Understanding what classes you will encounter in your first year will give you the one-up on the rest of your classmates. You do not need a full, in-depth understanding about what these classes entail, especially since each law school follows a different curriculum. However, it is a good idea to understand an overview of each course so you feel comfortable on your first day and comprehend the context of this subject of law. One of the first classes you encounter as a 1L is Constitutional Law.
Legal Realism vs. Textualism
Now, what the heck does this mean? These are legal schools of thought that you will see often in Constitutional Law. Essentially, they create the framework of legal arguments. Realism is the school of thought that endorses an objective view of law and rejects subjective application of rules and principles when rendering judgments. Textualism, on the other hand, favors a strict reading of statutes and laws. This is considered subjective because judges will apply their own knowledge and thoughts when rendering a judgment based on their interpretations. Overall, you will encounter legal schools of thought when interpreting cases, and of course, the Constitution.
One Case to Rule Them All: Marbury v. Madison
Most incoming law students have either heard of or have read Marbury v. Madison. Simply put, this is the case that established judicial review. This is not the only importance of this noteworthy case. “Judicial Review” as many know today, is the power vested in the judicial system of the United States to interpret the Constitution and decide what is and is not Constitutional. However, if you read the Constitution, there is no mention of the judiciary branch solely having this power. So how did they get this power? Well, Justice Marshall gave it to the Court. In this very interesting opinion, Justice Marshall leads you in one direction to essentially create his argument on why judicial review is important and why the judicial branch should have this power. You may think you’ll be finished with this case once you cover it, however, this case caused a domino effect and influenced many other Supreme Court cases.
Another important Constitutional Law subject is justiciability. This deals with whether or not the Supreme Court will be able to hear the case and/or if they can render a decision on it. This assessment has to be made because the Supreme Court is a court of very limited jurisdiction (I know, Civil Procedure flashbacks). Throughout the history of the Supreme Court, there have been doctrines for limiting the Supreme Court’s power to hear cases, and it is important to be familiar with all of them. First, the Court cannot issue advisory opinions, meaning there must be a concrete dispute of law because the Court cannot decide on issues in the abstract. Ripeness and mootness tie in together in that the Court must decide an issue that is ripe and not already decided or irrelevant. Standing deals with whether or not an individual may bring the suit: there must be an injury, in fact, that is redressable and the injury was caused by the Defendant’s actions. Finally, political questions deal with issues that are better dealt with by other branches of the United States government.
Reviewing with Scrutiny
Judicial review is a big part of Constitutional Law. There are different standards of review depending on the issues and circumstances. Strict scrutiny is a standard of review in which the Court will unilaterally strike down a law or statute if it involves a “narrowly tailored”/protected group. Rational-basis is a standard of review in which the Court will not strike down the law or statute if there was a rational basis for creating the law. Intermediate scrutiny is a standard of review between strict scrutiny and rational-basis in which the law or statute has to be substantially related to a legitimate state interest.
Constitutional Law Does Not Have To Be Hard!
Constitutional Law is a course that many law students struggle with. It is hard to see the big picture, so many individuals are confused on what exactly they are supposed to be getting from the class. Things will definitely be challenging at first (especially if it is your first semester!) but, as long as you work hard, you will survive Constitutional Law. If you need help understanding, get tutoring or purchase a supplement in order to fully grasp this difficult subject.
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