New political science degree to focus on legal theory

Students interested in the intersection of political science and law can opt to pursue a new master’s program in legal institutions and theory this fall.

The program will focus on the development of the law and its effect on institutions, policies and individuals, and will include an optional internship component.

Steven Kelts, an assistant professor of political science who has been teaching at GW for 8 years, will serve as founding director of the program.

“I think being the director of the program, and also heading the internship program, is taking advantage of the skills that I have and my ability to relate to people who are looking toward their future,” Kelts said.

Kelts said the program will also take advantage of the political science department’s expertise in legal institutions. A recent ranking of public law programs published by the American Political Science Association’s Law and Courts Section named GW’s judicial politics program the best in the nation.

“We really have some of the best scholars in the country in that field and we thought that we could reach out to a lot of students and share that with them,” Kelts said.

The majority of the coursework will be offered through the political science department and will be taught by a core of about five professors. There will also be elective courses in other GW departments including history, sociology and education.

The course teachings will examine the philosophical foundation of the law, the processes of judicial decision-making, the influence of public opinion on judicial decisions, the impact of the law on society, the institutional structures of the U.S. court system, and the diversity of legal institutions across the world, Kelts said.

“Not many people understand the way that power is exercised in the court system and the unique angle that we have here is that we’re talking about the politics of the court system on the whole, the power the judges exercise over each other, and we’re also talking about the doctrines that they use to interpret the law,” Kelts said.

The degree requires 30 credits, with the option of counting toward a five-year bachelor’s-master’s program. Kelts expects the program to admit six students during its first year, and let it grow over time.

The program is intended for students who want to pursue a law degree or a Ph.D., those who want to study the courts and the legal system through classes and internships in Washington, D.C., and students with a law degree who want to develop broader interests in the study of legal institutions or empirical legal studies, Kelts said.

Current GW undergraduates are eligible to apply during their junior or senior years.

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