In short, constitutional laws are the set of laws and rights which originate from the United States Constitution. Constitutional laws have been in operation in the United States since the time that the Constitution was enacted in 1787. Constitutional laws embody the rules and regulations which govern the country and the legal rights of the individuals who reside within the United States.
Constitutional laws were designed to grant every United States citizen basic human rights. Constitutional laws regulate the United States federal, state, and local governments by setting legal parameters for what the government can and cannot do regarding the citizenry.
In the legal field, constitutional law is the law that relates to how the United States Constitution is interpreted, implemented, and amended. Further, each state in the United States also has its own state constitution, which governs the citizens of that state.
As political and social issues change and continue to develop within the United States, constitutional lawyers bring constitutional issues to the court to ask for clarification about the meaning of the laws, interpretation of the laws, and for enforcement of the law.
Constitutional law is most commonly associated with an individual’s fundamental rights, including but not limited to:
- Equal protection;
- Freedom of speech;
- The right to bear arms;
- Freedom of religion; and
- Due process.
When it comes to the interpretation of constitutional laws, the United States Supreme Court is the final authority on all constitutional law issues. As such, the only thing that can override the Supreme Court’s interpretation or decision regarding a constitutional law issue is a constitutional amendment approved by three-fourths of the states.
A constitutional lawyer is a lawyer who assists their clients by defending their clients’ individual rights and legal protections under the United States Constitution, as well as assisting their clients in enforcing their constitutional rights.
Constitutional lawyers play a meaningful role in protecting individuals’ legal protections and freedoms the United States Constitution provides. If an individual believes that their constitutional rights may have been violated, a constitutional attorney will be able to represent that plaintiff (i.e., the person who has allegedly suffered harm) against the defendant (i.e., the party that has allegedly harmed the plaintiff by violating their constitutional rights) in a civil lawsuit. In addition to civil protections afforded to persons under the Constitution, there are also criminal protections afforded by the Constitution.
What Are Criminal Constitutional Rights?
Criminal constitutional rights are the set of legal protections that are granted to individuals under the Constitution of the United States. Most of the criminal constitutional rights can be found directly in the original text articles of the Constitution. For example, Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution provides legal protections against “ex post facto” laws or laws that seek to incriminate a person for crimes they committed in the past.
In a criminal setting, the majority of a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights are derived from the Amendments to the Constitution. A person’s constitutional rights apply in most criminal cases and frequently form the basis of the defendant’s defense.
Examples of the most common criminal constitutional rights and protections include:
- 4th Amendment Rights: The Fourth Amendment includes the right to be free from illegal search and seizure, as well as provisions involving search warrants;
- 5th Amendment Rights: The Fifth Amendment includes due process rights, the right to be silent, Miranda rights, and the right against double jeopardy;
- 6th Amendment Rights: The Sixth Amendment includes the right to a speedy trial, the right to an impartial jury, the right to assistance of counsel, the right to confront witnesses, the right to be informed of the charges being brought, as well as the punishments, and the right to compel witnesses to appear in court;
- 8th Amendment Rights: The Eighth Amendment outlines the rules on bail and limitations on criminal sentencing, including prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishments; and
- 14th Amendment Rights: The Fourteenth Amendment includes several criminal due process rights.
What Are Examples of Civil Constitutional Laws?
As mentioned above, the Constitution provides both civil and criminal legal protections in the United States. Examples of common constitutional laws that afford individuals civil protections include:
- Equal Protection Laws: The Constitution establishes laws that mandate that individuals and groups of individuals that are in similar circumstances must be treated the same under the law;
- Due Process: The Constitution provides that individuals who are subject to the judicial system will be treated fairly and afforded their legal rights under the law;
- Freedom of Speech: Freedom of speech is one of the most commonly cited and referenced civil liberties granted to individuals by the Constitution and guarantees an individual’s right to speech;
- Freedom of Religion: Another commonly cited constitutional law is the freedom of religion, which is a civil liberty stipulating the right, within the confounds of the law, to practice one’s personal religious beliefs; and
- Judicial Review: Judicial review is the right to have the courts review legislation to determine whether or not that legislation is valid in accordance to the Constitution;
In addition to enumerated rights, i.e., rights specifically mentioned within the Constitution, numerous other rights are guaranteed by the Constitution but not specifically mentioned within the document. Instead, these constitutional rights are inherently a part of the notion of liberty and, as such, are also constitutional rights. These constitutional rights include, but are not limited to:
- The right to travel across state lines;
- The right to marry;
- The right to raise one’s children; and
- Privacy rights.
Additionally, each state is permitted to expand on the legal protections and rights that are afforded to individuals by the United States Constitution. However, it is important to note that a state is not permitted to supersede or override the legal rights and protections the Constitution grants.
How is the Constitution Interpreted?
As mentioned above, the United States Supreme Court is the final decision maker regarding constitutional law. However, the United States Supreme Court does not have the capacity or capability to interpret every case involving constitutional law interpretation. Very few cases ever make it to the Supreme Court.
Each year, the Supreme Court receives over 7,000 cases to review, and the Court will hear just over one hundred of those cases. As such, the federal and state governments have created courts that may preside over constitutional cases, including issues surrounding federal or state constitutional laws.
However, interpreting a person’s state and federal constitutional rights is different. As such, if there is a fundamental federal constitutional right in question, the court will review it under strict scrutiny.
This means that if a fundamental right is allegedly being restricted, there must be a compelling governmental reason for that restriction which must be accomplished in the least intrusive or restrictive manner possible. It is important to note that it is typically difficult to satisfy this high standard, and governmental agencies do not typically prevail on these constitutional law matters.
What Happens If A Constitutional Right Is Violated?
As far as exactly what happens when a constitutional right is violated will largely depend on the nature of the constitutional right that was violated. For example, if criminal evidence was seized illegally without a warrant, this is a violation of a criminal defendant’s 4th amendment rights, and as such, the evidence obtained by the illegal seizure cannot be used during their criminal trial.
Further, if a person is being tried for the same crime twice, this would be considered a violation of the criminal defendant’s 6th Amendment right against double jeopardy. As such, any ruling or conclusion reached in their second trial will not be valid and cannot be cited in subsequent convictions. As can be seen, violations of a defendant’s criminal constitutional rights have far-reaching effects on the outcome of their criminal trial.
An individual may have civil damages for civil liberty violations associated with violating their civil liberties. As such, that individual has the right to bring a civil lawsuit against the party that harmed them by violating their civil rights.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Constitutional Laws?
Constitutional rights are intended to support concepts of justice and equality in the United States. As such, if you have any questions or issues associated with your constitutional rights in a criminal case or believe that your constitutional rights may have been violated, it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced government lawyer.
An experienced government attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws or the Constitution, and they can also help defend you if any of your rights have been violated. Further, an attorney can also assist you in initiating a civil lawsuit if you have suffered economic damages due to another party violating your constitutional rights.