South Dakota Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. Introduction to Constitutional Law

Constitutional law deals with the interpretation and implementation of the U.S. Constitution. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions, and provides certain rights to the citizens.

Key Concepts:

a. Judicial Review: This is the ability of the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional. The case that established this concept is Marbury v. Madison (1803), where the Supreme Court declared for the first time an act of Congress void for being in conflict with the Constitution.

b. Separation of Powers: Defined in Articles I, II, and III of the U.S. Constitution, this principle asserts that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government are distinct and should not infringe upon each other’s authority.

II. The Structure of the Constitution

The Constitution consists of the Preamble, seven Articles, and 27 amendments. The Preamble introduces the Constitution and sets forth its purpose. The Articles detail the structure of the government, while the amendments provide for specific rights and deal with specific issues.

Key Concepts:

a. Article I (The Legislative Branch): This Article establishes Congress’s powers and limits, and details how members are elected.

b. Article II (The Executive Branch): This Article establishes the powers of the President, including the power to execute laws, veto legislation, command the military, and engage with foreign nations.

c. Article III (The Judicial Branch): This Article establishes the Supreme Court and defines treason.

III. Constitutional Rights and Freedoms

The Constitution provides for certain rights and freedoms, which are primarily detailed in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), but also in later amendments.

Key Concepts:

a. First Amendment Rights: These include freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. Notable cases include Texas v. Johnson (1989), which held that flag burning is protected speech, and Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which held that the state could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even though the use was part of a religious ritual.

b. Fourth Amendment Rights: This amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. A key case is Katz v. United States (1967), which extended Fourth Amendment protection to all areas where a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

c. Fourteenth Amendment Rights: This amendment provides for equal protection and due process. Notable cases include Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which held that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, and Roe v. Wade (1973), which held that a state law that banned abortions was unconstitutional.

IV. Federalism

Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a national (federal) government and various regional governments. In the context of the United States, this refers to the division of power between the federal government and the states.

Key Concepts:

a. The Commerce Clause: Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” The Supreme Court has traditionally interpreted the Commerce Clause broadly, thereby granting Congress wide latitude in regulating economic activity. A landmark case is Wickard v. Filburn (1942), where the Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate wheat production for personal use because it could have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.

b. The Tenth Amendment: This amendment provides that powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. However, the extent of these reserved powers has been a matter of long-standing dispute.

V. Supreme Court Justices and Judicial Philosophy

Understanding the beliefs and judicial philosophies of Supreme Court justices is crucial to understanding constitutional law. Key philosophies include judicial activism, judicial restraint, originalism, and textualism.

VI. South Dakota Specific Law

In South Dakota, the State Constitution is the guiding legal document. It mirrors the U.S. Constitution in many ways but includes specific provisions relevant to the state. Understanding these unique aspects is crucial for South Dakota law students.

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