Colorado Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Colorado Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. The Structure of the U.S. Constitution

  • Separation of Powers: Understand the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another. The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.

  • Federalism: Study the division of power between the federal government and the states. Focus on the Tenth Amendment and the principles of state sovereignty.

  • The Commerce Clause: Review Article I, Section 8, Clause 3, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes. This is a key source of federal power and the basis for much federal legislation.

II. Judicial Review

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803): The Supreme Court established its authority to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional, thus creating the principle of judicial review.
    • Issue: Whether the Supreme Court has the authority to order the delivery of commission.
    • Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
    • Analysis: The Court concluded that the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with the Constitution.
    • Conclusion: The Court established its role in the new government.

III. Powers of the Federal Government

  • McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): Upheld the power of the federal government to establish a bank and affirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law.
    • Issue: Whether Congress had the authority to establish a bank and whether Maryland could tax that bank.
    • Rule: The Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress the authority to pass all laws necessary and proper for executing its specified powers.
    • Analysis: The Court held that setting up a bank was an implied power of Congress.
    • Conclusion: Maryland could not tax the federal bank.

IV. The Bill of Rights and Incorporation

  • Incorporation Doctrine: Learn how the protections of the Bill of Rights have been applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

  • Gitlow v. New York (1925): This case began the process of incorporating the Bill of Rights and applying it to state law.

    • Issue: Whether the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment applies to the states.
    • Rule: The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits states from infringing free speech.
    • Analysis: The Court held that freedom of speech is among the fundamental personal rights protected by the due process clause.
    • Conclusion: The First Amendment applies to the states.

V. Equal Protection and Due Process

  • The Equal Protection Clause: Study the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement that states provide equal protection under the law to all people.

  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Outlawed segregation in public schools and established that separate but equal facilities are inherently unequal.

    • Issue: Whether segregation in public schools is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
    • Rule: Segregated schools are not equal and cannot be made equal.
    • Analysis: The Court examined the effect of segregation on public education.
    • Conclusion: Racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
  • Due Process Clause: Review the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ provisions that government must respect all legal rights owed to a person according to the law.

VI. Rights to Privacy and Autonomy

  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): Established the right to privacy through the Fourth Amendment.
    • Issue: Whether a Connecticut law criminalizing the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy.
    • Rule: The Bill of Rights creates zones of privacy.
    • Analysis: The use of contraceptives and marital privacy are intertwined.
    • Conclusion: The Connecticut law is unconstitutional.

VII. First Amendment Freedoms

  • Freedom of Speech: Understand the different standards of review, such as strict scrutiny for content-based restrictions, and intermediate scrutiny for content-neutral restrictions.

  • Freedom of Religion: Study the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, and understand how they interact with each other.

  • Texas v. Johnson (1989): The Supreme Court invalidated prohibitions on desecrating the American flag enforced in 48 of the 50 states.

    • Issue: Whether flag burning constitutes symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.
    • Rule: The government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.
    • Analysis: The Court found that flag burning is protected speech.
    • Conclusion: Texas law is overturned.

VIII. The Right to Bear Arms

  • Second Amendment: Review the right to keep and bear arms in connection with state and federal laws and regulations.

IX. Criminal Procedural Rights

  • Fourth Amendment: Search and seizure law, including the requirement for warrants and the various exceptions to the warrant requirement.

  • Fifth Amendment: The right against self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and the right to due process.

  • Miranda v. Arizona (1966): Established Miranda rights for detained criminal suspects before they are interrogated.

    • Issue: Whether the police must advise arrested persons of their rights.
    • Rule: The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination requires law enforcement officials to advise a suspect interrogated in custody of their rights.
    • Analysis: The Court found a need for procedural safeguards.
    • Conclusion: Miranda warnings are now required.

X. The Fourteenth Amendment

  • Substantive Due Process: The principle that the Due Process Clause not only requires “due process,” or basic procedural rights, but also protects certain rights from government interference.

  • Loving v. Virginia (1967): Invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

    • Issue: Whether a law banning interracial marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause.
    • Rule: The freedom to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of persons.
    • Analysis: The Court found no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination.
    • Conclusion: The Virginia law was unconstitutional.

XI. Modern Challenges and Constitutional Interpretation

  • Originalism vs. Living Constitution: Understand these two primary schools of thought in constitutional interpretation and how they impact modern constitutional law.

  • Colorado-Specific Considerations: When studying Constitutional Law for Colorado, consider the state constitution and how state courts have interpreted provisions concerning individual rights in comparison and contrast to federal interpretations.

XII. Reviewing Practice Questions and Hypotheticals

  • Work through practice essay questions, multiple-choice questions, and hypothetical scenarios to apply the legal principles and case law you have studied.

XIII. Analyzing Fact Patterns

  • Master the skill of identifying relevant legal issues in complex fact patterns, as it is a crucial element of law school exams.

By focusing on these key areas and integrating federal principles with specific Colorado laws and cases, you will develop a solid foundation for your Constitutional Law class and be well-prepared for your final semester exam.

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