Minnesota Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law
I. Introduction to Constitutional Law
Constitutional law in the United States governs the interpretation and implementation of the U.S. Constitution. It defines the scope of federal government powers and delineates the relationship between the federal government and the states, as well as the rights of individuals.
II. The Structure of the Constitution
– Understand the Preamble, seven Articles, and 27 Amendments.
– The Constitution’s framework establishes the three branches of government: Legislative (Article I), Executive (Article II), and Judicial (Article III).
III. Judicial Review
– Marbury v. Madison (1803): Established the principle of judicial review, giving courts the power to declare statutes unconstitutional.
– Issue: Whether the Supreme Court had the authority to issue a writ of mandamus.
– Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law, and it is the duty of the judiciary to interpret it.
– Analysis: The Court found that the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with the Constitution because it extended the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what Article III allowed.
– Conclusion: The Court held that the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional and thus established the principle of judicial review.
IV. The Federal System of Government
– Federalism: The division of power between federal and state governments.
– McCulloch v. Maryland (1819): Confirmed the federal government’s implied powers and established supremacy of the Constitution and federal laws over state laws.
– Issue: Whether Congress had the authority to establish a national bank and if the state of Maryland could tax it.
– Rule: The Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress implied powers for implementing the Constitution’s express powers, and federal laws have supremacy over state laws.
– Analysis: The Court determined that establishing a national bank was an implied power necessary and proper for carrying out the government’s express taxing and spending powers.
– Conclusion: Maryland’s tax on the bank was unconstitutional as it interfered with federal powers.
V. The Separation of Powers
– Understand the concept of checks and balances designed to prevent any single branch from gaining too much power.
– Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): Limited the President’s power to seize private property without Congressional authorization.
– Issue: Whether the President had the authority to seize steel mills during a labor dispute.
– Rule: The President’s power must stem from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.
– Analysis: The Court found no Congressional statute or Constitutional provision that authorized the President to seize private property.
– Conclusion: The seizure was unconstitutional as it was not within the President’s power.
VI. The Commerce Clause
– Article I, Section 8, Clause 3: Gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states, with foreign nations, and with Native American tribes.
– Wickard v. Filburn (1942): Broadly interpreted the Commerce Clause to allow federal regulation of intrastate activities if they have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
– Issue: Whether the federal government could regulate wheat production intended for personal consumption.
– Rule: Activities that are local in nature can be regulated under the Commerce Clause if they have a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.
– Analysis: Filburn’s wheat production reduced his market demand, which in aggregate with similar actions by others, could affect interstate commerce.
– Conclusion: The regulation was a permissible exercise of Congress’s Commerce Clause power.
VII. The Dormant Commerce Clause
– The Dormant Commerce Clause refers to the prohibition, implied by the Commerce Clause, against states passing legislation that discriminates against or excessively burdens interstate commerce.
VIII. The Taxing and Spending Powers
– Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes, tariffs, excises, and duties, and to spend funds to provide for the common defense and general welfare (Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1 and 2).
IX. The Tenth Amendment
– Reserves powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, to the states respectively, or to the people.
– Understand the concept of state sovereignty and its limitations.
X. Individual Rights and Liberties
– The Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the Constitution that enumerate specific protections for individual liberties.
– Discuss critical amendments and rights, including freedom of speech, religion, due process, and equal protection.
XI. The Fourteenth Amendment
– Key clauses: Citizenship, Privileges or Immunities, Due Process, and Equal Protection.
– Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
– Issue: Whether segregation of public schools by race violated the Equal Protection Clause.
– Rule: Separate but equal facilities are inherently unequal and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
– Analysis: Segregation of public schools based on race instills a sense of inferiority and denies minority children equal protection under the law.
– Conclusion: Unanimously held that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
XII. Freedom of Expression
– First Amendment: Protects freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.
– Texas v. Johnson (1989): Affirmed the right to burn the American flag as an example of constitutionally protected free speech.
– Issue: Whether flag desecration is protected speech under the First Amendment.
– Rule: The government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.
– Analysis: The Court determined that flag burning constitutes expressive conduct that has a clear political message and is protected by the First Amendment.
– Conclusion: The conviction for flag desecration was overturned, and the relevant Texas law was struck down.
XIII. Freedom of Religion
– Establishment Clause: Prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.”
– Free Exercise Clause: Prohibits the government from interfering with the practice of religion.
XIV. Due Process and Equal Protection
– Due Process Clause: Prohibits the states and the federal government from depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
– Equal Protection Clause: Requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.
XV. Reviewing and Analyzing Case Law
– Develop skills in case briefing using the IRAC method (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion).
– Apply these skills to hypothetical scenarios to practice for essay questions on exams.
XVI. Minnesota-Specific Constitutional Issues
– While the U.S. Constitution sets a floor for individual rights, the Minnesota Constitution may provide additional protections.
– Be familiar with any Minnesota Supreme Court cases that interpret the state constitution’s provisions, particularly where those provisions afford greater rights than the U.S. Constitution.
This study guide provides an overview of key topics within Constitutional Law. Students should delve deeper into each topic, read and brief all cases mentioned, and consult their classroom materials and casebooks for more detailed treatments of the legal principles and their applications. Additionally, students should remain abreast of any updates or changes in the law that may have occurred after the knowledge cutoff date for this guide.