Alabama Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Alabama Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. The Constitution of the United States

  • Overview of the U.S. Constitution: Understand the structure, including the Preamble, the seven Articles, and the 27 Amendments. Note the significance of Articles I-III, which establish the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, respectively.

  • The Supremacy Clause (Art. VI, Cl. 2): Federal law is the “supreme Law of the Land,” preempting conflicting state laws.

  • The Commerce Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 3): Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with Indian tribes.

  • The Necessary and Proper Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 18): Congress has the power to make all laws necessary and proper for executing its powers.

  • The Taxing and Spending Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 1): Congress has the power to tax and spend for the general welfare.

  • The Tenth Amendment: Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

  • The Fourteenth Amendment: Addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws and is pivotal in civil rights and incorporation doctrine.

II. Judicial Review

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803): Established the principle of judicial review, the idea that courts may oversee and nullify the actions of another branch of government.
    • Issue: Does the Supreme Court have the authority to order the delivery of the commissions?

    • Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

    • Analysis: The Supreme Court has the authority to interpret the Constitution and can declare a law that conflicts with the Constitution to be void.

    • Conclusion: Established judicial review.

III. Federalism

  • Federalism: The distribution of power between the federal government and the states.

  • Alabama-specific considerations: Be familiar with how federalism has played out in Alabama history, especially in areas of civil rights, education, and healthcare.

IV. Separation of Powers

  • Understand the division of governmental powers among the three branches.

  • Checks and Balances: Each branch has specific powers that can limit the powers of the other branches.

  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): Demonstrated limits on executive power.

    • Issue: Did the President have the authority to take possession of steel mills during a labor dispute?

    • Rule: The President does not have inherent authority to seize private property without specific legislative authorization.

    • Analysis: President Truman’s actions went beyond the powers of the executive branch as there was no congressional statute authorizing such a seizure.

    • Conclusion: The President’s order was an unconstitutional use of executive power.

V. The Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment

  • Understand the rights protected under the first ten amendments and their application to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.

  • Incorporation Doctrine: The process by which American courts have applied portions of the U.S. Bill of Rights to the states.

VI. First Amendment

  • Freedom of Speech: Pay special attention to standards of review, limitations, and Alabama-specific cases.

  • Freedom of Religion: Know the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, along with relevant Alabama cases.

VII. Equal Protection and Due Process

  • Equal Protection Clause: Analyze the levels of scrutiny (rational basis, intermediate scrutiny, strict scrutiny) applied in cases of discrimination.

  • Due Process Clauses: Understand both substantive and procedural due process and the rights they protect.

  • Roe v. Wade (1973) and Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992): Substantive due process cases concerning abortion rights, though note Alabama’s stricter abortion laws that may conflict with these decisions.

VIII. Right to Privacy

  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): Established the right to privacy in marital relations.
    • Issue: Does the Constitution protect the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on contraception?

    • Rule: The Bill of Rights has penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that give them life and substance.

    • Analysis: Together, the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments create a right to privacy in marital relations.

    • Conclusion: Connecticut’s law criminalizing the use of contraceptives violates the right to marital privacy.

IX. The Fourteenth Amendment and Incorporation

  • Understand selective incorporation of the Bill of Rights protections to the states.

  • Specific attention to cases that incorporated rights against the states.

X. Civil Rights and Equal Protection

  • Understand the Civil Rights Cases and how they apply to discrimination and equal protection under the law.

  • Shelby County v. Holder (2013): A recent case relating to Alabama that addresses the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    • Issue: Does the renewal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) exceed Congress’s authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and therefore violate the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution?

    • Rule: The Constitution gives Congress the power to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, but this power is not unlimited.

    • Analysis: The coverage formula in Section 4(b) is based on data over 40 years old and thus is no longer responsive to current needs. As such, it imposes current burdens that are no longer justified.

    • Conclusion: Section 4(b) is unconstitutional, and without a coverage formula, Section 5 is inoperative.

XI. Study and Exam Preparation

  • Review key concepts, cases, and amendments.

  • Engage in active recall and practice applying legal principles to hypothetical fact patterns.

  • Form study groups to discuss and debate issues to deepen understanding.

  • Practice writing out answers to past exam questions using the IRAC method.

By understanding these core concepts and cases, along with their application within the context of Alabama law, a 1L law student will be well-prepared for a Constitutional Law final exam. It is important to not only memorize the material but to comprehend the underlying principles and their implications for future legal issues and cases.

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