Washington Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

Washington Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

  1. Principles of Constitutional Law

The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Its main principles include judicial review, separation of powers, federalism, and protection of individual rights. Judicial review, established in Marbury v. Madison (1803), allows courts to determine the constitutionality of laws. Separation of powers divides government into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial, each with its own powers and checks and balances over the others. Federalism is a division of power between federal and state governments. Lastly, the Constitution protects individual rights, including those of speech, religion, privacy, and due process.

  1. Constitutional Interpretation

Different methodologies exist for interpreting the Constitution. Originalists believe the Constitution should be interpreted as its authors intended. Textualists look at the literal words of the document. Pragmatists consider the practical implications of different interpretations. The correct approach is often debated.

  1. Judicial Review

Marbury v. Madison (1803) established this principle. It arose when Marbury sought a writ of mandamus to compel Madison to deliver a commission. The Supreme Court held that it lacked original jurisdiction, per Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, and that the Judiciary Act of 1789, which purported to extend the Court’s original jurisdiction, was therefore unconstitutional.

Issue: Can the Supreme Court review acts of Congress and determine their constitutionality?
Rule: The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review, which includes the ability to invalidate laws that conflict with the Constitution.
Application: The Judiciary Act of 1789, which attempted to extend the Court’s original jurisdiction, conflicted with Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution.
Conclusion: The Supreme Court can review acts of Congress and determine their constitutionality.

  1. Separation of Powers

Separation of powers divides the government into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Each branch has separate powers and can check and balance the others’ powers. One important case is Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952), where President Truman’s seizure of steel mills during the Korean War was held to be an unconstitutional exercise of legislative power.

  1. Federalism

Federalism is the division of power between the federal and state governments. The Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution establishes the federal law as the “supreme Law of the Land.” However, the Tenth Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the federal government to the states. An important case illustrating this principle is McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which held that states could not tax federal institutions.

  1. Individual Rights

The Constitution protects individual rights through the Bill of Rights and other amendments. Important cases include Roe v. Wade (1973), which established a woman’s right to choose an abortion under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), which held that an individual does not have a constitutional right to die.

  1. First Amendment

The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition. In Washington, state courts have protected these rights using a higher standard than the federal “compelling interest” standard. A key case is State v. Reece (1984), where the Washington Supreme Court held that the state’s lewd conduct statute was a violation of the First Amendment.

  1. Due Process and Equal Protection

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” or “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Important cases include Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which respectively held that racial segregation in public schools and bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

  1. Washington State Constitution

The Washington State Constitution contains many of the same rights as the U.S. Constitution but also includes additional protections, which have often been interpreted more broadly than their federal counterparts. For example, in State v. Gunwall (1986), the Washington Supreme Court found a broader right to privacy than that provided by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

This Study Guide provides a framework for understanding Constitutional Law as part of the Washington Law School 1L curriculum. It covers the main concepts, principles, and landmark cases, but students should supplement it with classroom notes, textbooks, and other materials to prepare for exams.

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