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Constitutional Law I
University of Connecticut School of Law
Spencer, Douglas M.

Constitutional Law Outline

Spring 2015 – Professor Spencer


A. The Constitution is interpreted by 3 actors:

1. Supreme Court

– Article III

b. S1 Judicial Power of U.S. will be vested in one Supreme Court.

c. S2 The judicial power shall extend to all cases

2. Congress and the Executive Branch

– Article VI

b. “Senators and representatives… shall be bound by oath or affirmation under this constitution”

3. We The People

– PREAMBLE: “We the people… do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America”

B. What Does the Constitution Do?

1. Establishes a national government.

– Representation

– Slavery, Art. 1 S2, S9

– Enumeration of Rights

2. Enumerates and allocates the power of the national government.

– Checks and Balances

3. Control the Relationship between Federal and State governments.

– RULE: Article 1: Default power of the constitution falls onto the states. Only thing the Federal government can do is regulate things.

– More checks and balances

– Specialization

– 10th Amendment

4. Protects individual rights by limiting government power.

– Bill of Rights

5. Entrenches the allocation of power and protection of rights.

– Longevity, constitution changes with every generation



– RULE: Text is the only part of the Constitution that is ratified.

– Focuses on the meaning of the words

– Limits what the court can do

– Judges should only protect values only stated in the Constitution as that was what was agreed upon

– LIMITS Supreme Court Judges: types of cases that can be heard (where Constitution is silent; such as privacy rights on the web)

– RULE: If it isn’t in the text, then you’re not allowed to talk about it

– Judicial Review: Not only allows interpreting rules, but also creating new ones.


· The text is vague and ambiguous. Example: Article II, S1?

· The words don’t always give an obvious meaning (a limitation on this method of interpretation)


– Words repeat several times in the constitution, so you can compare/contrast them in order to decipher their meaning. For example; the word “inferior”.


· Provides interpretational clarity and limits judicial authority/discretion on behalf of the judges.

· Prrovides a source of interpretation.


· Assumes the constitution is a coherent document (unproven, it is unclear what the writers throught about in regards to every word that was written)

· This differs to how carefully contracts are written today.


– Looks at the original intent of the framers or the ones that actually wrote the constitution; OR

– The original understanding of the voters who ratified it (PUBLIC MEANING).


· Limits what the courts can do.

· Provides some predictability of what the court is going to do.


· It is hard to know what the framers actually meant/hard to think about the intent of a group.

· There is no reason that the dead should govern us.

· The C was passed undemocratically. (small amount of people could vote back then)

· Leads to the rigid interpretation of the C and prevents it from applying to our current needs. THERE IS A CRUX BETWEEN THIS AND…


– To promote common values/common commitment to our nation.

– The C should be responsive to our context at hand. Flexible.


· Results are too unpredictable/inconsistent

· Gives the Court too much power: Sometimes the personalities of the judges will decide rather than the law.

– RULE: Judicial Activism: Unelected court tells the legislature what to do.


– RULE: When interpreting the C, the court should follow precedent.

– RULE: If tradition of a right, then the Supreme Court should protect it.

– Supreme Court should use stare decisis.

– RULE: Once the laws developed, they should be followed in order to ensure failrness and consistency.

– Same situation = same outcome.

– PRO: Ensures continuity and predictability.

– CON: Sometimes the court is wrong.

Note: When reading cases, think if the judge’s opinion/reasoning is right/wrong, and articulate what method of i

and Controversies Clause.

– RULE: “We won’t take up any issue unless there is a case or controversy.”

– Based on the Separation of Powers; confines the federal courts to adjudicating actual cases and controversies.

– Hypo: Congress sends a bill to the Supreme Court to see if it’s constitutional. This doesn’t happen and why?

b. Because this is not what they engage in; if they say it’s unconstitutional Congress can still do it, there needs to be a case and controversy. (S.C. can be ignored)

c. Supreme Court does not give advisory opinions; they also do not like be ignored.

B. STANDING (Constitutional requirements/elements)

1. Injury in fact.

– RULE: Have to show the injury is personal to you. No injury = nothing to fix; court would be wasting it’s time.

b. Allen v. Wright: (criteria) IRS gave tax cuts to schools, P sued because white kids would just go to other schools. P alleges two injuries: (1) Harmed directly by tax cut to discriminatory schools; and (2) this will impair their ability to have public schools desegregated because white kids will just go to the discriminatory schools. Court said there is no standing to litigate either harm: (1) is not an injury, and (2) an injury, but it is not traceable to the IRS.

– To common law (property, tort, contract)

– To constitutional right (unreasonable search and seizure)

– To statutory right

c. Mass v. EPA: (application of standing) EPA wasn’t regulating GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. Question was how is the P’s injury traceable to the EPA? Court held there was standing; the link was the ocean level rising, flooding coastal lands because of the GHG’s that the EPA was supposed to regulate. (violation of a statutory right, in this case, the Clean Air Act)

– Must be to personal interest (Lujan)