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Constitutional Law History Notes, Exams, lessons, courses University College Faculty

Constitutional law is a body of law which defines the role, powers, and structure of different entities within a state, namely, the executive, the parliament or legislature, and the judiciary; as well as the basic rights of citizens and, in federal countries such as the United States and Canada, the relationship between the central government and state, provincial, or territorial governments.

Constitutional law is the law that relates to interpreting, implementing and amending the United States constitution and the constitutions of the 50 states. It is an area of law that focuses on what the constitution says, what it means and what its limitations are. As social and political issues change and develop in the United States, attorneys who practice constitutional law bring these issues to the courts to ask for clarification about the meaning, interpretation and enforcement of the constitution.

Attorneys who practice constitutional law might work at a private law firm, a non-profit advocacy group or for the federal government. Their work might include intake for determining which cases to take, drafting initial paperwork and preparing detailed research briefs. Their work may include going to court for oral arguments and other hearings.

Some attorneys become constitutional lawyers and practice constitutional law exclusively. For example, a Supreme Court Justice and their staff attorneys work only on constitutional law cases. On the other hand, a district court judge in a small county in a state court might encounter a novel, constitutional issue only occasionally as part of running a general, local criminal and civil court.

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.

New challenges to our nation’s founding document are constantly brought to action, and lawyers who specialize in parsing its meaning and intent are in high demand. But constitutional issues arise in nearly all practice areas, and it is essential for any lawyer to understand the basic structure of the Constitution, the scheme of government it establishes, the powers it confers, and the rights it guarantees.

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