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What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Sun Mar 22, 2015 8:06 pm
by Manteca
I know this seems like a dumb question, but I'm honestly struggling to figure out how to outline this class. Chemerinsky's supplement is great for explanations, but I have no idea how to use all this info on an exam. Every other class I've had to outline for is pretty straightforward but I'm having difficulty figuring out where to start here.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Sun Mar 22, 2015 11:17 pm
by Aeon
On my outline, I'd split up the topics along broad lines. For example:
  • Judicial review (basic framework, judicial interpretation, limitations)
  • Federalism (commerce clause, power to tax and spend, state sovereignty)
  • Separation of powers (legislative, executive (executive privilege, immunity, etc.))
  • Protection of individual rights (race and the Constitution (equal protection clause and race-based classifications), sex-based classifications, privileges or immunities clause, substantive due process)
  • Congressional power to enforce reconstruction amendments

Within those topics, I put the rules and relevant doctrines with case references. In Con Law, each case pretty much stands for one rule, so that's not too difficult. I'd actually found outlining for the course to be easy, since you're looking pretty much exclusively at case law.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 7:52 pm
by Mamba1991
Aeon wrote:On my outline, I'd split up the topics along broad lines. For example:
  • Judicial review (basic framework, judicial interpretation, limitations)
  • Federalism (commerce clause, power to tax and spend, state sovereignty)
  • Separation of powers (legislative, executive (executive privilege, immunity, etc.))
  • Protection of individual rights (race and the Constitution (equal protection clause and race-based classifications), sex-based classifications, privileges or immunities clause, substantive due process)
  • Congressional power to enforce reconstruction amendments

Within those topics, I put the rules and relevant doctrines with case references. In Con Law, each case pretty much stands for one rule, so that's not too difficult. I'd actually found outlining for the course to be easy, since you're looking pretty much exclusively at case law.


This is helpful. I share OP's concerns over a Con Law exam. I'm struggling to reconcile what seems like an infinite overlap of concepts in my course. For example, issues like substantive due process (economic rights, privacy rights under the 14th amendment) bring up concerns like Federalism (state power to pass laws concerning these issues), separation of powers (Judiciary's ability to overturn laws that violate DP), and basic issues of legislative authority. It just seems like the issues are so much more nuanced than a single rule. The "R" portion of an IRAC answer seems like it could go on forever, and as we all know, the analysis is where one makes their $. Any thoughts on this?

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:25 pm
by Aeon
Mamba1991 wrote:This is helpful. I share OP's concerns over a Con Law exam. I'm struggling to reconcile what seems like an infinite overlap of concepts in my course. For example, issues like substantive due process (economic rights, privacy rights under the 14th amendment) bring up concerns like Federalism (state power to pass laws concerning these issues), separation of powers (Judiciary's ability to overturn laws that violate DP), and basic issues of legislative authority. It just seems like the issues are so much more nuanced than a single rule. The "R" portion of an IRAC answer seems like it could go on forever, and as we all know, the analysis is where one makes their $. Any thoughts on this?


With the caveat that this depends on your professor's idiosyncrasies, a typical question on a Con Law exam has someone doing something constitutionally objectionable. At its core, this question is an issue-spotter, where you want to identify as many constitutional points as you can. Separating out the concepts is useful, because you can go down what is hopefully a brief attack outline and hit on as many issues as you can. In most cases, it won't profit you to get into excessive nuance on any single issue (unless the question only raises one or two issues) but rather take a broader sweep and try to get as many points as possible.

In other words: a cursory examination of a greater number of issues will likely yield more points than an in-depth examination of only a few while leaving others untouched. If a question is mostly about substantive due process, for example, you generally don't need to get too much into the doctrine of judicial review (and can probably omit something like Marbury v. Madison, unless it's somehow specially relevant to the question).

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:23 pm
by 3|ink
Which part of con law? Substantive rights or the structure/powers?

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:34 pm
by Manteca
3|ink wrote:Which part of con law? Substantive rights or the structure/powers?


Con Law 1, so structures and powers

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:37 pm
by cannibal ox
Tagging because I am a dumb.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:57 pm
by sflyr2016
I remember being confused by Con Law too.

I would have a section discussing each federal branch's power:

1. Power of Congress: [whatever you covered in class, but I guarantee commerce clause will be on there]
2. Power of the Executive: [same]
3. Power of the Judiciary: [same]

Then I would include another section for certain constitutional themes:
1. federalism and the 10th amendment (O'Connor loves this shit)
2. level of judicial review (strict scrutiny for fundamental rights (minus abortion, which receives an undue burden standard) and suspect classes, intermediate for gender, and rational basis for the rest (animus seems to always fail RBT))
3. im sure there are more...

Lastly, I would have a section on the individual constitutional rights you covered in class:
1. Equal Protection
2. Due Process: procedural and substantive such as abortion
3. BOR

An example of how I would approach a con law question on the exam: Fact pattern says congress has passed a law that explicitly denies blue persons from being able to drive cars on interstate highways.... I would discuss (1) whether some person in the fact pattern has standing to challenge the law, then (2) whether congress has power to enact this kind of law (yes/no: perhaps under its commerce clause + necessary & proper power; but, does it somehow violate the 10th amendment? (i don't see how)), and if so then discuss (3) whether the law applies unconstitutionally to that person (yes/no: blue persons are a suspect class and the law facial discriminates against them (there's no compelling interest, blah blah blah); moreover, this law impedes on their fundamental right to travel (or some other bs...)).

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:58 pm
by CardozoLaw09
cannibal ox wrote:Tagging because I am a dumb.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 10:02 pm
by BVest
For Con Law I, I used the topics of:

(Historical overview)
Judicial Review / Constitutional Structure
Federalism
Commerce
Restraints on Federalism under Commerce
Taxing and Spending
Dormant Commerce Clause
Separation of Powers
Justiciability

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 10:26 pm
by andythefir
I took several con law classes and had the same general problem with beginning the outline. Profs almost always begin with general, impossible to apply general political theory and history. Generally, those kinds of answers can push A-s to As, depending on the subject/prof. The only time history/theory was ever even a little bit useful for Con Law was in Fed Courts (which is really Con Law 3).

Basically every Con Law 1 class will have questions on the commerce clause and executive power. Maybe some standing here or there. Those big subjects will have several different fact patterns that the exam question will fit in between. Working backwards from the exam, I'd sketch out the broad strokes (Interstate commerce covers 3 things...There are 3 kinds of executive authority re Congress' authorization), while also including a description of the facts of the different cases (unlike almost any other class).

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:30 pm
by Stevoman
Manteca wrote:
3|ink wrote:Which part of con law? Substantive rights or the structure/powers?


Con Law 1, so structures and powers


Con Law 1 is all about knowing the powers of each of the three branches, and how the "Big Issues" interplay with exercising of those powers.

In other words, you need to know the basic rules of how Congress, Executive, and Judiciary work. E.g., what bases can Congress legislate on; how far does Executive privilege go; what are the different types of judicial review; etc.

The "Big Issues" you need to keep in mind for each of those three powers are Separation of Powers and Federalism. E.g., what is the limit of the Commerce/Tax/Spending/Treaty clause; can Congress oversee Executive appointments; would hearing a certain case/controversy amount to judicial legislation; etc.

There really isn't a whole lot of material to learn for Con Law 1. You really only need to memorize the basic powers each branch has. What's far more important on the exam is being about to spot and discussion Federalism/Separation of Powers/policy issues at interplay. You don't need to memorize the names, facts, and rules for every single one of the dozen+ Commerce Clause cases. You need to understand what positions a court could take on how far Congress could take the Commerce Clause in view of Federalism principals.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2015 3:42 pm
by Mamba1991
very helpful responses. thanks everyone!

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Tue Mar 24, 2015 8:35 pm
by Manteca
Checking back in. Really appreciate the help guys, I think I'm finally on track.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 6:22 pm
by BmoreOrLess
Stevoman wrote:There really isn't a whole lot of material to learn for Con Law 1. You really only need to memorize the basic powers each branch has. What's far more important on the exam is being about to spot and discussion Federalism/Separation of Powers/policy issues at interplay. You don't need to memorize the names, facts, and rules for every single one of the dozen+ Commerce Clause cases. You need to understand what positions a court could take on how far Congress could take the Commerce Clause in view of Federalism principals.


God I wish this was true in my con law class. There's a full section on our exam of case comparisons, including goddamned historical context. I fucking loathe this class.

Re: What the hell is going on in Con Law?

Posted: Wed Mar 25, 2015 6:24 pm
by cannibal ox
BmoreOrLess wrote:
Stevoman wrote:There really isn't a whole lot of material to learn for Con Law 1. You really only need to memorize the basic powers each branch has. What's far more important on the exam is being about to spot and discussion Federalism/Separation of Powers/policy issues at interplay. You don't need to memorize the names, facts, and rules for every single one of the dozen+ Commerce Clause cases. You need to understand what positions a court could take on how far Congress could take the Commerce Clause in view of Federalism principals.


God I wish this was true in my con law class. There's a full section on our exam of case comparisons, including goddamned historical context. I fucking loathe this class.


We have ~15 quotes we have to identify. Great way to test knowledge of a subject. Fuck this class.