What Is Constitutional Law?
Constitutional law encompasses any law or right that originates from the United States Constitution. American Constitutional Law is the body of law which regulates the federal, state, and local governments of the United States. Constitutional law is most often associated with fundamental rights like equal protection, the right to bear arms, freedom of religion, and the right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court is the authority on all constitutional law issues. Only a Constitutional Amendment approved by three-fourths of the states can override a decision made by the Supreme Court.
The following are important constitutional rights:
- Freedom of Speech – Another fundamental right guaranteed under the First Amendment is the right to freedom of speech and press. Both the federal and state governments are prohibited from limiting an individual's rights to expression. Today, government sponsored censorship is a controversial topic in constitutional law.
- Freedom of Religion – The First Amendment provides some of the most basic and fundamental rights guaranteed to people in the United States. Of these fundamental rights, many consider the right to freedom of religious choice paramount. The First Amendment explicitly prohibits the establishment of a religion. Today, school sponsored prayer is one of the most controversial topics invoking the freedom of religion clause.
- Right To Bear Arms – The Second amendment grants the people "the right to keep and bear arms." Probably no other constitutional right is more hotly debated. The Supreme Court has yet to clarify what the Second Amendment exactly means. At the moment, debates continue as to whether the government can implement gun control laws and whether ownership and possession of a firearm is a constitutionally guaranteed right.
- Freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure – The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from government trespass without a court warrant. This protection extends to houses and papers. Today, police search of vehicles and computers, as well as government wiretapping, are controversial topics in constitutional law.
- Protection from Self-Incrimination – The Fifth Amendment protects citizens from the act of self-incrimination and/or double jeopardy through outlining the basic constitutional limits and restrictions placed on police procedures. To avoid self-incrimination, a citizen can “plead the fifth,” effectively exercising his/her constitutional right to avoid answering a question or from testifying. A specific example of police procedures required under this Amendment is the reciting of a person’s Miranda Rights upon an arrest. This amendment also protects against harassment of an individual by prohibiting the act of successive prosecutions for the same accusation of crime.
- Due Process of the Law and Right to Trial by Jury for Criminal Charges – The Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee citizens the right to a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury before being deprived of their life, liberty or property. The accused also has the right to legal counsel if he or she can’t afford an attorney.
- Equal Protection – The 14th amendment to the Constitution provides that "no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Consequently, state governments and their agencies are prohibited from discriminating against any individual on the basis of classifications such as race, sex, or religion.
If you feel that your constitutionally guaranteed rights have been compromised, you should contact a constitutional law attorney. Speaking with the proper attorney experienced in constitutional law will inform you of your rights as well as preserve any possible legal remedies you may have.
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Last Modified: 12-02-2013 03:54 PM PST
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