Constitutional Law Definition
The U.S. Constitution, drafted in 1787, remains the foundation of the United States today. Constitutional law, therefore, deals with fundamental relationships and practices in policy and law. The types of relationships that constitutional law deals with includes relationships between the states and the federal government, relationships among the states, relationships among the three branches of the federal government (executive, legislative and judicial), and the rights of the individuals in relationship to the federal government and to the state government. Constitutional law is central to the practice of all law, as well as politics, within the United States. Even today, there have been only 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution (the first 10 being the Bill of Rights).
Violations of basic rights granted under the U.S. Constitution form the basis of constitutional law. The study of constitutional law focuses on U.S. Supreme Court rulings, as it is up to the Supreme Court to interpret the constitution and how it applies to everyday legal situations and questions. Topics that are covered in constitutional law relate directly to the U.S. Constitution, such as:
- Judicial Review
- Bill of Rights
- Powers of Congress
- Separation of powers
- Equal protection under the law
- Due process
- Checks and balances
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of the press
The U.S. Constitution established the national government and laws of the United States, as well as guaranteed its citizens basic rights and protections under law. It improved upon the preexisting Articles of Confederation, the first governing document of the nation, that allowed a weak national government with states operating independently. When creating the U.S. Constitution, our founding fathers made sure that none of the three branches of government had too much power under a unique system of checks and balances. This system defines and limits powers of the government.
Examples of cases and legal issues that have been covered under constitutional law include:
- Brown v. Board of Education – 1954-55 decision which banned racial segregation in schools
- Roe v. Wade- 1973 decision which struck down state bans on some abortions
- Lee v. Weisman – 1992 decision that school prayer at public school graduation was unconstitutional
- Bowers v. Hardwick – 1986 decision upholding the constitutionality of a Georgia law criminalizing sodomy
- Regents of the University of California v. Bakke – 1978 decision that the use of racial quotas in school admission is unconstitutional but affirmative action is constitutional in some circumstances
The U.S. Constitution outlines the structure and function of the U.S. government and how that government relates to individual citizens. It is considered to be superior to any other legal document in the country, due to the major role that the Constitution played in forming our country. It is considered to be the “law of the land,” supreme over all other laws, which are measured by the Constitution. If a law conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, that law is considered to be null and void.