Michael M. Wechsler

St. Johns University School of Law Constitutional Law Outline

Extensive Constitutional Law Legal Outline, 170 pages, case reviews, 4 credit law school class

  1. Michael M. Wechsler
    Class Year:
    1995
    State Law:
    Federal Law
    Extensive Constitutional Law outline for a 4 credit law school class. Includes full case summaries, reviews, rulings, analysis, detailed sections of each area of Constitutional Law.


    I. Judicial Review

    Section 1: Early Challenges

    • Under the Supremacy Clause, the constitution is the Supreme law of the land, and therefore federal law trumps state law and the constitution trumps federal law.

    Marbury v. Madison - p.1
    Rule: USSC could override and strike down Congressional legislation that it found contrary to the Constitution.
    • The USSC is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and has the power, under the supremacy clause, and Article VI § 2, to review acts of Congress which are repugnant to the Constitution and find them unconstitutional.

    (Article VI §2: This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.)

    i. The constitution is the supreme law of the land and paramount law.

    ii. It is the duty of the court to day what the law is and the court, not the legislature, makes the determination as to whether a specific act of Congress is in conflict with the Constitution.

    iii. While there is criticism of the decision, that nowhere in the Constitution is it stated that the courts are to decide constitutionality of the acts of Congress, this assumption seems logical. Congress’ acts to correspond to passing laws that are in the interest of the majority, and it is the court’s role to determine constitutionality and protect the rights of minorities, who are naturally at a disadvantage based on the inherent weakness of our governmental structure. "It is the province of the courts to decide what the law is." Someone has or say something to congress as they might not care or know what the law is. They are the check against absolute power of congress

    Facts: Just before President Adams was to leave office, the Federalist Congress passed two acts which authorized the appointment of more federal judges and justices of the peace. Adams made the appointments, which Congress confirmed. The new midnight judges' commissions were signed by Adams and sealed by the Secretary of State (Marshall). However, by the time anti-Federalist Jefferson took office, several of the commissions remained undelivered. Jefferson ordered his new Secretary of State, D Madison, to withhold delivery, contrary to § 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which authorized the Supreme Court to issue writs of mandamus, in cases warranted by the principles and usages of law, to any court appointed, or persons holding office, under the authority of the United States." P Marry and other frustrated midnight appointees petitioned the Supreme Court to compel Madison to deliver the commissions.

    Issue: Does the Supreme Court have the power to declare congressional acts unconstitutional?

    Holding: D Yes, and there is no political question that the courts cannot answer.
    • The federal statute to grant the writ was declared unconstitutional because the issuance writs of mandamus in this case was contrary to Article III. § 13 of the Judiciary Act is unconstitutional, which gave the USSC original jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus.

    The Constitution, on the other hand, limits the Court's original jurisdiction to only designated cases (i.e., affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls and those in which a state shall be a party); in all other cases, the Supreme Court has only appellate jurisdiction.

    • The Constitution defines and limits the powers of the legislature. The legislature cannot alter the Constitution, which itself provides that it is the Supreme law of the land, by an ordinary act. To hold otherwise would render the Constitution only an absurd attempt to limit legislative power.

    • If an act of the legislature is repugnant to the Constitution, the Court must determine which of these conflicting rules governs the case.

    • The Constitution, if it is to have any meaning at all, must prevail. Art. III, § 2 provides that the judicial power of the United States is extended to all cases arising under the Constitution. A case arising under the Constitution cannot be decided without examining the instrument under which it arises. Courts cannot be permitted to look into some parts of the Constitution and not others.