Constitutional Law

What is Constitutional Law?

Constitutional law deals with the fundamental principles by which the government exercises its authority. In some instances, these principles grant specific powers to the government, such as the power to tax and spend for the welfare of the population. Other times, constitutional principles act to place limits on what the government can do, such as prohibiting the arrest of an individual without sufficient cause. In most nations, including the United States, constitutional law is based on the text of a document ratified at the time the nation came into being.

The U.S. Constitution itself became the law of the land well over 200 years ago, and the tenets set forth in the document remain in full force today. The way in which the Constitution is applied, though, has always been subject to court interpretation. As circumstances and public opinion evolve through the years, so too do the interpretations offered by the courts. From time to time, it even becomes necessary to amend the Constitution to keep pace with changes in the country’s beliefs and values. For example, the practice of slavery – expressly allowed by the Constitution in its original form – was prohibited through a constitutional amendment passed in the year 1865.

Bringing a Claim in Federal Court

As a practical matter, constitutional law provides a means for individuals and organizations to protect their interests by filing a lawsuit against those who infringe upon their rights. However, the Constitution does not permit just anyone to go into federal court and assert a claim for compensation or other relief. Certain requirements must be met. If these conditions are satisfied, the plaintiff is said to have “standing,” meaning the court will agree to hear the plaintiff’s case and render a decision.

In order for a plaintiff to have standing there must be a live controversy for the federal court to consider. The issue of standing is not as simple as it may appear. For instance, a landowner who learns that transportation officials are considering the construction of a highway across his or her property might file a lawsuit claiming that the proposal is an unconstitutional taking of private property by the government. In this situation, the court is likely to dismiss the claim for lack of standing. Because the transportation officials are merely considering building the highway, the claim is not yet ripe for adjudication. The federal court will not render an advisory opinion about something that may or may not occur in the future.

Violations of Equal Protection and Due Process

Once a plaintiff demonstrates standing to bring a claim, any number of constitutional provisions can form the basis of the lawsuit. Two of the most common grounds are alleged violations of equal protection and due process. The equal protection clause of the Constitution prohibits the government from treating classes of people differently in the absence of a compelling reason for doing so. If the government wants to pass a law that draws a distinction between people based on race, gender, or other such characteristics, it must be able to demonstrate a highly important purpose, and the law must be narrowly tailored to achieve that purpose. This is a difficult burden for the government to meet.

Similarly, the due process clause of the Constitution requires the government to have an adequate reason for taking away a person’s life, liberty, or property. And even if a sufficiently adequate reason exists, the government must establish a fair procedure of which individuals can avail themselves. Consider the example of city officials who seek to take away the liquor license belonging to a local restaurant. To justify its actions, the government points to three instances in the past six months when the restaurant served alcohol to underage customers. Assuming this is a sufficient reason to take away the license, the government must still provide the restaurant owner with a hearing, right to appeal, or similar procedures for contesting the action.

Individual Rights under the Constitution

Having recently won their independence from the British, the framers of the Constitution were understandably weary of governmental intrusion into the lives of American citizens. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, reflect this concern. In fact, the First Amendment alone contains numerous protections, including the freedom of the press and the freedom of association. It also protects the right to free speech, allowing individuals to openly voice their opinions, even when those opinions are critical of the government or unpopular among the majority of Americans. Individual rights, like other constitutional guarantees, are protected by the rule of law and those who are aggrieved can turn to the courts for redress.

Hiring a Constitutional Law Attorney

Some of the most important court cases in U.S. history came about as a result of individual citizens standing up for their constitutional rights. If you believe the government or a private party has infringed on your rights, contact an attorney today to learn about your legal options.


Know Your Rights!

  • Can Bad Food Be a Violation of the Eighth Amendment Prohibition of Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

    A number of legal challenges have been raised across the United States challenging “nutriloaf” and other poor prison meals as a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and a violation of the inmates' Eight Amendment Rights.

  • Do You Have a Right to Privacy?

    While the Constitution does not specifically mention a right to privacy, the U.S. Supreme Court has noted in several decisions that it believes this right exists in the “penumbra” of several other, specifically enumerated rights, such as the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and as such the citizens are entitled to it under the catch-all provision of the Ninth Amendment.

  • How do I say “No” to the Police?

    When an officer asks you to empty your pockets, allow a search of your car, or for some other consent to search, how do you say “no” without bringing on more suspicion and a possible arrest?

  • Is Body Paint Considered Clothing

    Body paint as clothing falls into a gray area. Most states' and municipalities' anti-nudity laws are silent on body paint, which leaves law enforcement in the difficult position of making judgment calls.

  • Laws Regarding Graffiti and Art

    How does the law deal with the debate between free expression, art, and the crime of defacing others' properties?

  • What Are Our First Amendment Rights?

    Considered by many to be the most important rights established by the United States Constitution, the First Amendment rights cover some of the most fundamental freedoms Americans enjoy. They include free speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly.

  • What Are The Laws Regarding Declaring War?

    Since the creation of the U.S. Constitution, however, the United States has had laws regarding declaring war. Certain military actions can be taken without formal declarations of war, others cannot. So what are the laws regarding declaring war?

  • What Happens if I Am Not Read My Rights?

    While many believe that if they are not “read their rights” they will escape punishment for criminal acts, it is not quite so clear cut.

  • What is Sharia Law and How Does it Apply in America

    What is Sharia law, and is it really something that Americans should be concerned about? Is anti-Sharia law actually more dangerous to American freedoms than the moral code it seeks to prohibit?

  • What is Sharia Law and How Does it Apply in America?

    What is Sharia law, and is it really something that Americans should be concerned about? Is anti-Sharia law actually more dangerous to American freedoms than the moral code it seeks to prohibit?

  • Where Can I Carry a Gun on a College Campus?

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of the 4,400 colleges and universities in the United States do not allow students or faculty to carry guns on campus.

Articles About Constitutional Law

  • How to Respond to a Subpoena
    A subpoena is a court-ordered mandate telling a person to show up in court or a deposition at a certain time or to provide a party of a case with certain information. Individuals who ignore a subpoena can find themselves in civil or criminal contempt of court. However, a person may not need to blindly comply with the subpoena.
  • What are Timeshare 'Points'?
    The timeshare deed system required a level of disclosure that effectively prevented certain practices hurting the bottom line of the unscrupulous timeshare developer.
  • Can a Joint Account Be Garnished?
    When a creditor wants to ensure that it will quickly receive the funds that it is due, it may go after any funds or assets that it can get its hands on. In some situations, creditors may prefer to garnish a bank account rather than go after an employee’s wages. In many situations, the creditor may be able to access funds in a joint account.
  • What Conditions Apply to Probation?
    Probation is a conditional sentence, meaning that if the defendant does not comply with the conditions, the probation can be revoked and the suspended jail sentence can be imposed. Probation conditions vary widely by geographic region, as well as the type of court that entered the probation. In some cases, a judge may impose specific provisions, while in others, a probation officer may impose certain conditions.
  • How Can I Ensure that I Receive Fair Pay as a Woman?
    Historically, women have earned less than their male counterparts. Nationally, women make about 78 cents on the dollar that each man earns for the same job. However, a variety of laws have been passed to help ensure women of fair pay. Here is an overview of those laws and the steps you can take to ensure that you, as an employee, are receiving a fair rate of pay.
  • What Are the Rules Regarding Miranda?
    Anyone who has seen a cop show has probably memorized a person’s “rights.” The common warnings regarding the right to remain silent and the right to consult a lawyer are well known. However, citizens may not be aware of the implications of what happens when these rights are not read or given to them.
  • How Is a Class Certified?
    Before a class action lawsuit can proceed, the class must be certified. This process ensures that the plaintiffs have enough similarities to proceed with litigation against the named defendant as part of one larger case.
  • How Far Does the Right to Bear Arms Really Go?
    For many Americans, the right to have and use a gun is quite precious. Viewed as a way to combat tyranny, to protect one's home and person, and as a tool for recreation, guns are a big part of the American way of life. But how far does the right to bear arms really go?
  • What Are Common American Censorship Laws?
    How often have we heard someone say “It's a free country, I can say what I want to?” In most cases, that person is correct. But, America does not always allow free speech without constraint.
  • If My State Has Legalized Marijuana, Can I Smoke it in Federal Housing?
    Although some states permit marijuana use for medical or recreational reasons, federal housing is based on federal laws. At the time of publication, marijuana use was still outlawed by federal law. However, guidance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows the nuances in laws that federal housing projects are currently laboring under.
  • All Civil Rights Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Civil Rights including: constitutional law, consumer law, discrimination, human rights, native populations, privacy law, public law and sexual harassment.

Constitutional Law - US

  • ABA - Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice

    The Constitutional Law and Separation of Powers Committee focuses on constitutional issues relevant to practitioners and scholars who concentrate on administrative and regulatory matters. The Committee considers the constitutional parameters of federal-state relationships; most particularly, the scope of the federal government's regulatory powers and its powers to impose liabilities or responsibilities upon states.

  • Constitution of the United States

    The Constitution of the United States comprises the primary law of the U.S. Federal Government. It also describes the three chief branches of the Federal Government and their jurisdictions. In addition, it lays out the basic rights of citizens of the United States. The Constitution of the United States is the oldest Federal constitution in existence and was framed by a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen original states in Philadelphia in May 1787. The Constitution is the landmark legal document of the United States.

  • Constitutional Law - Overview

    As the Constitution is the foundation of the United States, constitutional law deals with fundamental social relationships, such as relationships among the states, the states and the federal government, the three branches of the federal government, and the rights of the individual. The study of constitutional law focuses heavily on Supreme Court rulings, as they are very crucial for interpreting the Constitution.

  • General Principles of Constitutional Law

    This manual presents succinctly the general principles of constitutional law, whether they pertain to the federal system, to the state system, or both. Some general principles of constitutional law, which formerly were left exclusively to state protection, are now brought within the purview of the federal power, and this manual attempts to show the part they take in federal as well as state government.

  • State Constitutions

    The LII collection of state legal materials gathers, state by state, Internet-accessible sources of the constitutions, statutes, judicial opinions, and regulations for the fifty states, plus D.C., and the U.S. territories and affiliated jurisdictions.

Constitutional Law - Europe

  • Constitutions of European Countries

    This website provides information on the Constitution of European countries.

  • European Constitutional Reform

    A list of links to various documents regarding the establishment of a constitution for Europe, provided by the European Constitutional Law Network (ECLN).

  • European Union Constitution

    This website is aimed at researchers, journalists and citizens interested in learning about the European constitutional process. It brings together facts, official documents, analysis, bibliographies, links and other resources relevant to the main steps in this process.

Constitutional Law - International

  • Constitutional Law of Canada

    The written part of Canada’s constitution consists of statutes of the Imperial (that is, the United Kingdom) Parliament, the Parliament of Canada and the legislatures of the Canadian provinces. The major constitutional document is the British North America Act, 1867, later renamed the Constitution Act, 1867.

  • International Constitutional Law

    ICL joins different efforts to establish a scientific platform and network for people interested in the subject matter of research.

  • International Constitutional Law (ICL)

    International Constitutional Law (ICL) provides English translations of and other textual material related to constitutional documents. It cross-references those documents for quick comparison of constitutional provisions. Paragraphs are numbered, unofficial titles put in square brackets to be included into the table of contents.

  • Magna Carta

    The full text of the Magna Carta (The Great Charter), the text that formed the basis of Constitutional Law as we know it today, translated into English.

Organizations Related to Constitutional Law

  • American Constitution Society for Law and Policy

    The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), founded in 2001, is one of USA's leading non-partisan, non-profit legal organizations. ACS a network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges, policymakers and other individuals, with a mission to ensure that fundamental principles enjoy a central place in American law. Click here to learn more about our goals.

  • International Association of Constitutional Law (IACL)

    The IACL is a worldwide association of constitutional scholars and jurists grappling with the unprecedented challenges of a new world order. Its objective is to provide a forum in which constitutionalists from all parts of the world can begin to understand each other’s systems, explain and reflect on their own, and engage in fruitful comparison.

  • The Constitution Society

    This site aims to provide almost everything needed to decide what is and is not constitutional in most situations, and what applicable constitutions require one to do. The Constitution Society is a private non-profit organization dedicated to research and public education; it publishes documentation, engages in litigation, and organizes local citizens groups to work for reform.

Publications Related to Constitutional Law

  • Federalist Papers

    The original text of the Federalist Papers (also known as The Federalist), provided by the Library of Congress.

  • Founders' Constitution

    Hailed as "the Oxford English Dictionary of American constitutional history," the print edition of The Founders' Constitution has proved since its publication in 1986 to be an invaluable aid to all those seeking a deeper understanding of one of our nation's most important legal documents.

  • History of the Constitutional Convention

    This page explores the history of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the ratification debates, the adoption of the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.

  • Vienna Online Journal on International Constitutional Law

    The Vienna Online Journal on International Constitutional Law is a quarterly-published eJournal bringing articles on recent developments in international constitutional law from researchers, scholars and other professionals. Besides putting the spotlight on constitutional developments, it serves as a window on Austrian Constitutional Law to the English speaking world and offers an insight into interesting books on international constitutional law.

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