Constitutional law embodies the rules and regulations that govern the country as well as the rights of the people. The U.S. Constitution sets the legal parameters for what the government can and cannot do and it outlines the basic rights of its citizens.
It was created in 1787 and is an ever-evolving document which is, in part, a reflection of the ongoing changes in society as well as how courts interpret this malleable body of law. Every state in the U.S. has its own constitution by which its citizens are governed.
What are Some Examples of Constitutional Law?
The U.S. Constitution established three branches of government: judicial, executive and legislative. Over time, the Bill of Rights and additional Amendments were included to be part of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights and the Amendments enumerate the rights of individuals.
Some examples of constitutional law, include the following:
- Assistance of Counsel – this right extends to individuals that are accused of a crime and stipulates that an attorney will be appointed for the defendant, if they cannot afford to hire their own.
- Checks and Balances – this is a system of government designed to prevent any one branch of government from over exerting their power and making sure the other branches are appropriately conducting their duties.
- Equal Protection – mandates that people and groups of people that are in similar circumstances must be treated the same under the law.
- Due Process – means that those that are subject to the judicial system will be treated fairly and afforded their rights under the law.
- Freedom of Speech – this is one of the civil liberties that guarantees a citizen’s right to speech.
- Freedom of Religion – is another civil liberty stipulating the right, within the confounds of the law, to practice one’s religious beliefs.
- Judicial Review – this is the right to have the courts review legislation to determine whether or not it is valid.
- Separation of Powers – deals with keeping the judicial, executive and legislative branches separate and accountable for their own actions while at the same time avoids having an absolute ruler.
There are many rights guaranteed by the Constitution that are not specifically mentioned in it but are instead inherently part of the notion of liberty and thus a constitutional right. These include, but are not limited to, the right to travel across state lines, the right to marry, the right to raise children, and privacy rights.
States can expand on the basic rules, regulations and rights of the federal Constitution. States, however, cannot, supersede or override the rights granted in the federal Constitution.
How is the Constitution Interpreted?
The Supreme Court of the U.S. is the final decision maker regarding disputes on whether an issue is constitutional or not. Not all cases make it to the Supreme Court though, in fact very few do. Yearly, the Supreme Court receives over 7,000 cases to review. The Court hears just over 100 of those cases. Other federal courts, or if an issue arises surrounding a state’s constitutionality, state courts, preside over constitutional cases.
The court is presented with arguments from the defendant as well as the governmental agency in question. The U.S. Constitution is unique in that it is considered by many a “living document” that evolves and grows with the changes in society. The courts take into consideration the issues before them, how those issues apply to the Constitution, as well as similar, past cases that may shed light on a potential resolution to the case before them.
If a fundamental constitutional right is in question, the court will review it under strict scrutiny. This means that if fundamental rights are restricted, there must be a compelling governmental reason for the restriction and the restriction must be accomplished in the least intrusive or restrictive way. It is difficult to meet this high standard and governmental agencies typically do not prevail in such matters.
Should I Call an Attorney for Help with Constitutional Law Issues?
If you believe that your constitutional rights may have been violated, it is important to speak with an experienced government lawyer that can assist you in finding a just resolution. Constitutional interpretation is not always clearcut and involves in-depth knowledge of the Constitution itself. It also involves knowledge of case law that may or may not support a claim as well as potential applicable local rules and regulations.
The Constitution guarantees individuals civil rights and protections from ill treatment by government officials. If you believe a government official, which can include a politician, a school district official, a member of law enforcement, a city employee as well as other individuals and/or groups, denied you of your rights, contact a civil rights attorney as soon as possible. If there are criminal allegations involved in the matter, a criminal defense attorney can help you protect and preserve your rights.