New Hampshire Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

New Hampshire Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Introduction to U.S. Constitutional Law

Before delving into New Hampshire-specific information, it is crucial to understand the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land, establishing the national government’s framework and fundamental laws. It is composed of the Preamble, seven Articles, and 27 Amendments, with the first 10 Amendments known as the Bill of Rights.

Key Concepts:
Supremacy Clause (Art. VI, Cl. 2): Establishes the Constitution, federal laws, and treaties as the supreme law of the land.
Separation of Powers: The division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another.
Checks and Balances: Each branch of government has the authority to limit the powers of the other branches.

Federalism and State Powers

Federalism is the division of power between the federal government and the states. Under the Tenth Amendment, all powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states or the people.

Key Concepts:
Tenth Amendment: Powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people.
New Hampshire State Constitution: The state’s governing document, which operates alongside the U.S. Constitution.

Judicial Review

Established in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803), judicial review is the power of courts to assess whether a law or governmental action is constitutional.

IRAC for Marbury v. Madison:
Issue: Whether the Supreme Court has the authority to issue writs of mandamus under Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789.
Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law, and any law repugnant to it is void.
Analysis: Section 13 expanded the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond what was provided for in Article III of the Constitution. Therefore, it was unconstitutional.
Conclusion: The Court established its power to review acts of Congress and determine their compliance with the Constitution.

The Commerce Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 3)

The Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with Indian tribes.

Key Cases:
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942): Broad interpretation allowing regulation of activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005): Affirmed the application of the Commerce Clause to local activities that are part of an economic class of activities with a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

The Necessary and Proper Clause (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cl. 18)

This clause grants Congress the authority to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the enumerated powers.

Key Cases:
McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316 (1819): Established that Congress can use any means not prohibited by the Constitution to carry out its powers.

The Contract Clause (Art. I, Sec. 10, Cl. 1)

The Contract Clause prohibits states from passing any law impairing the obligation of contracts. It primarily applies to state legislation, not federal.

Key Cases:
Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell, 290 U.S. 398 (1934): Allowed temporary relief from contractual obligations during an emergency (Great Depression) without violating the Contract Clause.

First Amendment

The First Amendment protects freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.

Key Concepts:
Freedom of Speech: Includes protections for speech, press, assembly, and petition.
Freedom of Religion: Encompasses the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

Key Cases:
Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969): Established the standard that speech advocating for illegal conduct is protected unless it is likely to incite imminent lawless action.
Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971): Established the Lemon test for determining whether a government action violates the Establishment Clause.

Fourteenth Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law, significantly impacting civil rights.

Key Concepts:
Equal Protection Clause: Requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all people within their jurisdictions.
Due Process Clauses: Found in both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, they guarantee fundamental procedural and substantive rights.

Key Cases:
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954): Declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973): Established a woman’s right to privacy under the Due Process Clause extends to making decisions about abortion.

New Hampshire-Specific Constitutional Law Considerations

While the U.S. Constitution sets the broad framework of governance, the New Hampshire State Constitution includes provisions and protections that may be specific to the state. Students should familiarize themselves with the New Hampshire State Constitution, focusing on areas where it may afford greater protections than the U.S. Constitution or where there are notable differences.


This study guide has outlined key concepts, cases, and principles in U.S. Constitutional Law with an emphasis on aspects relevant to New Hampshire law students. Mastery of these topics, including both federal constitutional provisions and state-specific nuances, is essential for success in a 1L Constitutional Law course and for understanding the broader legal landscape within which New Hampshire operates.

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