Connecticut Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Connecticut Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Introduction to Constitutional Law

Constitutional Law is the study of the foundational legal principles that govern the United States, focusing on the interpretation and application of the U.S. Constitution. It includes the examination of the powers and limitations of the three branches of government, the rights and liberties of individuals, and the federal system of government’s structure.

The Constitution

Concept: The U.S. Constitution establishes the framework of the federal government, enumerates its powers, and provides for the protection of individual rights.

  • Article I: Establishes the legislative branch (Congress) and its powers.
  • Article II: Establishes the executive branch and outlines the powers of the President.
  • Article III: Establishes the judicial branch and defines the role of the federal judiciary.
  • Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the Constitution, guaranteeing individual liberties and rights.
  • Subsequent Amendments: Changes and additions to the Constitution, including the Civil War Amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th) which address slavery, citizenship, and voting rights.

Judicial Review and Constitutional Interpretation

Concept: Judicial review is the power of the courts to assess the constitutionality of legislative acts or executive actions. Constitutional interpretation involves the methods and principles used by the judiciary to understand, explain, and apply the Constitution.

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803): Established the principle of judicial review.
    • Issue: Whether the Supreme Court has the authority to issue writs of mandamus.
    • Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. When there is a conflict between the Constitution and any other law, the Constitution must prevail.
    • Analysis: The Court held that it had the power to declare legislation unconstitutional if it contradicted the Constitution.
    • Conclusion: The Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and declare them unconstitutional.


Concept: Federalism is the division of power between the federal government and the states. The Constitution delineates the scope of federal powers and reserves the remaining powers to the states.

  • McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): Addressed the balance of federal and state powers.
    • Issue: Whether Congress had the authority to establish a national bank and if a state could tax it.
    • Rule: The Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress the power to enact laws that are necessary and proper to execute its enumerated powers.
    • Analysis: The Court held that establishing a national bank was within Congress’s powers, and states could not tax it as it would interfere with federal powers.
    • Conclusion: Federal laws take precedence over state laws, and states cannot impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the federal government.

Separation of Powers

Concept: The separation of powers is the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another.

  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): Addressed the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
    • Issue: Whether the President had the authority to take possession of steel mills during a labor dispute.
    • Rule: The President’s power must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.
    • Analysis: The Court found no congressional statute that authorized the President to take possession of private property. The President’s military power as Commander in Chief did not extend to labor disputes.
    • Conclusion: The President did not have the authority to issue the order; it was an unconstitutional exercise of power.

Individual Rights and Liberties

Concept: The Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments protect individual freedoms and liberties from government infringement.

  • Freedom of Speech: The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of speech from government restriction.
    • Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969): Distinguished between permissible speech and advocacy for illegal action.
  • Equal Protection: The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection of the laws to all individuals.
    • Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.

The Fourteenth Amendment and Incorporation

Concept: Incorporation is the legal doctrine by which the Bill of Rights is made applicable to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

  • Gitlow v. New York (1925): Began the process of incorporating the Bill of Rights to apply to state governments.
    • Issue: Whether the First Amendment’s free speech clause applies to the states.
    • Rule: The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause prohibits states from infringing on fundamental personal rights recognized by the Bill of Rights.
    • Analysis: The Court held that freedom of speech is a fundamental right protected from state infringement.
    • Conclusion: States are not free to restrict freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.

Connecticut-Specific Constitutional Law

While the U.S. Constitution sets the federal standard, Connecticut’s state constitution operates within this framework but can provide broader rights.

  • Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health (2008): Connecticut Supreme Court case that expanded the rights of same-sex couples.
    • Issue: Whether Connecticut’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the state constitution.
    • Rule: The Connecticut Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process rights, potentially broader than those of the U.S. Constitution.
    • Analysis: The Court concluded that denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry was not substantially related to a legitimate state interest.
    • Conclusion: The state law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the Connecticut Constitution.

Preparing for the Final Exam

To prepare for the final exam in Constitutional Law, students should:

  1. Review and understand the key concepts outlined above.
  2. Read and brief all the major cases, using the IRAC format to focus on the issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion.
  3. Memorize significant constitutional provisions and understand how they apply to various legal questions.
  4. Analyze hypothetical situations using constitutional principles and cases to formulate arguments.
  5. Discuss the implications of Connecticut-specific cases and how they might diverge from federal interpretations.

Students should also consider forming study groups, attending review sessions, and seeking clarification from professors on complex topics to ensure a comprehensive understanding of material covered in the semester.

Discover more from Legal Three

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading