Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Between the courtroom and the classroom

Federal judge the Hon. Henry Floyd co-teaches constitutional law class at Wofford

Govt 382
2017-03-09

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — A few times each week, the Hon. Henry Floyd, Wofford Class of 1970, leaves his gavel and robe at the U.S. Courthouse in Spartanburg and returns to his alma mater where he's the expert witness (or professor) in Dr. David Alvis's Constitutional Law of the United States class.

The class, which is an overview of the major areas of American constitutional law, emphasizes the reading and analysis of select cases and the natural and common law background of the Constitution.

"In class we go through the cases like in law school," says Alvis. "What are the facts of the case? What’s the legal question? What’s the decision and the reasoning?"

Floyd, a federal judge since 2003 currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, weighs in with examples of cases over which he's presided.

"I tend to look at the cases from a political and intellectual perspective," says Alvis. "It's abstract from the people, and that's not entirely accurate. The court is there to help particular people, and Henry brings that to the class."

Floyd says that Alvis does a good job of exposing students to the Socratic method, something many of them will use in law school. "That's important," he says, "but at the same time, the law is about real people with real issues. It's important to understand the individual's predicament and how the person is affected by the times and circumstances."

Guthrie McQueen, a senior government major from Columbia, S.C., didn't know Floyd would be co-teaching the class until the semester started. McQueen is planning to attend law school in the fall and maybe follow Floyd's footsteps on the bench.

"The class still focuses on the constitutional cases, but it's changed with Judge Floyd's input," says McQueen. "He brings relevance. It's nice to have an outside opinion that's so informed."

Alvis and Floyd have been discussing this collaboration and the benefits it could provide to Wofford students for several years now.

"We've got a great relationship with the Fourth Circuit with Judge Floyd, Judge Clyde Hamilton ’56 and Judge Dennis Shedd ’75," says Alvis. "The Pre-law Society often goes to the federal courthouse as part of course, and Henry invited our students to his chambers during the Pre-law Interim."

Floyd says he spends three to four hours reviewing the cases and preparing for each class.

"I’m getting up to speed on teaching, and it's fun," says Floyd. "I'm impressed by how well prepared the students are. Computers are everywhere, so the students have got access to all kinds of information that I didn't have when I was their age."

Much has changed at Wofford, according to Floyd, but the important things have remained the same.

"I still see Wofford students getting the kind of reading and writing training that I got with Dr. Ross Bayard, Dr. John Harrington and Dr. Lewis Jones ’38," says Floyd. "Students going to law school will need that. The brief that they write for federal court makes a big difference in how their case in going to come out. Only 10 percent of the cases are orally argued; 80 percent are decided through briefs."

Alvis and Floyd may disagree sometimes during class, which according to both is part of the fun, but they make a great team because of their teaching philosophy.

"What our students don’t need at Wofford is a lot of legal training," says Alvis. "Instead the need a rigorous liberal arts education. We're interested in them building their capacity for leadership, critical thinking and persuasive writing. Wofford cultivates that, which is one of the reasons we have so many successful practicing attorneys and judges."