Constitutional Law: First Year or Second?
Is it better for students to take the basic course in constitutional law in their first year or their second year of law school?
At some schools, like mine, Constitutional Law is a required first-year course. Other schools save Constitutional Law until the second year (and at some, including Harvard, it is optional).
I see benefits to each choice. My first year students tell me they find Constitutional Law the most difficult of their courses. (I’m confident it’s not–or not only–my teaching.)
By their second year, students are less anxious. They are more familiar with legal jargon and with reading cases. They are better at distilling points and taking notes. They write better. They know where to turn for help. So second-year students who read Marbury v. Madison for the first day of class (or, in my class, the second day—we start the first day with the text of the Constitution and then Roe v. Wade) are not likely to be scared off by talk about writs of mandamus, William Marbury’s commission, and the Judiciary Act.
On the other hand, first year students are enthusiastic, diligent and open-minded. They read the cases and talk passionately about them. They come to office hours and ask for review sessions. They post comments on the web discussion board. Many of them came to law school to talk about con law issues (at least the issues involving individual rights). Taking basic Constitutional Law early means students have the necessary background for more advanced courses in the field and they can appreciate constitutional law implications that arise in other subject areas. Many students in their second year want to get started right away on law review notes or papers on constitutional law issues.
I am interested in hearing comments from our readers. Do professors prefer to teach Constitutional Law to first year or second year students? When do students think they should take Constitutional Law? Comments open.