Constitutional laws are laws and rights which originate from the United States Constitution, which has been in operation since 1789. These laws embody the rules and regulations which govern the country and the rights of the individuals who reside in it.
Constitutional laws regulate the federal, state, and local governments in the United States. These laws set the legal parameters for what the government can and cannot do and outlines the basic rights of its citizens.
Each state in the United States also has its own constitution which governs its citizens. Constitutional law is most commonly associated with certain fundamental rights, such as:
- Equal protection;
- The right to bear arms;
- Freedom of religion; and
- The right to free speech.
The United States Supreme Court is the authority on all constitutional law issues. The only thing that can override a decision that is made by the Supreme Court is a constitutional amendment approved by three-fourths of the states.
A constitutional lawyer is a lawyer who assists their clients by defending the United States Constitution and the rights and freedoms which are guaranteed to United States citizens. Constitutional lawyers play a meaningful role in protecting the freedoms within the country as well as the rights and freedoms promised in the Constitution.
Constitutional laws are the supreme laws of the land in the United States. Any other laws or rules and Congress or a state creates cannot violate the Constitution. Constitutional lawyers can support a plaintiff in litigation when a plaintiff believes their constitutional rights have been violated.
What are Some Examples of Constitutional Law?
The United States Constitution established three branches of government, including:
- The judicial branch;
- The executive branch; and
- The legislative branch.
Over the years, the Bill of Rights as well as additional amendments were added to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights and the constitutional amendments enumerate the rights of individuals.
Some examples of constitutional laws include:
- Assistance of counsel, which is a right that extends to individuals who are accused of a crime and stipulates that an attorney will be appointed for a defendant if they cannot afford to hire their own;
- Checks and balances, which is a system of government that is designed to prevent any one branch of the government from over exerting its power and making sure the other branches are appropriately conducting their duties;
- Equal protection, which mandates that individuals and groups of individuals that are in similar circumstances must be treated the same under the law;
- Due process, which means that individuals who are subject to the judicial system will be treated fairly and afforded their rights under the law;
- Freedom of speech, which is one of the civil liberties that guarantees an individual’s right to speech;
- Freedom of religion, which is a civil liberty stipulating the right, within the confounds of the law, to practice one’s religious beliefs;
- Judicial review, which is the right to have the courts review legislation to determine whether or not it is valid; and
- Separation of powers, which 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 numerous rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution but are not specifically mentioned in the document. Instead, they are inherently a part of the notion of liberty and, therefore, a constitutional right. These rights 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.
Each state is permitted to expand on the basic rules, regulations, and rights contained in the Constitution. A state, however, is not permitted to supersede, or override, the rights which are granted in the Constitution.
What are Constitutional Rights?
There are several constitutional law fundamental rights. These include:
- Freedom of speech;
- Freedom of religion;
- The right to bear arms;
- Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure;
- Protection from self-incrimination;
- Due process of law and the right to a trial by jury for criminal charges; and
- Equal protection.
A fundamental right which is guaranteed under the First Amendment is the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Both federal and state governments are generally prohibited from limiting individual’s right to expression, with a few limited exceptions. Currently, government-sponsored censorship is a controversial topic in the area of constitutional law.
Another right which is protected by the First Amendment is the right to freedom of religion. The First Amendment specifically prohibits the establishment of a government religion, including a state church. Currently, school sponsored prayer is a controversial topic regarding the freedom of religion clause.
The Second Amendment grants individuals the right to keep and bear arms. This particular right is often hotly debated, especially with regard to gun control laws and how extensive they can be.
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from government trespass without a warrant issued by a court. This protection also extends to houses and papers. Controversial topics in constitutional law today include law enforcement searches of vehicles and computers as well as government wiretapping.
The Fifth Amendment protects individuals from acts of self-incrimination and double jeopardy. In order to avoid self-incrimination, an individual can plead the fifth, which refers to exercising their constitutional right to avoid answering a question while under oath.
A specific example of law enforcement procedures which are required under the Fifth Amendment include the reading of an individual’s Miranda rights upon their arrest. This amendment also protects against harassment of an individual by prohibiting successive prosecutions for the same criminal offense.
The Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee an individual’s right to a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury prior to being deprived of their life, liberty, or property. The accused, or defendant, has the right to legal counsel for their criminal trial, even if they cannot afford one.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state can deny to any individual within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. State governments and their agencies are prohibited from discriminating against any individual on the basis of certain classifications, including:
- Sex; and
How is the Constitution Interpreted?
The Supreme Court of the United States is the final decision maker regarding a dispute on whether or not an issue is constitutional. Not every case makes it to the Supreme Court. In fact, there are very few that do.
Each year, the Supreme Court receives over 7,000 cases to review. The Court will hear just over one hundred of those cases. There are other federal courts or state courts that may preside over constitutional cases which include issues surrounding a state’s constitutionality.
The United States Constitution is a unique document in that it is considered by many to be a living document which evolves and grows with the changes in society. The Court will consider the issue before it, how the Constitution applies to that issue, and past similar cases which may shed light on a potential resolution to the current case.
If there is a fundamental constitutional right in question, the court will review it under strict scrutiny. This means that if a fundamental right is 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 difficult to satisfy this high standard and governmental agencies do not typically prevail on these matters.
It is important to note that states may have distinct processes when it comes to the manner in which constitutional law issues are processed. Because of this, it is important to consult with a constitution attorney, who will be familiar with the manner in which constitutional laws are applied locally.
Should I Call an Attorney for Help with Constitutional Law Issues?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a government lawyer for any constitutional law issues you may be facing. Constitutional law is a complex area of law which requires in-depth knowledge of the Constitution as well as knowledge of case laws which may support a claim as well as potential applicable local laws, rules, and regulations.
If you believe your constitutional rights have been violated, it is essential to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.