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Constitutional Law I
University of Mississippi School of Law
Alexandre, Michele

Constitutional Law


Spring 2016


Text, pp. 1-13 [for background]

What is judicial power?

Power to resolve cases and controversies


Power to interpret and apply the laws

common law and statutory law

Power to interpret the Constitution and declare statutes or executive acts unconstitutional

judicial review

Power to interpret the Constitution definitively

judicial supremacy

Marbury v. Madison46-53

William Marbury (plaintiff) was appointed Justice of the Peace of the District of Columbia by President John Adams at the close of Adams’ presidency. When the new president, Thomas Jefferson, assumed office, he refused to fully finalize Adams’ appointments of Marbury and several other appointees. Relying on Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, Marbury then brought an action in the United States Supreme Court against James Madison (defendant), Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel him to finalize Marbury’s political appointment.

(1) Does Marbury have the right to his judicial appointment?

(2) If he does have a right and that right is violated, does Marbury have a remedy under United States law?

(3) If Marbury is entitled to a remedy, is that remedy specifically a writ of mandamus as outlined in Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789?

Yes. Marbury does have a right to his commission as Justice of the Peace because he was lawfully appointed to that position by the President’s act of signing his commission, further enforced by his confirmation in the Senate.
(2) Yes. In this situation, Marbury is entitled to a remedy under federal law. The appropriate remedy depends on whether Marbury is merely a political agent of the President, or whether his commission has the effect of giving him a specific duty assigned by law. If Marbury is merely a political agent, he is not entitled to a remedy, but if Marbury was deprived of his ability to fulfill a duty assigned to him by law, then he is entitled to a remedy for that deprivation. In this case, Marbury was appointed by a legal act of the President. He was given legal title to the office of Justice of the Peace for the duration of his appointment. Thus, Madison’s refusal to finalize Marbury’s appointment interferes with Marbury’s legal title. Marbury is entitled to a remedy under federal law.
(3) It depends. Although a writ of mandamus would have been appropriate, Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which authorized the United States Supreme Court to give such a remedy, is unconstitutional. The Act allows the Supreme Court to have original jurisdiction over actions for writs of mandamus. However, this provision directly conflicts with Article III of the Constitution, which greatly limits the cases in which the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction and provides it with appellate jurisdiction in all other cases. The Act is unconstitutional because it seeks to expand the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction and therefore jurisdiction over Marbury’s claim cannot be exercised.

2. Obstacles to judicial review

Case or Controversy Requirement Text 78

If none of the named plaintiffs purporting to represent a class meets the case-or-controversy requirement, none may seek relief on behalf of himself or any other member of the class.
That requirement is not satisfied by general assertions or inferences that in the course of their activities respondents will be prosecuted for violating valid criminal laws
Does not apply to state courts

Muskrat v. United States 78-80

Ripeness and Mootness Doctrines

Ripeness = matter not yet a concrete controversy. i.e a suit filed too early pg 81

Basic rationale for ripeness doctrine is to prevent the courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements. Federal courts will not consider claims that have not yet developed into a controversy or that s wholly speculative

Mootness = stale/ matter no longer a live controversy.

Courts generally will not consider claims that are moot. That is, claims in which the parties no longer have any meaningful and concrete stake

Advisory Opinion

Political question doctrine = page 77

What is a non justiciable political question?

Matter committed to resolution by one or both of the political branches
No satisfactory criteria for judicial resolution
Inappropriate involvement of judiciary policy
Respect for coordinate branches
Sometimes separate

Area= foreign affairs, war/armed conflict, internal congressional matters (impeachment, expulsion of members, amendment process)

Standing pg 82

Generally, party must have sufficiently tangible and legally enforceable stake in a controversy to bring a suit


Injury in fact = an invasion of a legally protected interest that is a) concrete and particularized and 2. Actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical
Causation or traceability = the injury fairly can be traced to the challenged action of the D, not resulted from the independent action of some third party not before the court
Redressability (can you provide relief?) = a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision, meaning that the prospect of obtaining relief from the injury as a result of a favorable is not too speculative.

Redressability is rarely analyzed distinctly from causation, since generally if the D’s actions caused P’s injuries, an injunction

the parents do not have standing to sue on the first ground of their complaint because they have not alleged a sufficiently personal injury.
Additionally, the parents do not have standing to sue on their second claim because the chain of causation linking the alleged inability of their children to attend a desegregated school to the specific actions of the IRS is too attenuated. There is no evidence that if the IRS actually withheld tax-exempt status from these schools that the segregating policies would change. Moreover it is necessary to refuse standing to the parents in order to uphold separation of powers. The Court is required, under Article III of the United States Constitution, to adjudicate only actual “cases and controversies.” Hearing this case would require the Court to overstep its constitutionally-prescribed bounds as the judicial branch of the federal government. The judgment of the court of appeals, granting standing to the parents, is reversed.

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

The children are being denied the opportunity to attend desegregated schools. The allegation of this injury is enough to grant the parents standing.

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

The parents alleged a sufficiently personal injury to justify upholding their standing. The parents adequately alleged an “injury in fact” based on their second claim that the IRS’s actions prevented their children from attending desegregated schools. Additionally, the parents alleged sufficient causation between the actions of the IRS and the injury suffered by their children because the effect of the IRS’s actions was to subsidize “white flight” to private schools with segregating policies. There is no separation of powers bar to the Supreme Court’s adjudication of this dispute because these two elements were present.

Equal Protection

3. Slavery, the Constitution, and the Judicial Power

Slavery and the Constitution

Tools of interpretation matter:

Whether a court is influenced by originalist, textualist or an evolving approach

Time period of the decision and background of the judges of the judges matter in understanding reasoning and outcome