West Virginia Law School 1L Study Guide for Constitutional Law

I. Overview of Constitutional Law

Constitutional Law deals with the interpretation and implementation of the United States Constitution. It outlines the structure of the federal government, the state’s powers, and the rights of individuals. In the context of West Virginia Law School, the focus is on the U.S. Constitution and West Virginia’s State Constitution.

II. Federalism

Federalism refers to the division of power and authority between the federal and state governments.

Case: McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
Issue: Whether Congress had the authority to establish a national bank, and if so, could the state of Maryland tax that bank?
Rule: Congress has implied powers to implement the Constitution’s express powers, and state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the federal government.
Application: The Court held that Maryland’s tax on the bank was unconstitutional as it interfered with the federal government’s constitutional powers.
Conclusion: This case established the broad interpretation of the Necessary and Proper clause.

III. Separation of Powers

The separation of powers refers to the division of governmental authority into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Case: Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952)
Issue: Whether the President has the power to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two of the Constitution or statutory authority conferred on him by Congress.
Rule: The President does not have the inherent authority to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated authority under Article Two or statutory authority.
Application: In this case, the Supreme Court invalidated President Truman’s order seizing steel mills to avoid a strike during the Korean War.
Conclusion: The case emphasized the importance of the separation of powers and how each branch is limited in its authority.

IV. Individual Liberties

This area covers the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, including freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition.

Case: Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
Issue: Whether compelling public schoolchildren to salute the flag is a violation of their First Amendment rights.
Rule: Compulsory unification of opinion is an infringement of First Amendment rights.
Application: The Court held that the First Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance at school.
Conclusion: This case underscores the protection of individual liberties from state actions.

V. Fourteenth Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment addresses many aspects of citizenship and the rights of citizens, most notably the equal protection of the laws.

Case: Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Issue: Does the segregation of public education based solely on race violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Rule: Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities are inherently unequal.
Application: The Court held that racial segregation in public education has a detrimental effect on minority children because it is interpreted as a sign of inferiority.
Conclusion: This case overruled Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), ending racial segregation in schools and was a landmark decision in the fight against racial discrimination.

VI. First Amendment

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

Case: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)
Issue: Does a prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public school, as a form of symbolic protest, violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections?
Rule: Students do not lose their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.
Application: The Court held that the armbands represented pure speech that is entirely separate from the actions or conduct of those participating in it, and the students did not lose their First Amendment rights when they stepped onto school property.
Conclusion: This case affirmed the protection of free speech in schools.

VII. West Virginia Constitution

While closely paralleling the U.S. Constitution, the West Virginia Constitution has some unique provisions, particularly in the areas of taxation, education, and natural resources. It also provides additional protections, such as the prohibition of hereditary emoluments and titles of nobility.

Case: Pauley v. Kelly (1979)
Issue: Does the West Virginia Constitution require the legislature to provide a “thorough and efficient” education for all children in the state?
Rule: The West Virginia Constitution requires the legislature to provide a thorough and efficient free school system.
Application: The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia held that the State’s system of financing education, which led to significant disparities in resources among counties, did not meet the “thorough and efficient” standard.
Conclusion: This case emphasized the state’s constitutional responsibility for education.

VIII. Judicial Review

Judicial review is the power of a court to decide on the constitutionality of a legislative act.

Case: Marbury v. Madison (1803)
Issue: Does the Supreme Court have the authority to order the delivery of commissions?
Rule: The Constitution grants the Supreme Court the power of judicial review.
Application: The court held that while Marbury was entitled to a remedy, the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 enabling Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was unconstitutional.
Conclusion: The decision helped define the boundary between the executive and judicial branches of government.

This study guide provides a broad overview of Constitutional Law as taught in a 1L class at West Virginia Law School. It covers the fundamental concepts and highlights some pertinent case law. Remember to delve deeper into each topic and understand how these principles apply in real-life legal situations.

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