Introduction to Constitutional Law
Constitutional Law deals with the interpretation and implementation of the United States Constitution. The course typically examines the structure of the federal government, the powers of its branches, and the rights of individuals.
The Structure of the Constitution
Understand the layout of the Constitution, including the Preamble, the seven Articles, and the Amendments. Pay particular attention to the first three Articles, which establish the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, respectively, and to the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments that enumerate individual rights.
Marbury v. Madison: Recognize the significance of this case in establishing the principle of judicial review.
Justiciability Doctrines: Learn the limits of judicial review, including standing, ripeness, mootness, political question doctrine, and advisory opinions.
Understand the division of power between the federal government and the states. Study the Tenth Amendment, the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the Supremacy Clause.
Separation of Powers
Analyze the distribution and limitation of powers among the three branches of the federal government, focusing on landmark cases like Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.
The Commerce Clause
Recognize the evolution of the Commerce Clause jurisprudence, from Gibbons v. Ogden to the New Deal era, and up to modern cases like United States v. Lopez.
The Taxing and Spending Power
Understand Congress’s power to tax and spend for the general welfare, and study cases like South Dakota v. Dole.
The Contract Clause
Learn about the Contract Clause in Article I and its application in cases like Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell.
The First Amendment
Freedom of Speech: Understand the various tests applied to speech regulations, such as strict scrutiny for content-based restrictions and intermediate scrutiny for content-neutral restrictions. Study landmark cases including Brandenburg v. Ohio and Citizens United v. FEC.
Freedom of Religion: Dive into the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause cases. Understand the significance of tests developed in cases like Lemon v. Kurtzman and Employment Division v. Smith.
Freedom of the Press: Know the key cases like New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which established actual malice standard for defamation of public figures.
The Due Process Clauses
Distinguish between substantive due process and procedural due process. Analyze cases like Roe v. Wade for substantive due process and Mathews v. Eldridge for procedural due process.
The Equal Protection Clause
Understand the standards of review: strict scrutiny for race and national origin, intermediate scrutiny for gender, and rational basis review for other classifications. Important cases include Brown v. Board of Education and University of California v. Bakke.
The Fourteenth Amendment
Delve into the history and structure of the Fourteenth Amendment, paying attention to its application in incorporation of rights against the states, as seen in cases like Mapp v. Ohio.
The Rights of the Accused
Study the rights of criminal defendants under the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. Key cases include Miranda v. Arizona (Miranda rights) and Gideon v. Wainwright (right to counsel).
The Takings Clause
Understand the government’s power of eminent domain and the requirement for just compensation under the Fifth Amendment, as interpreted in cases like Kelo v. City of New London.
Gender and the Constitution
Examine how the Equal Protection Clause applies to gender discrimination, studying cases like Reed v. Reed and Craig v. Boren.
Understand the concept of privacy as a constitutional right, exploring its development through cases such as Griswold v. Connecticut and Lawrence v. Texas.
The Right to Vote
Review the constitutional provisions regarding voting rights and the relevant amendments (15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th). Study significant cases on voting rights like Shelby County v. Holder.
The Second Amendment
Study the interpretation of the Second Amendment in light of recent decisions like District of Columbia v. Heller.
Constitutional Law in the Modern Era
Review recent Supreme Court decisions to understand how constitutional interpretation continues to evolve.
Practice and Review
- Case Briefs: Write briefs for major cases to understand the Court’s reasoning and holding.
- Flashcards: Use flashcards to memorize key tests and standards of review.
- Outlining: Create detailed outlines for each major area of Constitutional Law.
- Mnemonics: Develop mnemonics to remember the factors of various multi-part tests from cases.
- Constitution of the United States
- Casebooks: Look for books that compile the most important constitutional law cases and their interpretations.
- Study Aids: Resources like “Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies” by Erwin Chemerinsky can be particularly helpful.
- Supplemental Lectures: Consider online resources and lectures for additional explanations of complex topics.
Final Exam Preparation
- Simulated Exams: Take full-length practice exams to become comfortable with the format and time constraints.
- Issue Spotting: Develop your skill in identifying relevant issues within complex fact patterns.
- Rule Application: Practice applying constitutional principles and precedents to hypothetical situations.
- Review Sessions: Attend any review sessions offered by your professor or teaching assistants.
In summary, a successful Constitutional Law study plan should integrate a thorough review of case law with a clear understanding of constitutional principles and doctrines. Focus on the analysis of court decisions, the evolution of legal doctrines, and the application of constitutional tests. Remember that active engagement through writing, discussing, and applying the material is key to mastering Constitutional Law for your 1L exams.