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Constitutional Law I
St. Johns University School of Law
Nelson, Janai S.

Constitutional Law Outline – Nelson – Spring 2014

Judicial Power

• U.S. Constitution is the charter of the country, the basic law and structure of the government, distributes power among the governmental institutions it creates and provides the guiding principles for governing

• Not heavily detailed because not intended to specify every contingency that may occur, just guiding principles, allocations, and restrictions on power

• Confers and circumscribes power

• Constitution gets its power from the states

• Majority have to ratify

• Majority gets its power from the majority of the people who conferred the power to create a framework for governance

• Ongoing dialogue between the three branches to inform how the Constitution operates and how to represent the people

• Judicial Review

• “Arising under” Argument – article 3.2

o The constitution would have no meaning if it didn’t extend to Congressional Acts, so judicial review must cover congressional acts engaged in because of Congress’ power under the Constitution

o Would the court have work to do it if it didn’t review congressional acts?

• Oath Clause

o Judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution, how can they uphold if they cannot judge the constitutionality of congressional acts?

o Legislature takes the same oath, so why cant congress police itself and ensure the Court of their own policies? There is no way for Congress to reverse itself, Congress represents people whose ideas and values change frequently so there would be a number of interpretations and not enough continuity

• Supremacy Clause: supreme law of the land as the Supreme Court of the United States, obligated to enforce and ensure that the Constitution remains the supreme law of the land, requiring review of congressional acts for constitutionality and establishes that state laws and constitutions do not supersede the U.S. Constitution

• Marbury v. Madison

o Judicial review is consistent with the framework of the government and a constitutional democracy even if not explicitly stated in the Constitution

o Merits: SCOTUS does not have original jurisdiction, §13 is void because inconsistent with Article 3, and Congress cannot allow original jurisdiction beyond those articulated

• Not completely unrestrained because Congress can amend the Constitution to overturn a SCOTUS decision, political question doctrine, and Congress can make exceptions and regulate SCOTUS’ jurisdiction – a significant check on the judiciary

• Originalism

• Textual analysis confined to enforcing norms that are stated or clearly implicit in the written Constitution

• Concerned with reading new rights into the Constitution not expressly stated

• Limited to the four corners of the document

• Constitution can evolve only through amendments and not through interpretation

• Legislature should fill in the silence with amendments, not the courts

• States agreed to the Constitution long term so changing would be against the framer’s intent

• Text is the clearest indication of what the framers meant

• Confines the role of courts and address the counter-majoritarian and separation of powers

• Nonoriginalism

• Goes beyond the document and norms that cannot be discovered within the four corners of the document

• Takes into consideration changing values and societal mores, incorporates contemporary values and allows for rights that have never been enumerated in the Constitution (Roe, Brown)

• Evolution via amendments and interpretation in the spirit of the Constitution, elevates the role of the courts

• Courts will have to determine difficult issues not contemplated by the framers

• Infeasible to know what they knew on any given circumstance, relying on records is insufficient

• Marbury v. Madison (1803)

• Facts: Before leaving office to incoming president Jefferson, President Adams made a number of last minute judicial appointments. William Marbury’s appointment to justice of the peace for the District of Columbia, like other appointments, had the nomination of the President, the advice and consent of the Senate, the signature of the President, and the seal of outgoing Secretary of State John Marshall. However, the appointments that had not been delivered before the end of Adams’ term were disregarded by the incoming Jefferson administration. Marbury and others sought a writ of mandamus directly from SCOTUS to compel Jefferson’s secretary of state James Madison to deliver their appointments, supported by an affidavit from James Marshall affirming that the appointments were legitimate yet undelivered

• Rationale – Marshall: Marbury has a right to the commission he demands because the appointment was made upon Adams’ signature and the commission was completed when the seal of the US was affixed by Secretary of State Marshal, thus “withholding his commission is an act deemed by the court not warranted by law, but violative of a vested legal right.” The laws of the US do afford a remedy because appointments of commission, unlike political actions which are not examined by the courts, are ministerial actions the performance of which individual rights depend, giving an individual who considers himself injured a right to resort to the laws of the US for remedy. Question then becomes whether he is entitled to mandamus relief. Mandamus is the correct means of remedy because while the judicial branch cannot determine how the executive branch performs its discretionary duties, the judicial branch can determine whether heads of departments have kept with their duties directed by law to do a certain act affecting the absolute rights of individuals. Whether SCOTUS can issue the mandamus is the problem….

• Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 gives SCOTUS authorization to “issue writs of mandamus in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any courts appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the US.” So under the Judiciary Act, SCOTUS can issue the mandamus against Madison as a person holding an office under the authority of the US (secretary of state). However, “in all other cases,” aside from cases “affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls” where the Court has original jurisdiction, SCOTUS has only appellate jurisdiction. Thus, pg 6, “to enable this court to issue a mandamus it must be shown to be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction,” à SCOTUS does not have jurisdiction to issue a mandamus to Madison because the Court did not have appellate jurisdiction.

• Martin v. Hunter’s lessee (1816)

• Facts: Hunter claimed land given under a VA grant parceling out land holdings of Lord Fairfax seized from British loyalists during the Revolution. Martin claimed land under a devise from Fairfax, claiming that VA did not have title to the land prior to 1783 and that his title was protected under federal treaty provisions. In 1810 the VA Court of Appeals decided for Hunter, holding VA’s seizure of Fairfax lands effective. SCOTUS reversed in 1813 and instructed VA to enter judgment for Martin. VA refused arguing that appellate power of SCOTUS did not extend to state courts because the Constitution didn’t authorized federal courts to act directly on state court rulings and that Section 25 of the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional

paration of powers concern – the three branches of the government act as a check on each other, when they assume each other’s roles there is no longer a check

• Promotes judicial restraint and leaves to the legislature (politically accountable servants) the act of law making, ensures society that an unelected bench isn’t making laws, limiting the role of the courts

• Pragmatic concern: better brand of judicial adjudication where disputes are aired out through the adversary process with judges who have made decisions through the lends of an actual dispute

• Criteria to determine whether an advisory opinion is being asked for

• Is there an actual dispute between adverse litigants?

• Will the outcome have a binding effect?


• Is this specific person the proper party to bring the matter to the court for adjudication? Ask whether the plaintiff has a personal enough stake in the outcome sufficient to sharpen the issues for legal determination

• restrains “officious intermeddlers” people who want to argue the issues but have no stake in the litigation, no legal grievance or injury – floodgates

• promotes judicial restraint

• Constitutional limits on standing:

• Plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact, a legally protected interest which is

o a. concrete and particularized (not a general grievance) and

o b. actual and imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical (may or may not happen)

o *the harm/violation that brings the party to court

• Must be a causal connection between the injury and conduct complained of – injury must be fairly traceable to the challenged actions of the defendant and not a result of independent actions by a third party

• Redressability – Must be likely as opposed to speculative that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision, not just advice

o Whether a favorable court decision is likely to redress the injury

o If a party received a judgment, would it address their concern?

o If a defendant’s action cannot be clearly shown to cause the harm, then telling them to stop wont adequately remedy the issue

o A failure of causation necessary indicates an inability of redressability

• Ensures zealous advocacy – want to ensure the adversarial process and that all parties have stake, and that the court isn’t acting as the legislature

• Prudential limits on standing, generally not permitted but occasionally SCOTUS makes an exception

• Third Party Standing: plaintiff must assert own legal rights and cannot rest his claim of relief in the legal rights/interests of third parties. Parties must be directly injured, and the more likely to be recognized the closer the relationship and the greater the unity of interests with the rights holder

• General Grievances: abstract questions of wide public significance pervasively shared and most appropriately addressed in the representative branches