Malcolm M. Renfrew Interdisciplinary Colloquium Web Archive

Preserving access to past MRIC web content.


Collections A-Z

Public (Mis)Understanding of America’s Courts: Whatever Happened to the Rule of Law?
MRIC 2015/16

Please note: this is archived content harvested from a web page and may not display as originally intended. Some images, links, and functionality may be broken or out of date.

Public (Mis)Understanding of America’s Courts:

Whatever Happened to the Rule of Law?

Don Burnett

Professor, College of Law

Sponsored by the Office of the President and Executive Vice President and the University Honors Program


When you see or hear a media account of a court decision, you will learn who “won” and “lost” — and the story often will be accompanied by quotes of praise or condemnation from the parties and various interest groups. In a high-profile case, you also may find yourself immersed in punditry about the political implications of the decision or the perceived political leanings of the judge(s).

But how much will you learn about the legal principle(s) governing the court’s decision? Has your secondary and post-secondary education prepared you to look for the “rule of law” in reports of court decisions?

In today’s environment of hyper-partisanship, how fully do Americans understand (and appreciate) the role of an independent and impartial judiciary as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution? Drawing upon illustrative cases and interdisciplinary scholarship, professor Don Burnett will address these questions.


Don Burnett came to the University of Idaho in 2001 as dean of the College of Law. He served in that capacity and as a classroom teacher until 2013, when he was appointed as interim president of the university. In 2014, he returned to the College of Law faculty, teaching classes at the college’s campus in Moscow. In addition, he serves as a program coordinator for the newly established Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center, a collaborative undertaking of the College of Law and the Idaho Supreme Court in Boise. Burnett previously served as professor and dean of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, as a founding judge of the Idaho Court of Appeals and as president of the Idaho State Bar. An Idaho native, he received his education at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the University of Virginia and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Original url: