Skip to main content

United States Constitutional Law: Sample Searches

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 are outlined including primary sources, treatises, hornbooks and more.

First Amendment-Freedom of Expression

In this example, a website publisher wants to challenge the constitutionality of a federal statute that seeks to protect children from being exposed to harmful materials on the Internet by requiring individuals (who want to view this information) to provide identification that proves they are over the age of 18. The publisher’s claim is that this law violates the First Amendment by making it inappropriately burdensome for adults to access this constitutionally protected information.


To research this problem, you will first want to familiarize yourself with the topic of First Amendment, Freedom of Expression/Free Speech.


1. First, you may want to consult one of the treatises listed in this guide. Check the index for entries for this area of constitutional law.


2. You could also search Gould Law Library’s OPAC for a book on this particular issue. To do this, please refer to the section on Library of Congress Subject Headings for an Individual Amendment. If you search by subject, using one of the subject headings listed, e.g. Constitutional law -- United States -- Amendments -- 1st, you will find the following two books that should be helpful:


Update on the Internet and the First Amendment, David L. Hudson
KF390.5.C6 H93 2003


First Amendment law in a Nutshell, Jerome A. Barron
KF4770.Z9 B37 1993


3. You can also search for a law review article on topic. Hein Online, described in the online subscription database section of this guide, is a good place to find law review articles on specific topics. On Hein Online, choose “Law Journal Library,” then choose the “search” tab. Next you can choose to do an “advanced search,” where you can limit your search to a particular subject and a select time period, e.g., you can choose “constitutional law” as your subject and limit the dates to be between 2000 and 2009. The following query: “First Amendment” AND “content-based” AND internet AND children, yielded 74 results, many of which were relevant. One result was:


24 Seton Hall Legis. J. 167 (1999-2000) The Children's Internet Protection Act of 1999: Is Internet Filtering Software the Answer, Shea, Elizabeth M.


4. Now that you have familiarized yourself with this topic, you’ll want to find cases on point. A good way to do this is to conduct a search on either Westlaw or Lexis. For this example, you can search Westlaw, choosing the All U.S. Supreme Court cases database (SCT), or Lexis, choosing the U.S. Supreme Court Cases, Lawyer’s Edition database (USLED), using the same query that was used on Hein Online. This yields several cases on point. Don’t forget to Keycite or Shepardize!


5. You can also search Westlaw (or any West publications) by key number. Some relevant Topic and Key Numbers on this subject are:


92 Constitutional Law
(92XVIII Freedom of Speech, Expression, and Press)
92k1516 Content-Based Regulations or Restrictions
92k1517 In General. Most Cited Cases
92k1518 Strict or Exacting Scrutiny; Compelling Interest Test
921546 Children and Minors
92k1549 Protection Of. Most Cited Cases
92k2259 Internet

Fourth Amendment - Search & Seizure

In this example, a motorist was arrested and convicted of drug possession with intent to sell, after a large amount of marijuana was discovered in his car when he was pulled over for a missing headlight. The motorist is challenging the conviction, on the basis that the search of his car, during a routine traffic stop, was unreasonable, and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment.


To begin your research, you will want to familiarize yourself with the Fourth Amendment, following the same steps outlined in the previous example.


1. Consult one of the treatises, listed in this guide and check the index for entries on Fourth Amendment and Search and Seizure. Westlaw also has two relevant databases that focus on this topic, which you may want to consult. These databases are: Searches & Seizures, Arrests and Confessions 2d (SSAC) and Warrantless Search Law Deskbook (WARLESSRC).


2. You could also search by subject in Gould Law Library’s OPAC for a book on the Fourth Amendment. For example, if you search by subject: United States -- Constitution. 4th Amendment, you will find the following book:


Making Sense of Search and Seizure Law: A Fourth Amendment Handbook, Phillip A. Hubbart, KF9630.H83 2005

3. You also can conduct an advanced search for a law review article on Hein Online. If you choose “constitutional law” as your subject and limit the dates to between 1990 and 2009 and enter the following query: “search and seizure” AND reasonableness, this will return many relevant results. One such result is:


3 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 296 (2001) Law Enforcement by Stereotypes and Serendipity: Racial Profiling and Stops and Searches without Cause, Rudovsky, David.


4. Next you’ll want to search either Westlaw or Lexis-Nexis to find cases on point. You can utilize the same databases as the first example, and the same query you used for this topic on Hein Online.


5. You can also search Westlaw by key number. A relevant Topic and Key Number on this topic is:


349 Searches and Seizures
349k23 Fourth Amendment and Reasonableness. In General.


Finally, for further constitutional law research, you may want to consult the authoritative websites and online guides provided in this guide. The membership organizations listed are another useful resource if you would like to further pursue this field of law.