Con Law 1.1 – Overview


Welcome to basic principles of US constitutional law. This course is going to introduce the subject of United States constitutional law. The course introduces the primary themes of the US constitution, the basic principles of constitutional analysis, and the different kinds of constitutional arguments that lawyers, judges, and other constitutional interpreters typically use, and have long used throughout United States' history. Where appropriate, the course will underscore the dynamic interaction between constitutional interpretation by judges and ideas about the constitution outside the courts circulating in constitutional politics.

Along the way, I will offer tips for taking law school exams. I teach a number of different law courses to a number of different audiences, but this course, this basic course in constitutional law during the first year of law school is my favorite for a number of reasons, and I'll offer four as a way of what I hope will be getting you excited about the journey we're gonna take together.

First, constitutional law combines intellectual rigor and theoretical interest with huge practical stakes and impacts on the lives of real people. It's both intellectually stimulating and practically relevant.

Second, constitutional law combines the skills and knowledge of the best lawyers with insights from multiple academic disciplines, you probably have encountered during college, especially political science and history.

Third, constitutional law combines some straightforward black letter law with complex political and cultural influences that often confound efforts to articulate black letter law, and that caused the law to change more frequently than it does in other classes. And by black letter law, what I mean is judicial doctrine that has been around for a long time and is highly stable. There is always an effort throughout the first year of law school to figure out what the black letter law is, what the relevant rules and standards are, and we're gonna do that as well in constitutional law, but because of all of the different influences on constitutional law, it's often gonna be more difficult to simply articulate what the law is than it is in other courses.

Fourth and finally, constitutional law combines the decision making of judges with the beliefs, the practices, the commitments, and the decision making of a number of non-judicial actors, actors who are not judges, what is sometimes called the constitution outside the courts, or as I just mentioned, constitutional politics. I'll begin by talking in this first class about the constitutional texts, the historical background of the US constitution, and three vital functions or purposes of the constitution. In other words, I want us to get to know the US constitution as a forest before we drill down and examine specific trees, specific doctrines or features of the constitution. And so I'm gonna give you an overall view of the constitution, and a course that will focus on all major parts of it on the constitutional structure or the constitutional architecture of the constitution, as well as certain vital individual rights provisions, provisions that give people rights against the government.

So there are variety of functions or purposes that could be ascribed to the constitution, but I think any reasonable list would include the following three. First, the constitution defines the basic relationship between the federal government and the states, this is called federalism. Second, the constitution constitutes the national government. It creates the national government and divides and mixes powers among the three branches of the national government, this is called the separation of powers. And then third, the constitution protects individual rights. Those first two functions, federalism and separation of powers is what I mean when I refer to the constitutional structure or architecture. And the third function, protecting individual rights is what I mean when I talk about obviously, individual rights protected by the constitution.

The first part of the course, we'll focus on structure, and the second part of the course, we'll focus on rights. When we reconvene for the next segment, I will focus on this first function, federalism, controlling the relationship between the federal government and the states.


I. General Topics in this Course on U.S. Constitutional Law
* Themes of the U.S. Constitution
* Principles of constitutional analysis
* Types of constitutional arguments
* Interaction between judicial interpretation and constitutional politics
* Law school exam tips

II. Interesting Features of Constitutional Law
* Intellectually stimulating and practically relevant.
* Combines law and other academic disciplines.
* Combines black letter law (long-standing, stable judicial doctrine) with complex political and cultural influences.
* Combines judicial interpretation with constitutional politics (the beliefs, practices, commitments, and decision-making of non-judicial actors, outside the courts).

III. Overview of This Constitutional Law Course
A. Constitutional Text

B. Historical Background of the U.S. Constitution

C. Functions and Purposes of Constitution
i. Constitutional Structure (Part I of this Course)
1. Federalism
* The Constitution defines relationship between the federal government and the states.
2. Separation of Powers
* The Constitution creates the national government, while dividing and mixing powers among the three branches.
ii. Protect Individual Rights (Part II of this Course)

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