Constitutional Law

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After declaring independence, the 13 colonies worked on the constitution for statehood. By 1779 the constitution was in place and replicated the English parliament system. In 1776, a committee came together to and wrote the Articles of Confederation and it went into effect in 1781. This set up the national government but made the power of domestic affairs limited. States began to refuse powers that affected domestic affairs due to a fear of a strong central government. In February of 1787, Congress called for a convention which lasted almost 4 months. James Madison recommended keeping the best feature of the Articles of Confederation which was the idea of separating powers of the national government into three branches. After the Constitution was drafted, it now had to be sold the people. The opponents to the Constitution countered that giving the government the power to tax was dangerous, it lacked a Bill of Rights, and it threatened state sovereignty. Ratification began on June 21, 1788, and on July 2 it was declared duly ratified. On September 13, 1788, the Continental Congress put the new constitution into effect. The Constitution divides the powers between the state and the national government. States were forced to give a portion of their sovereignty and independence under the Articles of Confederation to form a federal union. Firs the powers of the federal government are addressed and then the powers not prohibited by the state in it are reserved to the state or to the people. During ratification James Madison picked 20 amendments, and 12 were approved by Congress. The states ratified 10 of those, and it became the Bill of Rights in 1791. Originally it limited the federal government, but the Fourteenth Amendment addition now binds state governments. It contains due process and equal protection laws. The Supreme Court is the authority of what the Constitution means. Cases reach the Supreme Court in one of two ways, habeas corpus or direct review. There are federal and state courts and within those systems are trial and appeal courts. Over time the Constitutional Law has changed a lot. White men 21 and over could vote and the as long as the President was elected, he stayed in office. The 15th Amendment stated no one can be discriminated against because of their skin color or race. Then, the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote. The 22nd Amendment established the President’s term limit. The eighteen to twenty year-olds could vote because of the 26th Amendment in 1971. Our Founding Father’s knew that as times change the Constitution may need to be revised and included the 5th Amendment, since then the Constitution has been changed 27 times.

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The Constitution delegates certain powers to the federal government and those not delegated would be set aside for state governments and the American people. These powers are called police powers. Primarily, the federal government’s powers were supposed to be few and defined, as quoted by James Madison, but that is no longer accurate. After the New Deal era, the shift occurred, and the power for the federal government was described in broad language. This caused for the language to be stretch and therefore the powers for the states pivoted. Federal law supersedes and annuls state law when they conflict. The due process and equal protection clause strengthened the Amendments to the Constitution by not only making it a federal right but also a state right.

Under the constitutional laws, states are granted the right to make their own laws. This is because states are considered their own sovereign entity and can make laws that fit their needs. States have unique characteristics that pertain to that state specifically. An example of this would be geographic and natural resources. Therefore, laws are necessary in certain states and not others. Criminal and voting laws across the states are somewhat uniform. Other laws, such as, gun laws, marriage laws, and child custody laws vary.

The national government’s powers are divided into three branches. The Constitution prohibits one branch from taking another’s power and from turning their powers over to another branch. The Legislative branch is made up of the Senate and House of Representatives making up Congress. Congress is responsible for making laws, declaring war, spending policies, regulating interstate commerce and foreign commerce, and controls taxing. The Legislative branch has checks on the Judicial branch by being able to impeach or remove judges, creating lower federal courts, request amendments to overrule judicial decisions. The Executive branch includes the President, his or her advisors, and various agencies. This branch is responsible for enforcing the laws, negotiating treaties, and acts as commander in chief of the armed forces. The President can appoint and remove cabinet members. He or she can veto bills or send it back to Congress to be amended. The President has the power to grant pardons for federal crimes. The Executive branch isn’t all-powerful, and his choices must be approved by the Senate. Congress can override his veto with two-thirds vote and the House can vote to impeach the President and then it moves to the Senate which can vote him or her out of office. The Judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court the highest court in the land. It also includes the Federal Judicial Center, which does the education and research agency for federal courts. The Supreme Court interprets the meaning of Constitutional and laws. There are nine judges who are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. The Supreme Court only decides if something is constitutional or not and its decisions are final. As well, this branch can declare Congress’s actions unconstitutional. Check and balances are important because it permits each branch to limit one’s power. If there wasn’t a checks and balances system in place, then one branch would become too powerful. It prevents a dictatorship from developing.

Most states have three levels of courts. The lowest level is trial courts, then middle-level appeal courts, the highest level is supreme. Two levels of appeals courts exist to secure the right of everyone to have an opportunity to have the higher courts review trial case rulings on questions of the law. State supreme courts generally have discretion whether to hear an appeal. This is also how it works with the U.S. Supreme Court. Requests to the Supreme Court are introduced by filing a petition for a writ of certiorari. If at least four judges vote for a case to be heard it will be granted. The Supreme Court usually hears about 150 appeals per term. If an appeal is denied, that doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the decision of the lower court. State prisoners appeals reach the Supreme Court in two routes: direct review and habeas corpus review. Law enforcement officers should understand the Constitution because all citizens should have basic knowledge due to citizen’s constitutional liberties rely on informed decisions. Police officers are required to make decisions that have constitutional implications. The decisions start from making an arrest to interrogating a suspect. Finally violating the Constitution can have serious consequences for the officer, the justice system, and the suspect’s whose rights are disregarded.


  1. How the U.S. Constitution Has Evolved Over Time. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2018, from
  2. Kanovitz, J. R. (2015). Constitutional Law for Criminal Justice. New York: Routledge.
  3. Limitations on the powers of the Legislative Branch. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2018, from
  4. Rivera, J. (2018, June 26). Why Do States Have Different Laws? Retrieved November 19, 2018, from
  5. States Rights – constitution | (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2018, from
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Constitutional Law. (2020, Mar 18). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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