Arkansas Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Arkansas Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Constitutional Text and Structure

  • The Preamble: Understand its purposes and general intent.
  • Article I: Legislative powers and limits, Necessary and Proper Clause, Commerce Clause, Taxing and Spending Power.
  • Article II: Executive powers and responsibilities, including the Take Care Clause.
  • Article III: Judicial powers, the case or controversy requirement, and justiciability doctrines.
  • The Supremacy Clause (Article VI): Federal law preempts conflicting state law.

Judicial Review

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803): Established judicial review, the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution.

    IRAC Overview:

    • Issue: Does the Supreme Court have the authority to issue writs of mandamus under the Judiciary Act of 1789?
    • Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
    • Analysis: The Judiciary Act conflicts with the Constitution and is therefore invalid.
    • Conclusion: The Court cannot issue the writ.

Separation of Powers

  • Checks and Balances: Each branch’s powers and limitations.
  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): The president does not have inherent authority to seize private property without express statutory authorization.

    IRAC Overview:

    • Issue: Did President Truman have the authority to seize steel mills during the Korean War?
    • Rule: Presidential power must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.
    • Analysis: No statutory authority existed for the seizure.
    • Conclusion: The seizure was unconstitutional.


  • McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): Established the principles of national supremacy and implied powers under the Necessary and Proper Clause.

    IRAC Overview:

    • Issue: Can a state tax a federal institution? Can Congress create a national bank?
    • Rule: Federal laws take precedence over state laws; Congress has implied powers.
    • Analysis: Maryland’s tax on the bank was unconstitutional; Congress had the authority to establish a national bank.
    • Conclusion: Maryland could not tax the bank; the bank was constitutional.
  • Gibbons v. Ogden (1824): Defined the scope of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause.

    IRAC Overview:

    • Issue: Does the Commerce Clause give Congress authority over interstate navigation?
    • Rule: The Commerce Clause extends to all forms of commercial activity that cross state lines.
    • Analysis: The state-granted monopoly conflicted with a federal license.
    • Conclusion: The federal license prevailed due to the Supremacy Clause.

The Bill of Rights and Incorporation

  • The Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments, originally applicable only to the federal government.
  • Selective Incorporation: The process by which certain protections from the Bill of Rights have been applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

Equal Protection

  • The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: Prohibits states from denying any person within their jurisdiction equal protection under the law.
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Rejected “separate but equal” doctrine in the context of public schools, marking the beginning of the end for de jure racial segregation.

    IRAC Overview:

    • Issue: Does segregation of public schools by race violate the Equal Protection Clause?
    • Rule: Separate facilities are inherently unequal.
    • Analysis: Segregation in public education creates a sense of inferiority.
    • Conclusion: Racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

Substantive Due Process

  • Substantive Due Process: The doctrine that the Due Process Clause not only requires “process” but also prohibits certain government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them.
  • Lochner v. New York (1905): Struck down a state law limiting working hours based on substantive due process.

    IRAC Overview:

    • Issue: Does a law limiting bakers’ work hours violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause?
    • Rule: The Due Process Clause protects the right to contract.
    • Analysis: The law interferes with the right to contract and lacks a sufficient health rationale.
    • Conclusion: The law is unconstitutional.

First Amendment Freedoms

  • Freedom of Speech: Distinctions between protected and unprotected speech, content-based and content-neutral regulations, prior restraints, symbolic speech, and commercial speech.
  • Freedom of Religion: Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause—cases like Engel v. Vitale (1962) prohibiting state-led prayer in public schools and Employment Division v. Smith (1990) upholding generally applicable laws that incidentally burden religious practices.

Individual Rights

  • Fourth Amendment: Search and seizure, warrant requirement, and exceptions.
  • Fifth Amendment: Rights against self-incrimination and Double Jeopardy.
  • Sixth Amendment: Right to a fair trial, including speedy trial, public trial, trial by an impartial jury, notice of accusation, confrontation, compulsory process, and right to counsel.

Arkansas-Specific Constitutional Law

  • Arkansas Constitution: Study its unique provisions and how they interact with federal constitutional law. Particularly, review amendments relating to term limits, state tax policy, and the state’s Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.

Applying Arkansas Law

  • In Arkansas, like all states, federal constitutional law is the supreme law of the land. However, the Arkansas Constitution can provide additional rights beyond those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but it cannot provide fewer. Understanding the nuances of the Arkansas Constitution and the interplay between state and federal law is crucial for practicing law in Arkansas.

This study guide is a starting point for 1L constitutional law focused on key concepts, cases, and the interplay of federal principle with Arkansas state specifics. When preparing for an exam, it’s critical to deepen your understanding of each concept and review additional cases, as well as the specific language of the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions.

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