Michigan Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Michigan Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. The Constitution

  • Structure and Principles: Understand the three branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial), separation of powers, federalism, and the system of checks and balances.
  • Constitutional Interpretation: Study the different methods of constitutional interpretation, including textualism, originalism, structuralism, and the living constitution approach.
  • The Amendment Process: Analyze Article V of the Constitution which outlines the process for amendments.

II. Judicial Review

  • Marbury v. Madison (1803): Established the principle of judicial review, which allows the courts to declare an act of Congress void if it is inconsistent with the Constitution.
    • Issue: Whether the Supreme Court had the authority to issue a writ of mandamus.
    • Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
    • Analysis: When the Constitution conflicts with an act of the legislature, that act is invalid.
    • Conclusion: The Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and declare them unconstitutional.

III. Federalism

  • Division of Powers: Understand the allocation of powers between the federal government and the states.
  • McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): Established the federal government’s implied powers and affirmed the supremacy of federal laws over state laws.
    • Issue: Whether the federal government had the authority to establish a national bank and whether a state could tax it.
    • Rule: The Necessary and Proper Clause gives Congress implied powers.
    • Analysis: States cannot impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the federal government.
    • Conclusion: The creation of a national bank was a constitutional use of Congress’s implied powers, and states could not tax it.

IV. Congressional Powers

  • Commerce Clause: Grasp the scope of congressional power to regulate interstate commerce (Gibbons v. Ogden).
  • Tax and Spend Clause: Understand Congress’s power to tax and spend for the general welfare (United States v. Butler).
  • War and Treaty Powers: Learn Congress’s powers regarding declaration of war and the implementation of treaties.

V. Limits on State Regulatory and Taxing Power

  • Dormant Commerce Clause: States may not pass legislation that improperly burdens or discriminates against interstate commerce.
  • Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV: Prohibits states from discriminating against citizens of other states in favor of their own citizens.

VI. Separation of Powers

  • Checks and Balances: Examine how the Constitution seeks to prevent any one branch from gaining too much power.
  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): Limited the executive power of the President during emergencies.
    • Issue: Whether the President has the authority to seize private property without explicit congressional authorization.
    • Rule: The President’s power must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.
    • Analysis: The President’s action was not authorized by Congress or the Constitution.
    • Conclusion: The seizure was unconstitutional.

VII. Individual Rights

  • Bill of Rights: Understand the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which provide protections for individual liberties.
  • Selective Incorporation: Learn how the Fourteenth Amendment has been used to apply Bill of Rights protections to the states (Gitlow v. New York).
  • Due Process Clause: Understand procedural due process (government must follow fair procedures before depriving a person of life, liberty, or property) and substantive due process (certain rights are so fundamental that the government cannot infringe upon them).

VIII. Equal Protection

  • Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: Analyze the requirements for government actions that classify individuals or groups.
  • Levels of Scrutiny: Understand the different levels of scrutiny applied by courts – rational basis, intermediate scrutiny, and strict scrutiny.
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
    • Issue: Whether segregation of public education based solely on race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
    • Rule: Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
    • Analysis: Segregation of public schools is a denial of equal protection of the laws.
    • Conclusion: Racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.

IX. Freedom of Speech and Press

  • First Amendment: Study the protections for freedom of speech and press, and limitations on these freedoms.
  • Content-based vs. Content-neutral Restrictions: Understand the difference and how they are analyzed by courts.
  • Clear and Present Danger Test: Learn when speech can be limited based on its potential to cause harm (Schenck v. United States).

X. Freedom of Religion

  • Establishment Clause: Analyze the prohibition on the government establishing a religion.
  • Free Exercise Clause: Understand protections for the practice of religion and the limits to which the government can burden this practice.

XI. Rights of the Accused

  • Fourth Amendment: Study the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the requirement of probable cause for warrants.
  • Fifth Amendment: Understand the right against self-incrimination and protection from double jeopardy.
  • Sixth Amendment: Analyze the right to a fair trial, including the right to a public trial, an impartial jury, and counsel.

XII. Privacy Rights

  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): Recognized a constitutional right to privacy in marital relations.
    • Issue: Whether the Constitution protects the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on contraception.
    • Rule: The Bill of Rights has penumbras, formed by emanations from specific guarantees that help give them life and substance.
    • Analysis: The Constitution protects the right of marital privacy.
    • Conclusion: Connecticut’s law criminalizing the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy.

XIII. Civil Rights and Liberties in Michigan

  • State Constitution: Familiarize yourself with the Michigan Constitution and understand how it can offer more expansive rights than the U.S. Constitution.
  • Michigan Civil Rights Commission: Study its role in enforcing civil rights laws within the state and the protections it provides.

Remember that this guide serves to outline the major topics and landmark cases you will likely need to know for an introductory Constitutional Law course. However, it is important to supplement this guide with case briefs, class notes, and your course’s specific reading materials. Be sure to also review Michigan-specific laws and cases, as state interpretations and applications of the law can sometimes differ from federal understandings.

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