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Introduction to U.S. Constitutional Law


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Slides related to a lecture given to German law students as part of the University of Osnabrück's foreign law program.

Published in: Education, News & Politics
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Introduction to U.S. Constitutional Law

  1. 1. US Constitutional LawHistory and Basic Principles
  2. 2. What We Already Know● Name the three branches of government.● What does each do?● Give examples of how they check one another.● How is the President elected?● How and how often are the members of Congress elected?● How are federal judges selected? How long do they serve?
  3. 3. What We Are Going to Learn● How federalism works in America and what this has to do with President Obamas health care law.● What specific powers each branch has.● The kinds of cases the Supreme Court can hear.● The protections granted to individuals and the role the Court plays in enforcing these protections.
  4. 4. The Beginning● 1492: Italian explorer Christopher Columbus lands in the “new world.”● 1507: First time “new world” is labeled as “America.”● 1513: Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon lands in German cartographer Martin Waldseemüllers world map, the earliest known use of “America” present-day Florida
  5. 5. First Settlements● 1565: founding of St. Augustine● 1607: Jamestown colony founded● 1614: New Amsterdam founded● 1620: Pilgrims land on The Mayflower “Plymouth rock”.
  6. 6. Consolidation of Power● 1674: Dutch cede territory ● 1763: Britain consolidates to Britain. power after Seven Years War● 1732: 13 British colonies now exist from Mass. to Georgia.● 1754: Proposal to form common defense policy defeated by colonial legislatures.
  7. 7. Seeds of Conflict● 1765 – Parliament passes Stamp Act – 9 of 13 colonies meet in secret congress. – Parliament repeals Act but gives self authority to pass laws regarding colonies.
  8. 8. Beginning of the End● 1773: residents of Boston throw tea into Boston harbor in response to new taxes.● 1774: Parliament passed “Intolerable Acts” Nathaniel Curriers 1846 depiction of the Boston Tea Party
  9. 9. Prelude to War● 1774: 13 colonies form ● 1775: 2nd Continental Continental Congress formed. Association.● 1775: Parliament passes New England Restraining Acts● 1775: Battle of Lexington and Concord British entering Concord
  10. 10. To Sum UpNo More Kings childrens video created by the Schoolhouse Rock project as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.
  11. 11. Beginnings of a Union● 1775: Second ● Powers of the Continental Congress Congress – All 13 colonies – Form army represented – Obtain loans – Continental army formed – Issue money under command of Washington. – NO power to tax! – Olive Branch Petition rejected by King
  12. 12. 1776● May ● June – congress instructs all – Resolutions of colonies to form Independence first “revolutionary proposed. governments.” – Committee of five – Virginia convention appointed to draft formal instructs its delegates to declaration propose declaration of ● Adams, Jefferson, Franklin independence.
  13. 13. Declaration of IndependenceAdopted July 4th– What are the grievances?– Principles of governance listed?
  14. 14. Independence● 1776 – committee formed to create “Articles” of statehood.● 1781 – Articles of Confederation adopted by 13 states.● 1781 – war ends with the surrender of Cornwallis.● 1783 – Britain formally recognizes United States of America.
  15. 15. American Constitutional Law Articles of Confederation
  16. 16. Articles 1 - 3● Establishes the name of the confederation as "The United States of America."● "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated."● Establishes the United States as a new nation, a sovereign union of sovereign states
  17. 17. Article 4 - 6● Article 4 - Establishes freedom of movement and defines which government entity shall define rights.● Article 5 – defines voting rights of each state in new Congress.● Article 6 – defines who conducts foreign relations and under what circumstances a state can have a standing army.
  18. 18. Articles 7 - 9● Article 7 – sets forth how federal army will be formed.● Article 8 – sets forth how federal government will be funded.● Article 9 - defines the powers of the central government. – Declare war, set weights & measures, settle disputes between states.
  19. 19. Articles 10 - 13● Article 10 – creates government when Congress is not in session.● Article 11 – sets forth requirements for admission of new states.● Article 12 – deals with debts from Revolutionary War.● Article 13 – reaffirms idea of perpetual union and says all changes must be by unanimous vote of the states.
  20. 20. Result: a weak federal government● No power to tax – Power to raise army is meaningless without this.● No direct representation – Representatives are chosen by state legislature.● Changes must be made by unanimous vote● States are binding themselves for limited purposes. – This is more of a treaty or association, than a country.
  21. 21. Prelude to the Constitution
  22. 22. New Jersey vs. Virginia Plans● Both sought to change the nature of the federal government.● New Jersey plan sought to protect the power of the smaller states.● Virginia plan sought to enhance the power of the larger states.● Neither plan truly envisioned a completely new constitution.
  23. 23. The U.S. Constitution● A series of compromises in response to divisions between: – North and South, Big and Small, Federalist and Anti-Federalist● Draft Constitution was adopted by Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787 – 39 of 55 delegates from 12 states voted in favor – Rhode Island did not send a delegation● All 13 states eventually voted in favor of the new Constitution. – Rhode Island being the last state in 1790.
  24. 24. Basic Principles● Popular Sovereignty – A government created for the people, by the people. ● By the people – the “peoples representatives” wrote and adopted the structure. ● For the people – to serve the people, not monarchy, not special interests.● Rule of Law – A government guided by a set of laws, rather than by any individual or group entity. ● Think of how common law began.
  25. 25. Basic Principles● Judicial Review – The establishment of the Supreme Court as the judicial branchs authoritative institution, and the resulting power of judicial review.● Individual Rights – Protection of individual rights and liberties against government encroachment.
  26. 26. Basic Principles● Separation of Powers and a System of Checks and Balances – A separation of powers and distribution of functions and responsibilities among three separate government branches, and a system of checks and balances to calibrate those powers.● Federalism – A federalist system whereby governing power is shared between the national government and the individual state governments.