When constitutional law is brought up, people are talking about many types of laws that cover a variety of topics. The United States Constitution is the basis of our law system. The Constitution writes out how the government can operate and allow what laws can or cannot be enforced. This might sound pretty straightforward, but the provisions of the Constitution are often interpreted in a variety of ways. The majority of constitutional law deals with the interpretation of the Constitution.
To be more specific, constitutional law deals with the basic relationships between the entities of our society. These relationships are between the federal government and individuals; the state government and individuals, foreign nations and the federal government; the three branches of the federal government; the federal government and the states, and between the states.
The relationship that constitutional law focuses most on is the relationship between individuals and the federal government. Because of this, constitutional law involves interpreting the Constitution as it relates to freedoms and individual rights of United States citizens.
What Does the Constitution Do?
The Constitution created the three branches of our federal government and enumerated their powers (this means that the powers are specifically set out).
Article I of the Constitution creates the legislative branch, which is Congress. The Congress which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Constitution gives powers to each of these sectors of Congress – this power means that they can make all of our federal laws.
Article II creates the executive branch; this is the United States President. The President can suggest laws and can also veto any laws that they deem unnecessary or breaks the Bill of Rights.
Article III creates the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review, which means that they can interpret the Constitution and decide which laws are abiding by the laws. Therefore, the Supreme Court checks and balances the laws that are made by Congress.
Constitutional law has been made to implement and interpret the United States Constitution. The Constitution is the foundation of the United States, so constitutional law deals with fundamental relationships that arise in our society, including relationships among the rights of individuals, the three branches (judicial, legislative, and executive) of the federal government, the states and the federal government, and among the states.
There is another area called Judicial Review, which is an important topic in constitutional law. The Supreme Court has played an important role in interpreting the Constitution. Because of this, Constitutional Law deals heavily with Supreme Court rulings.
The area of constitutional law also deals with implementing and interpreting state constitutions – but without qualification, it’s usually understood as only referring to the Federal Constitution.
A Constitutional law example included the case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803. In this case, Chief Justice John Marshall states that ‘a law repugnant to the Constitution is void.’ This famous constitutional law case created the Supreme Court’s power to review the acts of the other government branches, and courts, so they can judge if a law or case is constitutional.
Bill of Rights
Article V in the Constitution allows for it to be amended: the Constitution has been amended 27 times, and over 10,000 amendments have been proposed. The most important amendments of the Constitution make of the Bill of Rights – these are the first ten amendments, and they all deal with some of the most fundamental rights for an individual.
For example, the 1st Amendment rights protect the fundamental right of assembly, press, and free speech. There have been subsequent amendments that have broadened the protection afforded the rights of individuals, and the 2nd Amendment allows for the ownership of guns.
Let’s take a quick look at some Constitutional law examples. If you were to make a rule that no one can express personal opinions in your home, you haven’t infringed on the 1st amendment: freedom of speech. However, let’s pretend that the State of Michigan creates a law that no one can express personal opinions while in the State – then Michigan has infringed on this right.
Constitutional rights, however, aren’t absolute. The Supreme Court can always decide when a right should be limited. There’s another famous case, Schenck v. the United States, when the Supreme Court held that the 1st Amendment doesn’t protect all types of speech. If the government has a good justification for controlling speech, then the government can do so.
Through this case, the Court ruled that the 1st Amendment doesn’t protect speech that presents a ‘clear and present danger’ to others. These types of cases take legal precedence over everything, meaning that they establish a rule or principle that is to be abided by.
The States and Constitutional Rights
Most of the cases that happened early in the life of the Constitution dealt with the infringement of individual rights. Later, the Supreme Court selectively applies constitutional rights to cases that involve state action.
An example included Mapp v. Ohio in 1961. The 4th Amendment protects individuals from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures.’ At the time, this amendment only applied to the federal government. However, the federal government was not the one who prosecuted Mapp. Instead, it was Mapp’s local police force that entered her home and illegally seized items without a warrant, which led to Mapp’s arrest and state prosecution.
There is also something called the ‘Supremacy Clause’ that prohibits state governments from making laws that conflict with federal government laws.
The Supremacy Clause was created in 1824 during the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. An example is that if the federal government were to make it illegal for anyone to display red balloons, then the state of Georgia would not be able to enforce a law that requires homeowners to display red balloons.
The U.S. Constitution and state laws play a huge part in our lives daily. Learning more about constitutional law and how it plays a role in it makes a big difference when it comes to an understanding more about state and federal governments. Hopefully, this article helps you understand more about constitutional law and why it’s so important to have.
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