Constitutional law encompasses any law or right that originates from the United States Constitution. American constitutional law is the body of law that 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 – One fundamental right guaranteed under the First Amendment is the right to freedom of speech and press. Both the federal and state governments are generally prohibited from limiting an individual's right to expression, with only a few limited exceptions. Today, government-sponsored censorship is a controversial topic in constitutional law.
- Freedom of Religion – Another significant right protected by the First Amendment is the right to freedom of religious choice. The First Amendment explicitly prohibits the establishment of a government religion, such as a state church. 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." No other constitutional right is more hotly debated than the right to have and bear a gun. The Supreme Court is still in the process of clarifying what the Second Amendment exactly means. Thus, debates continue as to whether the government can implement gun control laws and how extensive those laws can be.
- Freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure – The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from government trespass without a court-issued 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 acts of self-incrimination and double jeopardy. To avoid self-incrimination, a citizen can “plead the fifth,” effectively exercising his/her constitutional right to avoid answering a question or avoid 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 for a criminal trial 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.
Seeking Legal Help
If you feel that your constitutionally-guaranteed rights have been compromised, you should contact a government attorney and/or a constitutional law attorney. Finding the right lawyer experienced in constitutional law will inform you of your rights as well as preserve any possible legal remedies you may have.