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Constitutional Law I
SUNY Buffalo Law School
Gardner, James A.

Anatomy of most Supreme Court decisions

Basic structure

Roman numeral I usually contains the facts
Roman numeral II usually contains the threshold argument
Roman numerals III forward usually contain all other arguments
It is important to pay attention to all the signals within the section and subsection for an outline of the arguments the court is making

The issue in all Con. Law cases is whether or not the provision in controversy is constitutional (one party will say it is, the other will say it is not)

Types of Arguments used to support positions


Relies on words and their meanings

o Framers’ intent argument

Try to decipher the purpose behind the clause

o Argument from bad consequences

Want to pick interpretations that lead to good consequences

o Democratic theory argument

Aims to further democratic principles

o Precedent argument

Relies on previous court decisions to support conclusions being reached in the current case

o Historical argument

Uses past experiences to evaluate the current situation
Related to intent argument- look at the experience of the framers to ascertain their intent when making the Constitution

o Logic/common sense

Looking at it, a certain interpretation naturally seems right

o Other provision

Use one article/section/clause to explain another
Based on the principle that the Constitution should be read as a harmonious whole (like a contract)

· Identifying arguments in a Supreme Court decision

U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thorton, 514 US 779 (1995)

Issue- is the Arkansas amendment imposing term limits on its representatives constitutional?
Holding- the Constitution forbids states from adding or altering qualifications specifically enumerated in the document

Ø Precedent argument- Powell v. McCormack reasoning
· English experience with Wilkes affair (HISTORICAL argument filtered through the experience of the framers to ascertain their intent)
· Democratic principles (people should choose freely who governs them)
Ø Court determines holding in Powell (that CONGRESS cannot change qualifications for representatives) applies to states as well
· Court rejects the argument that under the 10th amendment this is a power reserved by the states (LOGIC argument- power did not exist until the Constitution was passed, be

he Kings abuses (petitioned for redress, appealed to native justice and magnanimity, appealed to their brotherhood, etc)
· Nothing has worked, so they declare independence
Ø The Articles of Confederation followed the Declaration of Independence
§ Collapse of the Articles of Confederation
Ø Problems with the Articles
· No sovereign/executive power creates an inability to have an effective foreign policy
· No national taxation power meant the US couldn’t get the funding it needed. The government had to flee Philadelphia. Because of this, the government is now in DC so it can always feel protected
· Lack of national power to regulate commerce between the states
Ø These problems led to the Constitutional convention
· The Convention violated two key rules
ü Violated key task by making a new document instead of revising the Articles
ü Violated unanimity in adoption rule

The United States Constitution

o What is its purpose?
§ Form a more perfect union
§ Establish justice
§ Ensure domestic tranquility ALL FOUND IN THE PREAMBLE!!
§ Provide for the common defense
§ Promote the general welfare
§ Secure the blessings of liberty