal government and to the states; and (3) Legislation or Statutory Interpretation, each of which considers important aspects of law-making and legal interpretation in the U.S. federal system. 


The Law School provides academic credit or funding for certain approved externships in state and federal courts, government legal departments, prosecutors’ and defenders’ offices, and regulatory agencies. Students should consider pursuing such an externship, tailored to their interests, during their second or third year of study. An externship provides practical experience and, perhaps more importantly, an opportunity to reflect meaningfully on the value, ethics, and challenges of practicing in the field of public law.


In addition, students should consider taking a course involving the relations between nations and their governing structures, such as Public International Lawor Foreign Relations Law. Finally, students should take advanced, specialized courses on government structure and processes, such as Comparative Constitutional LawFederalism, or Judicial Process Seminar.

From any combination of courses on government structure, students will develop a general appreciation of the history of public law and its importance to human well-being. We also encourage students to ensure that they take at least one specialized public law course in the Law School or other University department that focuses on developing historical or other theoretical insights into public law, including the opportunity to do original research and writing in the field. Ideally, such a course will enable each student to explore an important historical or theoretical issue of public law, tailored to his or her own interests and aspirations.


Many government structures, including the U.S. constitutional structure, recognize individual rights as limitations on governmental authority. Constitutional Law II is a foundational course that covers the individual rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.


Moreover, students should consider taking at least one of the following additional courses on individual rights: (1) Constitutional Criminal Procedure, which considers the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights of criminal defendants; (2) Freedom of Religion, which considers the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment; or (3) Freedom of Speech, which considers First Amendment rights to free speech.


In addition to taking courses on government structures and processes and individual rights, students should take courses in particular regulatory fields. Such courses not only explain particular public law regulatory frameworks, but also explore how discrete disputes over government structure and individual rights arise in practice. The Law School requires one such course during the first year: Criminal Law.

In addition, students should take Business Associations and Federal Income Taxation, which consider regulatory fields that affect most areas of law practice. 


Many other elective courses address fields of public regulation, including, but not limited to, AntitrustBankruptcyCivil Rights LawEmployment Discrimination LawEnvironmental LawFederal Criminal LawImmigrationIntellectual PropertyLabor LawLand Use PlanningSecurities Regulation, and Trade Regulation.

Students may wish to tailor their courses to a particular field of regulation. For instance, if a student is interested in criminal justice, he or she might develop a package of courses drawn from Constitutional Criminal ProcedureCriminal AdjudicationCriminal and Forensic EvidenceFederal Criminal LawFederal Criminal PracticeFederal Criminal ProcedureInternational Criminal LawPost-Conviction Remedies, and White Collar Crime. Students interested in another field of public regulation—such as business structures, intellectual property, or labor and employment law—may develop similar packages of courses. 

Related Courses

Within any program of study, students must remain mindful of courses that provide important general knowledge and skills. Among the most important of these are courses in Ethics. Students are required to take at least three credits of ethics courses during their legal education. We also encourage students to take Evidence, regardless of whether they plan to pursue practice in litigation. The course explores rules and standards that guide behavior in most practice areas.

As students develop interests and aspirations, other knowledge and skills may assume greater importance. For example, those interested in litigation should take Trial Advocacy. Those interested in business or administrative work should ensure that they have sufficient knowledge of relevant economic or accounting principles. As students pursue their studies in public law, it is important for them to take courses that provide important knowledge and skills that transcend various fields of law.

Other Resources


Notre Dame Law School Program on Constitutional Structure and Design
Department of Political Science: Constitutionalism, Law, and Politics


Notre Dame Office of Career Development


Library of Congress: Sources of Public Law
Supreme Court of the United States


Anthony J. Bellia Jr.
O’Toole Professor of Constitutional Law
Concurrent Professor of Political Science

Patricia L. Bellia
William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Professor of Law

Gerard V. Bradley
Professor of Law

Paolo G. Carozza
Director, Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies
Director, JSD Program in International Human Rights Law
Concurrent Professor of Political Science

Barry Cushman
John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law
Concurrent Professor of Political Science
Concurrent Professor of History

Richard W. Garnett
Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor
Concurrent Professor of Political Science

Patrick Griffin
Madden-Hennebry Professor of History

William K. Kelley
Associate Professor of Law

Randy J. Kozel
Professor of Law
Director, Program on Constitutional Structure

Jennifer Mason McAward
Associate Professor of Law
Director, Center for Civil and Human Rights

Vincent Phillip Munoz
Associate Professor, Political Science
Concurrent Associate Professor, Law

Jeffrey Pojanowski
Professor of Law and Robert and Marion Short Scholar

Stephen Smith
Professor of Law

Michael P. Zuckert
Nancy R. Dreux Professor of Political Science
Concurrent Professor of Law


For more information about this Program of Study or the field of Public Law, please contact Professor A.J. Bellia Jr.