Massachusetts Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Massachusetts Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. Introduction to Constitutional Law

  • The Role of the Constitution: It is the supreme law of the United States, laying out the national frame of government and fundamental principles and rights.
  • Federalism: The relationship between state governments and the federal government. Key concepts include the Supremacy Clause (Article VI) and the Tenth Amendment.

II. Judicial Review

  • Marbury v. Madison: Established the principle of judicial review, which allows courts to declare laws unconstitutional.
    • Issue: Was Marbury entitled to his commission? Could the courts force Madison to deliver the commission?
    • Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret it.
    • Analysis: The Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with the Constitution because it extended the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what the Constitution allowed.
    • Conclusion: The Supreme Court has the power to declare laws unconstitutional, but it could not force Madison to deliver the commission.

III. Separation of Powers

  • Checks and Balances: Each branch of government has powers that can be used to check the other branches.
  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer: Limited the executive power to seize private property without legislative authorization.
    • Issue: Did the President have the authority to seize and operate the steel mills?
    • Rule: The President’s power must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.
    • Analysis: There was no statute that expressly authorized the President to take possession of private property. The seizure was not within the President’s Article II powers.
    • Conclusion: The seizure of the steel mills was unconstitutional.

IV. The Commerce Clause

  • Gibbons v. Ogden: Established a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause, granting Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.
    • Issue: Did New York overstep its powers by granting a monopoly enforceable against vessels licensed under federal law?
    • Rule: The Commerce Clause gives Congress exclusive power over interstate commerce.
    • Analysis: Navigation of interstate waters for the purpose of conductive interstate commerce counts as “commerce.”
    • Conclusion: The New York law was void because it conflicted with federal law.

V. The Spending Clause and Taxing Power

  • South Dakota v. Dole: Upheld the use of conditional federal grants to influence state policy.
    • Issue: Can Congress condition highway funds on states raising the legal drinking age?
    • Rule: Under the Spending Clause, Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds to influence state policies if certain criteria are met.
    • Analysis: The conditions were for the general welfare, were clear and unambiguous, related to a federal interest in national projects, and did not induce constitutional violations.
    • Conclusion: The conditions on federal highway funds were constitutional.

VI. The Tenth Amendment

  • New York v. United States: Limited the power of Congress to compel states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program.
    • Issue: Could Congress compel states to take title to nuclear waste?
    • Rule: The Tenth Amendment prohibits federal commandeering of state governments.
    • Analysis: The “take title” provision directed states to regulate according to congressional instruction, which is impermissible commandeering.
    • Conclusion: The provision was unconstitutional.

VII. Substantive Due Process

  • Lochner v. New York: Introduced the concept of substantive due process, scrutinizing the reasonableness of government regulation related to liberty contracts.
    • Issue: Did the New York law violate the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
    • Rule: The Due Process Clause protects the right to enter into contracts.
    • Analysis: The law interfered with the freedom of contract without sufficient justification.
    • Conclusion: The law was unconstitutional.

VIII. Equal Protection Clause

  • Brown v. Board of Education: Overturned “separate but equal” doctrine, beginning the process of desegregation in schools.
    • Issue: Does segregation of public schools by race violate the Equal Protection Clause?
    • Rule: Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
    • Analysis: Segregation generates a feeling of inferiority among minority children.
    • Conclusion: The segregation of public schools based on race violates the Equal Protection Clause.

IX. First Amendment Freedoms

  • Freedom of Speech: Protected by the First Amendment but not absolute; subject to several recognized limitations.
  • Freedom of Religion: Includes the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, each with a complex body of case law.
  • Freedom of the Press: Protects the right to circulate opinions in print without censorship by the government.

X. Fundamental Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment

  • Roe v. Wade: Established a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion under the right to privacy.
    • Issue: Does the Constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?
    • Rule: The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides a fundamental “right to privacy,” which protects a pregnant woman’s choice.
    • Analysis: The state’s interest must be balanced against the woman’s right to privacy.
    • Conclusion: The Texas statute criminalizing abortion violated the Constitution.

XI. Massachusetts-Specific Constitutional Law

  • Goodridge v. Department of Public Health: Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates the state Constitution.
    • Issue: Does denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violate the Massachusetts Constitution?
    • Rule: The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals and forbids the creation of second-class citizens.
    • Analysis: The state offered no sufficiently compelling interest to justify barring same-sex couples from civil marriage.
    • Conclusion: The prohibition was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts Constitution.

XII. Review and Synthesis

  • Case Synthesis: Draw connections between the cases, noting how each builds upon or distinguishes itself from earlier cases.
  • Principles Application: Regularly practice applying constitutional principles to hypothetical situations in preparation for essay questions.
  • Multiple Choice Strategies: Develop a strategy for answering multiple-choice questions based on recognizing legal issues and applying relevant principles.

XIII. Exam Preparation

  • Practice Exams: Take past exams to become familiar with the format and to test your knowledge under timed conditions.
  • Outlining: Create detailed outlines of each topic covered in class, distilling the key points, and organize them into a manageable study guide.
  • Group Study: Form study groups to discuss and debate key concepts, which can aid in deepening your understanding of complex material.

Remember, this study guide is a starting point for your exam preparation. It’s important to review your class notes, read the cases in full, and consult your textbook and any supplementary materials provided by your professor.

Discover more from Legal Three

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

Continue reading