Constitutional Law, Meyer, Spring 2010
Constitutional Law Outline
· The Constitution Functions
o Creates National Government and Separates Powers
§ Horizontal division of power among 3 branches of governments)
· This deters from any one branch being able to make drastic changes (checks and balances)
o Divides Power Between the Federal and State Governments (Federalism
§ Vertical division of power between the federal government and the states
· 10th amendment: powers not conferred to the federal government are reserved to the states
o Guarantees of individual rights and liberties
§ E.g. Bill of Rights
· Why a constitution?
o A Constitution is unique because it is difficult to change
§ Prevents both tyranny of the majority and tyranny of kings/dictators thus protecting the rights of the minority from oppression by social majorities
§ A Constitution is society’s attempt to tie its own hands, to limits its ability to fall pretty to weaknesses that might harm or undermine cherished values.
o First, the Constitution needs to be understood as an intentionally anti-majoritarian document.
o Second, the Constitution should be appraised from the perspective of whether it has succeeded in restraining the majority especially in times of crisis and successfully protecting minority’s rights.
o Third, viewing the Constitution as a way of protecting long-term values from short-term passions poses a basic problem in constitutional interpretation
§ Three factors make Constitutional interpretation uniquely complicated
· First countless problems arise that the Constitution does not expressly consider.
· Second, even where there are Constitutional provisions much of the Constitution is written an open-textured language?
· Third, inevitably in Constitutional law, courts must face the question of what if any, government justifications are sufficient to permit the government to interfere with a fundamental right or to discriminate
· Who should be the Authoritative Interpreter of the Constitution
o Approach #1: No Authoritative Interpreter
§ Each branch of the government would have equal authority to determine the meaning of the Constitution and conflicts would be resolved through political power and compromise.
· Popular constitutionalism: alternative role that allows courts to say what they think constitution means but also that other actions should have same ability to uphold constitution according to their oath of office. Ultimate arbiters would be the “the people” who could respond. Argument is that this would be a more robust system
o Approach #2: Each Branch Is Authoritative in Certain Areas
§ Each branch would be the authoritative interpreter for some constitutional provisions.
§ Arguably, this best describes what is used now (as reflected by political question doctrine)
o Approach #3: The Judiciary Is Authoritative Interpreter
§ Although every governmental institution interprets the Constitution, one branch is assigned the role of umpire (likely the judiciary); its views resolve disputes and are final until reversed by constitutional amendment.
Federal Judicial Power
· Authority for Judicial Review
o Constitution is silent on if the Supreme Court and other federal courts have the authority to engage in judicial review
o Authority of judicial review was announced in Marybury v. Madison
§ Marbury v. Madison (United States Supreme Court, 1803)
· Key Facts: John Adams appointed 42 justices of the peace on the last week of his presidency and the senate confirmed his nominations. Secretary of State (and Chief Justice) John Marshall signed the commission but was unable to deliver the commission to William Marbury before Jefferson term begun. Willaim Marbury filed suit in the United States Supreme Court seeking a writ of mandamus to compel Madison (the secretary of state) to deliver the commission stating the Judiciary Act of 1789 authorized the Supreme Court to grant mandamus in a proceeding filed initially in the Supreme Court.
· Overall Holding: The Supreme Court ruled against Marbury and held it could not constitutionally hear the case as a matter of original jurisdiction. The Court held that although the Judiciary Act of 1789 authorized such jurisdiction, this provision of the statute was unconstitutional because Congress cannot allow original jurisdiction beyond the situations enumerated in the Constitution.
· Issue #1: Does Marbury have a right to the commission?
o YES: “that when a commission has been signed by the president, the appointment is made; and that the commission is complete when the seal of the United States has been affixed to it by the secretary of state.” Delivery is merely custom and therefore withholding Marbury’s commission was “violative of a vested legal right”
· Issue 2: Do the laws afford Marbury a Remedy?
o YES: The judiciary could provide remedies against the executive when there is a specific duty to a particular person, but not when it is a political matter left to executive discretion.
· Issue 3: Can the Supreme Court issue this remedy? Is mandamus an appropriate Remedy?
o Writ of mandamus is appropriate here and the Court has the authority to issue it.
o However, the law authorizing the Supreme Court original jurisdiction (Judiciary Act of 1789) for a suit for mandamus is unconstitutional. Article III enumerating its original jurisdiction for the courts and Congress could not enlarge it.
§ Note: it is not clear that the Judiciary Act actually expands the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus in cases of original jurisdiction
o The Supreme Court can declare laws unconstitutional
· Constitution imposes limits on government powers and these limits are meaningless unless subject to judicial enforcement
· It is inherent in the judicial rose to decide the constitutionality of the law it applies.
· Court’s authority to decide cases “arising under the Constitution” implied the power to declare unconstitutional laws.
· Judges take oath of office to protect the Constitution.
· Article VI makes the Constitution the “supreme law of the land”
§ Important lessons from Marybury v. Madison
· It creates authority for judicial review of executive actions
o Court draws a distinction between areas in which there are in
preferable method of interpretation because it is the approach intended by the framers.
§ Note: A range of alternative viewpoints exist within the Originalism and Nonoriginalsim dichotomy
o Justiciability Limits
§ Article III §2 authorizes federal courts to hear several types of cases and controversies. The Supreme Court has interpreted these words as giving rise to a series of limits on the federal judicial power. These limits are frequently referred to as justiciability doctrines which are limits on the matters that can heard in federal courts. Other justiciability doctrines are derived from the need for prudent judicial administration. Neither the text of the Constitution, nor the framers in drafting the document, expressly mentioned any of these limits on the judicial power.
§ Function of justificability doctrines
· Meant to define the role assigned to the federal judiciary so as not to intrude into areas committed to the other branches of government (limit judicial power; separation of powers)
· Improve judicial decision making by providing the federal courts with concrete controversies best suited for judicial resolution
· Conserve judicial resources
· Fairness (e.g. prevents courts from adjudicating rights of parties not in a lawsuit)
§ 5 Types of Justiciability Limits
· (1) Prohibition against advisory opinions
o The core of Article III’s requirement of “cases and controversies” is that the federal court cannot issue advisory opinions. Prevents federal courts giving advice to the executive or legislative branch. Goal is to prevent the judiciary branch from becoming entangled in policy-making.
o What characteristics must be present in a lawsuit to avoid being an advisory opinion
§ There must actually be a dispute (not hypothetical legal questions).
§ There must be a substantial likelihood that a federal court decision in favor of a claimant will bring about some change or have some effect
· (2) Standing
o Standing is the determination of whether a specific person is the proper party to bring a matter to the court for adjudication.
§ Traditional standing requirements
o Massachusetts v. EPA (Supreme Court, 2007)
§ Facts: A group of petitioners (including Massachusetts) is suing the EPA for abdicating its responsibility to regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases (specifically regarding emissions of new cars)
§ Issue: Does the Massachusetts have standing to sue the federal government?
§ Holding: Standing requirements have been met