South Carolina Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. Overview of Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is the area of law that interprets and applies the Constitution, including the definitions of the roles and powers of the three branches of the government (the executive, legislature, and judiciary), and the rights of the citizens.

  1. The Constitution of the United States

The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States and is divided into seven articles, each detailing a specific aspect of governance. Every law student should have a deep understanding of each article and its relevant amendments.

  1. Federalism

Federalism is a system of government where power is divided between a central authority (federal government) and constituent political units (state governments).

Key case: McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) – This case established two important principles in constitutional law. First, the Constitution grants Congress implied powers for implementing the Constitution’s express powers, to create a functional national government. Second, state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government.

  1. Separation of Powers

The separation of powers is a fundamental doctrine of the US Constitution where the governmental powers are divided among three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.

Key case: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) – The Supreme Court limited the power of the President, ruling that the President could not seize private steel mills in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two of the Constitution or statutory authority.

II. Individual Rights and Liberties

  1. First Amendment

The First Amendment protects several basic liberties, including freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly.

Key case: New York Times Co. v. United States (1971) – The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the right of the New York Times to print the materials known as “The Pentagon Papers” despite the federal government’s contention that publication should be prohibited for national security reasons.

  1. Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unlawful searches and seizures. This means that the police must have a warrant to enter your home.

Key case: Mapp v. Ohio (1961) – This case established the “exclusionary rule” which holds that evidence gathered through an illegal search and seizure is inadmissible in court.

  1. Fourteenth Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment includes several key components: the Due Process Clause, which states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, and the Equal Protection Clause, which commands that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Key case: Brown v. Board of Education (1954) – The Supreme Court held that the racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

III. South Carolina Specific Laws

South Carolina Constitution has unique provisions, such as the right to religious freedom (Article I, Section 2), the right to bear arms (Article I, Section 20), and the prohibition of duel (Article I, Section 3).

Key case: Edwards v. South Carolina (1963) – The Supreme Court reversed the breach of peace convictions of 187 African American high school and college students who had marched to the South Carolina State House grounds in protest of a segregated society, holding that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights had been violated.

Constitutional law is a vast and complex field. The above study guide provides a basic understanding of the fundamental principles and some key cases. It’s crucial that you delve deeper into each topic, understand the various perspectives, the evolution of interpretation, and how these laws apply today.

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