Maine Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Maine Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Constitutional Law is a foundational course for 1L students at Maine Law School. It encompasses the study of the United States Constitution, including its historical context, framework, and the various powers and rights it establishes. This study guide will cover essential topics including judicial review, federalism, separation of powers, and individual rights. Key cases will be presented using the IRAC (Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion) method, focusing on how these cases have shaped constitutional understanding.

I. Judicial Review and Constitutional Interpretation

Marbury v. Madison (1803)
Issue: Whether the Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine their constitutionality.
Rule: The Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review, affirming its authority to invalidate laws that conflict with the Constitution.
Application: The Court found that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which allowed Marbury to bring his claim directly to the Supreme Court, was unconstitutional because it extended the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what was set forth in Article III of the Constitution.
Conclusion: The Court held that it could not provide Marbury with a remedy because the relevant portion of the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional.

Discuss different methods of constitutional interpretation, such as textualism, originalism, and the living Constitution approach.

II. Federalism

Federalism refers to the division of powers between the federal government and the states. It is fundamental to understanding the constitutional framework of the United States.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
Issue: Whether Congress had the authority to establish a national bank and whether the State of Maryland could tax it.
Rule: The Constitution grants Congress implied powers (under the Necessary and Proper Clause) to implement its enumerated powers, and states cannot impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the federal government.
Application: The establishment of a national bank was a legitimate action by Congress, and Maryland’s tax interfered with federal supremacy.
Conclusion: The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government, establishing the supremacy of federal law over state law and affirming the broad interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause.

Discuss the Tenth Amendment and its implications for state powers.

III. Separation of Powers

This principle delineates the allocation of powers among the three branches of the federal government: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952)
Issue: Whether the President had the authority to seize and operate steel mills during wartime without Congressional approval.
Rule: The President’s power must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.
Application: President Truman’s seizure of the steel mills was not authorized by any Congressional statute nor by any constitutional grant of executive power.
Conclusion: The Court held that the President’s actions were unconstitutional, reinforcing the doctrine of separation of powers.

IV. Individual Rights and Liberties

The Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments guarantee certain fundamental rights to individuals.

A. First Amendment – Freedom of Speech and Religion

Discuss the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, and the varying standards of scrutiny applied in free speech cases.

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
Issue: Whether the state’s criminal syndicalism law, prohibiting public speech that advocates various illegal activities, violated Brandenburg’s right to free speech.
Rule: The First Amendment protects speech unless it is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.
Application: Brandenburg’s speech, while advocating violence, did not intend to produce immediate lawless action.
Conclusion: The Court overturned Brandenburg’s conviction, setting a precedent for the protection of speech that falls short of inciting immediate lawless action.

B. Fourth Amendment – Search and Seizure

Explain the exclusionary rule, the doctrine of reasonable expectation of privacy, and the various exceptions to the warrant requirement.

Katz v. United States (1967)
Issue: Whether the government’s eavesdropping on Katz’s phone calls in a public phone booth constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment.
Rule: The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places, and what a person seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.
Application: Katz had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone booth, and the government’s eavesdropping without a warrant constituted a search.
Conclusion: The Supreme Court ruled that the search was unconstitutional without a warrant, establishing the “reasonable expectation of privacy” test.

C. Due Process and Equal Protection (Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments)

Discuss substantive due process, procedural due process, and the levels of scrutiny (rational basis, intermediate scrutiny, strict scrutiny) used in equal protection cases.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Issue: Whether the segregation of public schools by race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Rule: Segregation in public education based on race violates the Equal Protection Clause because separate facilities are inherently unequal.
Application: Racially segregated schools convey a message of inferiority that has a detrimental effect on the education and personal growth of African American children.
Conclusion: The Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional, overturning the “separate but equal” doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson.

As you prepare for your final exam in Constitutional Law, focus on understanding the fundamental concepts and their application in key cases. Review the Constitution, its amendments, and the landmark decisions that have shaped its interpretation. Analyze cases using the IRAC method and be prepared to discuss the implications of these rulings on current legal issues.

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