Iowa Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Iowa Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

The Structure and Powers of Government

Separation of Powers

  • Definition: The division of governmental powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
  • Case Law: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952)
    • Issue: Does the President have the inherent authority to seize private property in the absence of express statutory authority?
    • Rule: The President cannot take possession of private property without congressional authorization.
    • Analysis: The Court found that President Truman’s seizure of the steel mills during the Korean War was an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power.
    • Conclusion: The President’s action was invalidated.


  • Definition: The distribution of powers between national and state governments.
  • Case Law: McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
    • Issue: Can a state tax a federal institution, and did Congress have the authority to create a national bank?
    • Rule: States cannot tax the federal government and Congress has implied powers under the Necessary and Proper Clause.
    • Analysis: The Court held that the creation of a national bank was within Congress’s powers and that Maryland’s tax on the bank was unconstitutional.
    • Conclusion: The law taxing the federal bank was struck down.

The Commerce Clause

  • Definition: Grants Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.
  • Case Law: Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)
    • Issue: Does Congress have exclusive authority to regulate interstate commerce?
    • Rule: The commerce power is an exclusive power of Congress and extends to all aspects of interstate trade.
    • Analysis: The Court found that New York’s grant of an exclusive steamboat operating license conflicted with a federal license issued under an act of Congress.
    • Conclusion: The state grant was void as it was repugnant to the federal law.

The Spending Power

  • Definition: Congress’s power to spend money for the general welfare, including spending for issues that could affect interstate commerce.
  • Case Law: South Dakota v. Dole (1987)
    • Issue: Can Congress condition highway funds on states raising their legal drinking age?
    • Rule: Congress can attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds if the conditions are related to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs.
    • Analysis: The Court upheld the federal condition, noting it was for the general welfare and related to federal interest in highway safety.
    • Conclusion: The law was constitutional.

Individual Rights and Liberties

Judicial Review

  • Definition: The power of courts to declare laws and executive actions unconstitutional.
  • Case Law: Marbury v. Madison (1803)
    • Issue: Does the Supreme Court have the authority to order the delivery of the commissions?
    • Rule: The Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional.
    • Analysis: Chief Justice Marshall found that while Marbury had a right to the commission, the Court did not have the power to issue a writ of mandamus because the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 enabling it was unconstitutional.
    • Conclusion: Established the principle of judicial review.

The Bill of Rights and Incorporation

  • Definition: The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, originally applied only to the federal government; incorporation is the process by which these rights have been applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • Case Law: Gitlow v. New York (1925)
    • Issue: Does the First Amendment apply to the states?
    • Rule: The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause incorporates some of the Bill of Rights and applies them to the states.
    • Analysis: The Court held that free speech is a fundamental right protected by the Due Process Clause from impairment by the states.
    • Conclusion: Established the doctrine of selective incorporation.

Substantive Due Process

  • Definition: The doctrine that the Due Process Clause not only requires “due process,” but also protects certain rights from government interference.
  • Case Law: Roe v. Wade (1973)
    • Issue: Does the Constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?
    • Rule: Women have a fundamental right to privacy, which includes the right to choose an abortion, subject to certain limitations.
    • Analysis: The Court found that the right to privacy is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
    • Conclusion: The Texas statute making it a crime to procure an abortion except to save the mother’s life was unconstitutional.

Equal Protection

  • Definition: The principle that laws should not treat individuals differently without a satisfactory reason.
  • Case Law: Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
    • Issue: Does the segregation of public education based solely on race violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
    • Rule: Separate but equal facilities are inherently unequal and violate the Equal Protection Clause.
    • Analysis: The Court held that segregation in public schools creates a sense of inferiority that may affect students’ hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
    • Conclusion: Overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and declared that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

The Iowa Constitution

Distinctive Features

  • Iowa has its own constitution, which sometimes provides more protection for individual rights than the U.S. Constitution. For example, in the area of search and seizure, the Iowa Constitution may be interpreted to provide greater privacy protections.

Case Law: State v. Cline (2019)

  • Issue: Does requiring a warrant for a blood draw in an Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) investigation violate the Iowa Constitution?
  • Rule: The Iowa Constitution provides greater protection against unreasonable searches and seizures than the Fourth Amendment.
  • Analysis: The Iowa Supreme Court found that nonconsensual warrantless blood draws in OWI cases are unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution.
  • Conclusion: The Court held that the warrant requirement is fundamental and necessary to safeguard the privacy rights of Iowans against intrusive government action.

Iowa Equal Protection

  • Iowa’s equal protection analysis may differ from the federal approach. The Iowa Supreme Court has at times applied a more rigorous standard when reviewing laws that discriminate against certain classes of individuals.

Preparing for the Exam

To prepare for the final semester exam, students should:
– Review and understand the foundational cases and principles outlined in this guide.
– Analyze the differences between the U.S. Constitution and the Iowa Constitution.
– Focus on how the Iowa Supreme Court has interpreted the state constitution to provide broader protections in certain areas.
– Practice writing essay responses using the IRAC format to prepare for potential essay questions.
– Discuss hypothetical scenarios with classmates to explore how constitutional principles apply in various contexts.
– Review notes and outlines regularly to reinforce understanding and recall of material.

Please note that this guide is a starting point for study and review. Students should supplement this guide with class notes, case briefs, and discussions with peers and professors to fully prepare for the Constitutional Law exam.

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