Book review for Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation by Sarah E. Ricks and Evelyn M. Tenenbaum

Professors Ricks co-wrote Current Issues in Constitutional Litigation with the overriding goal of providing attorneys-in-training with practical knowledge and skills to prepare them for practice. She wanted to create the sort of practical guide she wished she had to prepare herself for her legal career.  With that in mind, the text avoids a bare recitation of theory, but rather focuses on the skills practicing lawyers need. This is not to say that the text lacks a thorough doctrinal foundation: it provides the necessary background on the historical, political, and social context of constitutional litigation to provide the reader with context as to how the law has evolved.

From a practical perspective, the text includes problems before each chapter in order to help students identify issues early, so that they have these issues in mind as they read the cases. These questions also help the students to engage in a more critical reading of the cases and prepare them for engaging class conversation. In addition, non-traditional text documents that offer practical value to the attorney-in-training, such as jury instructions, motion forms, and practice guides, are also included in the text to provide the student with references as to the practical realities of practicing law in this field.

We solicited comments from students who took Professor Ricks’ recent class on “Current Issues in Civil Rights Litigation” at Rutgers School of Law in Camden.  Below are some of their accounts.

Elliot Almanza, a current 3L at Rutgers used the text while interning at the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, in the Tort Litigation Division. He wrote:

Having taken Professor Ricks’ class, I already knew that the State itself was immune from suit under §1983, but I was uncertain whether the quasi-State agencies we were tasked with representing shared that immunity.  The next day, I brought Professor Ricks’ textbook to work and read through the chapter dealing with 11th Amendment state sovereign immunity and the arm-of-state doctrine, as it applied to actions under §1983.  A few of the cases in that section helped jump-start my research, leading me to find the specific ones which governed the very narrow matter at issue.  I ended up keeping the book at my workplace the entire summer, and using it whenever a §1983 issue arose.

Elizabeth Dancona, a recent graduate of Rutgers who is currently clerking for the New Jersey Superior Court in Atlantic County made use of the text. She wrote:

Professor Ricks’ book was the only truly real world application of the case law that I learned about in law school. Ricks’ Constitutional Litigation class was interactive. The exercises in the casebook and the simulations help students internalize the material so as to apply it as a real attorney would.  It made the cases relevant in a way that we had not been exposed to in any other class in law school.

Taking Professor Ricks’ class and the use of her casebook was one of the most valuable things I did in law school because it gave me some insight into the practical application of the law.

I currently work as a judicial law clerk to a Superior Court Judge in Atlantic County. I emailed Professor Ricks after my first week to tell that the first summary judgment motion that I had to write up was a civil rights case. The defendant police officer was moving for summary judgment against plaintiff based on qualified immunity, and the defendant borough was moving for summary judgment based on municipal liability. I was already extremely familiar with the applicable case law and the burdens the plaintiff had with regard to each defendant. It is a comforting feeling to know that for at least that one motion, you know the law well enough to know that you are coming to the right conclusion, and I have Professor Ricks to thank for that.

Jason Fortenberry, a recent Rutgers graduate and clerk for the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, praised the textbook for its practical nature. He wrote:

Having the benefit of three years of law school courses for comparison, I consider Professor Ricks’ textbook on constitutional litigation to be the standard for which all law school textbooks should strive.  As one who learns best by doing, I was grateful for a book that challenged me to assume the role of a practicing attorney, judge, or other professional and apply the legal concepts from the book through well-developed role-playing scenarios.  The biggest hurdle I face as a recent law school graduate is experience.  Prof. Ricks’ textbook helped me maximize my opportunity for legal experience in the classroom by allowing me to participate in real-life discussions that I can expect as a practicing attorney.  For example, when I have my first settlement conference or my first adverse trial decision and must decide whether to appeal, I will now have some idea of the issues to consider when making these decisions.  Thus, even as I encounter new experiences as a lawyer, I have a greater confidence (and likely a better chance for success) because of the skills acquired through studying Prof. Ricks’ textbook.

Additionally, the following comments were submitted anonymously by students who took Professor Ricks’ course as a part of end of course evaluation. We have edited some of the comments for brevity and clarity, not for content.

“The textbook was well-organized and coherent. I also really enjoyed the emphasis on contextualizing the [material]. In providing background information about the subject matter, it made understanding and ultimately applying the law that much easier.”

 “I liked the use of different media to help understand certain concepts (the police chase video, the prison video, etc.) as well as the visual aids provided in the textbook. Some of the law we covered in class can be pretty complicated so having visual aids to help explain these concepts really helped me to understand the material.”

“I loved every minute of this course. Prof. Ricks’ text is perfectly designed to compl[e]ment the class and is actually interesting to read. Prof. Ricks spends every class making sure that you understand the practical implications of all these constitutional problems and works hard to teach the material in a way that also teaches you to practice law.”

“I liked that the class went from Supreme Court cases to court of appeals cases in each chapter.”

“Too many casebooks only have cases and boring law review articles. Reading appellate arguments, briefs, and interviews was a great way for me to learn the material other than just reading cases.”

“The things I disliked about the course were: The journal articles and other such writings in the textbook.”

When reviewing the comments, what we found to be most remarkable was the lack of criticism of the text. We only found a single comment that viewed the text negatively, and that comment lacked any substantive detail that could be explored.  Overall, it appears that a majority of Professor Ricks’ students found the text to be both useful and engaging.

For other perspectives on this text from instructors in the field, see:…

For more information on the publisher or to purchase a copy of the text, see:

About the Authors:

Professor Ricks is a graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University and Yale School of Law. As an appellate and legislative attorney for the City of Philadelphia Law Department, she litigated 42 U.S.C § 1983 appeals before federal and state appellate courts.  She was elected to the American Law Institute in 2009.  She currently teaches a number of courses at Rutgers-Camden School of Law—Camden, including first year Legal Writing and Research, Advanced Legal Writing, Public Interest Legal Research and Writing, and Civil Rights.

Professor Tenenbaum is a graduate of Northwestern University and Cornell Law School. She served in the Attorney General’s office as a Section Chief and Assistant Solicitor General and was a consultant to the New York State Department of Health.  She has extensive experience handling and supervising healthcare litigation as well as civil rights cases.  She is currently a Professor of Medical Education at Albany Medical College and Albany Law School.