North Dakota Constitutional Law

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 What Does Constitutional Law Cover?

In general, constitutional law covers broad areas of the law that stem from the principles established in the Constitution of the United States. Specifically, constitutional law deals with the interpretation of constitutional rights granted to U.S. citizens under both the federal constitution as well as the constitutions of every state. 

Constitutional law also helps to define the various roles and relationships between the federal government, the states, and the rights of the people. For instance, some constitutional law issues will involve reviewing the text of the U.S. Constitution to determine what a particular branch of the federal government can or cannot do (e.g., Congress makes the laws).

Other constitutional law issues will deal with the rights that U.S. citizens are afforded under both the federal and a particular state’s constitution. For example, the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is interpreted to provide an implied right of privacy to U.S. citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures carried out by the government. The right is implied, meaning that the U.S. Constitution does not explicitly use the word “privacy” in its provisions. 

On the other hand, some state constitutions (e.g., California) contain explicit provisions relating to an individual’s right of privacy and actually use the term “privacy” in the text. Thus, despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution is considered to be the supreme law of the land, residents of California are afforded stronger privacy rights under the state constitution. 

What are Some Constitutional Law Concepts?

There are several basic concepts embedded in the U.S. Constitution. These constitutional law concepts include:

  • Separation of powers: Separation of powers is a constitutional law concept that establishes the basic powers of the government. It requires that these powers are divided amongst three “separate” branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. 
  • Checks and balances: The constitutional law concept of checks and balances refers to the restrictions and allowances that each branch of government possesses and may or may not use to limit the actions of the other branches.
  • Judicial review: Judicial review is a power that primarily belongs to the judicial branch. It gives a court power to determine whether a particular government action is constitutional or not.
  • Federalism: The constitutional law concept of federalism simply means that the political power in the country should be distributed between a central government (i.e., the federal government) and various regional or state governments.
  • Popular sovereignty: Popular sovereignty is a constitutional law concept that means the source of the government’s power must be derived from the people (e.g., through publicly elected officials).  
  • Limited government: This concept alludes to the idea that the government can only use as much power as federal and/or state laws afford it. In other words, the government will be bound by restrictions set forth in laws like the U.S. Constitution.

How are Constitutional Laws Interpreted?

As previously discussed, the U.S. Constitution divides the federal government into three separate branches. The judicial branch, which includes the Supreme Court of the United States, is responsible for interpreting the constitution and how its principles may apply to important legal issues.

There are numerous ways for a judge to interpret the laws of the federal and/or a state constitution. This process is known as judicial interpretation and may be left up to the discretion of an individual judge. In most cases, judicial interpretation is based on a legal theory, such as textualism or originalism.

For example, the late Justice Antony Scalia was said to be both a textualist and originalist. This means that when a case came before the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia would apply these legal theories to issue a decision. 

Although the two terms are used interchangeably, there is one slight difference. Textualism means that a judge will only consider the words before them to make a decision, whereas originalism means that a judge will consider the intent behind the words at the time they were written into law.

Another way that a constitution may be interpreted by judges, or more likely the Justices of the Supreme Court if it is the U.S. Constitution, is by applying a balancing test. This usually involves weighing the rights of an individual against the interests of the government. 

Regardless of which method of judicial interpretation is used, the principle gleaned from the Justices’ interpretation of the U.S. Constitution will then be applied to the case at hand and set the precedent for lower courts and/or future cases until the decision is overruled or reversed (if ever). 

How are Constitutional Laws Enforced in North Dakota?

According to the North Dakota state constitution, a person who suspects that their state constitutional rights have been violated may retain legal representation to enforce their constitutional rights in court. Alternatively they can represent themselves or ask the government to represent them, 

The state constitution also provides that this can be done in a trial court, an appellate court, or any other court authority that has jurisdiction over the matter in accordance with due process of law. This process is similar to the ways that the laws established by many state constitutions are enforced.  

From the government’s perspective, however, the executive branch is the independent section of government that is truly responsible for enforcing North Dakota’s constitution. While victims who have been denied constitutional rights help to keep the government in check by filing lawsuits, it is actually the state executive branch that oversees the enforcement of state constitutional laws.

What are Some Common Constitutional Law Defenses in North Dakota?

The legal defenses that an individual can raise in a case involving a violation of a state constitutional principle in North Dakota will largely depend on the claim that the individual is asserting. Generally speaking, some common constitutional law defenses in North Dakota include:

  • The government violated an individual’s right to due process;
  • Law enforcement executed an unlawful search or seizure;
  • The government infringed on an individual’s right to freedom of speech;
  • Law enforcement failed to Mirandize a person when they arrested them; and
  • The government deprived an individual of property when they seized land without providing the proper compensation. 

Again, defenses to constitutional law issues will be very fact-specific. Thus, a person who requires a defensive strategy after being denied rights they may have been entitled to under the state of North Dakota’s constitution should hire a North Dakota constitutional lawyer as soon as possible. A North Dakota constitutional lawyer will be able to assist in tailoring a defensive argument to the facts of the individual’s case.

Do I Need to Hire a North Dakota Constitutional Lawyer? 

Cases involving violations of constitutional rights are typically based on very specific legal issues that are often difficult to resolve without the assistance of a lawyer who specializes in constitutional law. Also, due to the fact that constitutions need to be interpreted by a judge, not every constitutional legal issue will have a definitive answer. 

Therefore, if you believe that your constitutional rights have been violated by a government actor, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a North Dakota government lawyer immediately to further assist you with the matter. An experienced government lawyer who practices in North Dakota will be able to advise you of the legal rights and protections that are granted to you under both the state and federal constitution. 

If you have been denied certain constitutional rights, your lawyer can also help you defend those rights by assisting you with filing a lawsuit, providing legal representation in court, and presenting a solid argument that ensures that you are not wrongfully deprived of due process.

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