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The study of constitutional law involves the interpretation of the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court determines what is and what is not “constitutional.” Therefore, the study of U.S. Supreme Court case law is an integral part of researching constitutional law. Many secondary sources are available that seek to explain, discuss and challenge the Constitution and how it has been interpreted over the last 200 plus years.
Many of the principles embodied in the Constitution involve individual rights and liberties, freedom of expression and religion, as well as due process and equal protection. Other issues involve states’ rights, the relationship between state and federal governments, and the system of checks and balances among and between the three branches of the federal government.
When researching constitutional law, one should look to the primary sources, which consist of the Constitution itself, as well as the case law interpreting the Constitution. A useful starting point is to consult a secondary source such as a treatise, hornbook, encyclopedia or dictionary. These sources seek to explain and define the principles of constitutional law. Law reviews and journals, which also are valuable secondary sources that can aid in the understanding of constitutional principles, often discuss new or anticipated constitutional challenges and concerns. These sources are available at Gould Law Library.
This guide is intended to assist the user with basic constitutional law research, as well as to provide the researcher with further resources to consult. The most important sources on constitutional law that are available at Gould Law Library and online are outlined. This list is not intended to be exhaustive. This guide concludes by taking the user, step-by-step, through two sample constitutional law searches utilizing these sources.