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Constitutional Law I
University of South Carolina School of Law
Powell, Burnele Venable

Constitutional Law

Professor Powell

Spring 2013


Con. Law is primarily a class in political theory. Your goal is to understand the theories underlying the Constitution and be able to apply those theories to modern day conflicts.

Modalities of Constitutional Interpretation:

Constitutional Text

Original Intent

Constitutional Structure

History and Tradition

Fairness and Justice

Political Theory

Social Policy

Supreme Court Precedent

Legal Process Theory


Understanding Con. Law

Questions to Consider:

What principles of Constitutional interpretation are used in this case?

What principles of Constitutional law are relied on in this case?

How does this case affect the various branches of federalism?

Branch #1: The Federal Judiciary

Key Questions:

What are the duties of this branch?

What are the limitations of this branch?

How does this branch relate to the other branches?

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Single most important decision in American Constitutional law. Why? Established the legitimacy of federalism.

Rule: Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has the power– implied from Article VI, Sect. 2 of the Constitution– to review acts of Congress, and if they are found repugnant to the Constitution, to declare them void.

Key Quote by Justice Marshall: “It is emphatically the province of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to a particular case must of necessity expound and interpret that rule.”

Four Themes from Marbury:

1. Constitution is the “Supreme Law of the Land”

2. SCOTUS is the final arbiter of the Constitution

3. Article III is a ceiling for the SCOTUS’ original jurisdiction. For all other issues, SCOTUS can only review lower courts’ decisions

4. Separation of powers

Judicial Review of State Judgments

SCOTUS has authority to review decisions by state courts involving federal questions

· Cohen v. Virginia

· Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee

Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (1816)

Facts: Two conflicting claims to land in VA. VA Ct. of App. declared that Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction.

Rule: SCOTUS may review state court decisions involving questions of federal law.

Justification: Supreme Court review is essential to ensure uniformity in the interpretation of federal law.

Cohen v. Virginia

Facts: Appeal from a conviction under a VA law banning the sale of lottery tickets.

Rule: Reaffirmed decision in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (i.e., SCOTUS has jurisdiction)

· Article III, §2 gives SCOTUS appellate jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the US – “whoever may be the parties.”

· State

ng recommendations regarding pension was not of a judicial nature; since Ct.’s recommedations could be overturned, decisions were not final and thus advisory opinions

Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm

Facts: Congress changed Statute of Limitations for security laws, essentially re-opening cases that were previously dismissed

Result: SCOTUS held that Congress cannot pass legislation that would re-open cases that had already been finally adjudicated by the judiciary; Congress was treating Ct.’s final judgments merely as recommendations

· A judgment conclusively resolves a case because judicial power renders dispositive judgments

· Congress cannot enact retroactive legislation

Applying the Rules #1

The President is considering issuing an executive order that would dramatically reduce the federal government’s share of welfare payments for aid to families with dependent children (AFDC). The net effect of the order will be to require states to shoulder a larger percentage of the costs of AFDC. The President is uncertain whether the proposed executive order is consistent with relevant statutes and congressional funding mandates.