Rhode Island Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Rhode Island Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. Constitutional Law Basics

Constitutional law deals with the fundamental principles by which the government exercises its authority. It covers areas like the process of creating laws, the rights of individuals, and the establishment and role of political institutions.

  1. The U.S. Constitution: The supreme law of the land. It establishes the structure of the federal government and delineates the scope and limitation of its powers. Key principles include Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances, and Federalism.

  2. Interpretation of the Constitution: Methods include Originalism, Textualism, and the Living Constitution theory. Understanding these interpretative methodologies is crucial for Constitutional law practice.

II. Judicial Review

Established in Marbury v. Madison, Judicial Review gives the Judiciary the power to interpret the Constitution and invalidate laws that conflict with it.

Marbury v. Madison (1803): Marbury sought a writ of mandamus compelling Madison to deliver his commission. However, the Supreme Court held that the provision of the Judiciary Act conferring the Supreme Court original jurisdiction over writs of mandamus was unconstitutional. Thus, the court established the power of judicial review.

Issue: Whether the Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether they are unconstitutional.

Rule: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and when a law conflicts with the Constitution, the law must be deemed unconstitutional.

Application: The Judiciary Act was in conflict with Article III of the Constitution, and therefore the provision was unconstitutional.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court has the power to review acts of Congress and deem them unconstitutional.

III. Separation of Powers

The concept of Separation of Powers divides the federal government into three branches – Legislative, Executive, and Judicial, with each having separate and distinct powers.

Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952): The case involves an executive order by President Truman to seize steel mills to avert a strike during the Korean War.

Issue: Whether the President has the power to seize private property without explicit congressional authority.

Rule: The President’s power must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution.

Application: Since neither the Constitution nor Congress expressly provided for such authority, the executive order was deemed unconstitutional.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court ruled against President Truman, reinforcing the doctrine of Separation of Powers.

IV. Federalism

Federalism is a system of government where power is divided between the federal government and the state governments.

Gonzales v. Raich (2005): This case involved a California law allowing the medical use of marijuana and the federal Controlled Substances Act.

Issue: Whether Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause extends to the regulation of activities that are intrastate in nature.

Rule: Congress has the power to regulate activities that, taken in the aggregate, have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

Application: The production and use of home-grown marijuana, in the aggregate, could have a substantial impact on interstate commerce, and thus Congress had the power to regulate it.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court upheld the federal law, emphasizing the broad powers of Congress under the Commerce Clause.

V. Individual Rights

The Constitution guarantees individual rights through the Bill of Rights and other amendments.

i. Free Speech: Case law has defined parameters for free speech, including obscenity, hate speech, and political speech.

ii. Equal Protection: The Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction equal protection under the law.

iii. Due Process: The 5th and 14th Amendments guarantee that the government cannot deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

For Rhode Island law, the state constitution mirrors the U.S. Constitution in protecting these rights, but there may be differences in interpretation and application. Always cross-reference with Rhode Island case law and statutes.

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