Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Banner Image

Constitutional Law Research

This guide offers research and strategy related to U.S. Constitutional Law

United States Constitution

Historical Documents and Discussion

Library of Congress - Primary Documents

https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Constitution.html

National Archives - A History of the United States Constitution

https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/more-perfect-union

Maggs, A Concise Guide to the Records of the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787

https://scholarship.law.gwu.edu/faculty_publications/693/

Maggs, A Concise Guide to the Records of the State Ratifying Conventions

https://scholarship.law.gwu.edu/faculty_publications/711/

 

Federalist Papers

Maggs, A Concise Guide to the Federalist Papers

https://scholarship.law.gwu.edu/faculty_publications/686/

Sources For the Text of the Constitution

All versions of the United States Code contain a copy of the Constitution. The commercial versions (USCA and USCS) are heavily annotated with cross-referenced listings for texts and other materials. One difficulty of using the annotated volumes for research is the sheer volume of annotations. Annotations for the 14th Amendment alone fill two volumes of the USCA. One tool each commercial version of the U.S. Code provides is an organization of Notes of Decisions according to a topical outline. This outline is extensive considering the depth of court decisions interpreting and implementing a constitutional principle. Locate a useful outline point and then examine the annotations that appear under that point. This is similar to using the topic and key number outlines that appear in digests. An important consideration, however, is that these outlines do not use key numbers, nor are they organized to correlate to outlines within the digests. One strategy is to use keyword searches on Lexis or Westlaw in the Code databases, which will allow you to search annotation sets for relevant cases.

Another strategy is to use various commentaries, such as hornbooks and other treatises to determine the leading cases and status of a constitutional issue. One example of titles that provide scholarly commentary is Nowak and Rotunda’s Constitutional Law, 8th Edition (West 2009). As constitutional law can change significantly with each passing term of the Supreme Court, a more current edition is a better source for information.  Many of these treatises have pocket part supplements that update the information in the main volume.  Check the date of any updates to determine currency of commentary reflecting decisions from the Supreme Court.

The Constitution of the United States Analysis and Interpretation is by far one of the best resources for contemporary constitutional research. The current edition contains the text of the Constitution, with commentary and annotations of cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. The volume and pocket parts are prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. The paper edition is for sale by the Government Printing Office for $163, although the text is available for free download at (https://www.congress.gov/constitution-annotated/). Most libraries, even non-law libraries, would likely have a copy of this book. The main volume in print is updated every 10 years with pocket parts issued in the intervening years.  The online version, however, is updated after conclusion of the latest term of the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is called an “interim” edition and is available from congress.gov at https://www.congress.gov/constitution-annotated/ and the Government Publications Office at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/search/pagedetails.action?granuleId=CDOC-110hdoc50&packageId=CDOC-110hdoc50.  Other editions of the Constitution are available from the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/law/help/guide/federal/usconst.php

Online sources for text of the Constitution are too numerous to mention. A simple Internet search for United States Constitution should bring up many results for the text along with related documents. As with any Internet related search, the value of a site depends on your trust of the source of the information. Government sites, such as the ones listed above, tend to be more reliable than third-party sites.  Note the date of any commentary on the site to determine whether the information incorporates the latest decisions of the federal courts.

There are various law reviews devoted exclusively to constitutional issues, such as the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly published by Hastings University, or Constitutional Commentary published by the University of Minnesota, among others. The Constitution is so broad that there are journals devoted to single constitutional issues, such as the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review, and the Journal of Church and State (Baylor University). Most all of these are searchable through the various paper and electronic indexes for law review and scholarly articles such as Current Law Index (CLI), the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books (ILP), LegalTrac, SSRN, Google Scholar, and Microsoft Academic Search. Articles typically devote themselves to a research issue, and analyze the development of that issue through case law, legislative action, and other materials relevant to that issue.  American Law Reports (ALR) and American Law Reports Federal (ALR Fed) are another source for analysis on narrow constitutional issues.  United States Supreme Court Reports – Lawyers Edition contains annotations on selected issues derived from cases in each volume.