Top 5 Things You Should Know About Constitutional Law

When we ask ourselves what kind of country we want to live in, one of the first thoughts we have is, “What should be allowed, and what shouldn’t?” In a nation that is governed by 23,000 pages of criminal law alone, how do we decide what laws we want to live by? It all comes down to what is written in the Constitution of the United States, and how it is interpreted through constitutional law.

What Is Constitutional Law?

No one can write a law that is in conflict with what the Constitution says, and that is where constitutional law comes in.

The Law of the Land

Constitutional law is the body of law that deals with interpreting the Constitution and applying its decrees to practice in real-life situations, some mundane and others extremely consequential. In the United States, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.  It outlines what powers the different branches of government have, and what rights the citizens have. The Constitution has the final word in all questions of how our government and legal systems work – end of story.

Murky Waters

In the real world, however, there are arguments and differing opinions over specific aspects of the Constitution, and resolving them is not always as simple as dusting off the document and checking it to see which side is getting it right. Two people (or two areas of government, or two companies, or one person and the government, etc.) can read the same document, and each can think that the law is on their side.

Furthermore, there may seem to be contradictions within the Constitution itself, which can rouse questions about enforcing existing national, state, and local laws. New laws also have to be checked for constitutionality as well.

Constitutional law aims to untangle these questions and figure out what is in line with what the Constitution says and what is not. But, what does the Constitution say?

What Constitutes the Constitution?

The Constitution is invoked every day by pundits on cable news outlets, politicians on the campaign trail, and advocates arguing their stance on one issue or another. There is much more in the text than the commonly quoted bits and pieces that turn up so often in soundbites. Here is a quick rundown of what is covered in the constitution:

The Original Seven Articles

These form the bulk of the original document, drafted by the founders in 1787 and ratified by all of the original thirteen colonies by 1789.

Articles 1-3:

Articles 4-6:

Article 7:

A Living Document

Right from the get-go, the founders got to work adding amendments to the Constitution, and we have been adding more ever since with the latest amendment being ratified in 1992.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. They restrict government power and guarantee specific rights to the population. The First Amendment, for example, guarantees freedom of religion and restricts government from imposing any religion on the population. Other amendments in the Bill of Rights address gun ownership, the right to a speedy trial by jury, and protection against unwarranted search and seizure.

The remaining seventeen amendments can be grouped into three main categories:

Expansion of civil rights:

There are amendments outlawing slavery, guaranteeing women's suffrage, and abolishing Jim Crow policies.

Government processes and procedures:

These address questions of how the government will go about its business and deal with things like term limits and what happens if the President is unable to carry out his or her duties.

Governmental authority:

The eighteenth amendment, banning alcohol sales in the United States (the only one to be repealed), is included here, as well as others dealing with the reach of government authority.

The Need for Constitutional Law

Clearly, there is a lot to untangle in the Constitution. To further complicate the issue, the original document was signed into law well over 200 years ago. Inevitably, situations are going to arise that cause confusion about how best to apply the letter of the law, and inevitably, there will be lawyers involved.

How to Apply the Constitution?

There are five main approaches to figuring out how best to apply the Constitution.

Look at the Text: Ideally, all you need to do is read the text and do what it says. You may need to get around some old-fashioned language and follow some complicated thought processes, but otherwise, hopefully, the answer is in the document.

Structure and Logic: Sometimes, it is helpful to consider an individual amendment in the context of the entire constitution. For example, the eighteenth and twenty-first amendments only make sense if you consider that one repealed the other. Further, if there is any lack of clarity around one of the first ten amendments, consider that as part of the Bill of Rights, it is there to enshrine the rights of citizens.

Original Intent: The question of what the Founding Fathers originally intended when writing a part of the Constitution is a common, and complicated, dilemma. It is a useful question to the extent that their intention can help clarify the law itself, but it can be difficult to find the line between what they may have had on their mind, but still chose not to enshrine into law, and what they intended the words that they actually did enshrine into law to mean. For example,  if an amendment states that “any person has equal protection under the law” even though, at the time, many did not wish for women to have equal protection under the law, it may be true that many would not have wished the law to include women, thinking that “person” would be understood to refer to men only. However, the word that they chose to write was “person,” (and not “man” or “male”), which even then could be understood to include women. Therefore, we cannot say that the law should not apply to women;  they chose the word “person,” and that is what we go by.

Precedent: Here you would look at what has already been decided by previous courts and apply that decision to another situation. Precedents and the thought processes behind them can shed a lot of light on the issue at hand, but should never supersede what is actually written in the Constitution.

Policy: The question here is, “What impact will this have on the real world?” This approach is a bit tricky, as here you begin with the result that you want, and try to make it work within the Constitution. This should be the last approach, taking a back seat to an impartial reading of what the document says.

Top 5 Things You Should Know About Constitutional Law

There Is Always an Issue:

At any given time, there are plenty of important issues being worked out nationally, and one way to set policy is through the courts. Look no further than the cases involving money in politics, LGBT civil liberties, and religious freedom, or the debate about online file sharing.

Court Cases Matter:

A lot of important court cases involving the constitutionality of certain laws have shaped our policy for years and affect our lives today. Here are a few you may know: Roe Vs. Wade, in 1973, held that women have a constitutional right to choice; and Miranda Vs. Arizona, in 1966, gave us the “Miranda Rights” by guaranteeing that citizens are informed of their right against self-incrimination.

But Some Are Boring:

Take Fischer vs St. Louis (1896), about milk distribution; or Northwestern States Portland Cement Co. Vs. Minnesota (1959), about interstate tax laws. No offense, constitutional law professors.

It’s Not All About the Supreme Court:

While commonly regarded as the branch that interprets the Constitution and the place we should bring constitutional matters to be decided, the Supreme Court is not the sole guardian of our Constitution. Each branch of government is equally responsible to abide by the Constitution as they see fit, independent of the others, and nowhere in the Constitution itself does it say that the Supreme Court innately has more authority to interpret the law than the others. In fact, not only are all three branches of government bound by this responsibility but...

It's In Your Hands:

As citizens, we too have the authority to interpret the Constitution. The point is made explicitly in the first three words of the document itself, “We the People.” It is our right and responsibility to uphold the law of the Constitution by voting, jury duty, political advocacy, and all forms of civic participation.

So Get Out There!

The Constitution is one of the most important documents in our nation and guarantees us our rights and liberties. It is the backbone of our legal system, outlines how our government should work, and tells us who has the power to do what. If you have something to say about the Constitution, say it! You can get informed by viewing the Constitution itself here: https://www.usconstitution.net/const.pdf

Types of Lawyers: Your Guide To Finding the Right Lawyer

Finding the right types of lawyers or attorneys for your case is important. Cases can last months or even years, and you will probably need to be in regular correspondence with your lawyer. There are many types of lawyers. Some are highly specialized while others may handle a wide range of cases. Different types of lawyers’ fee structures will differ.

Choosing a lawyer is a highly personalized decision and there are likely to be many choices in your area. Usually, lawyers’ geographic areas determine to some extent what kind of law they practice. A lawyer in a small town will probably have more of a general practice while lawyers in urban areas will be more specialized. Sometimes a lawyer will decide he or she can handle all of a clients’ needs; at other times he or she may send their client to a specialist.

Some law firms focus on one specialized area of law, such as intellectual property. Other law firms comprise several lawyers whose practice areas complement one another. For example, Lawyer A would focus on one practice area such as Real Estate, Lawyer B would practice an area such as Estate Planning, and Lawyer C would focus on litigation and trial work. This loose collection of specialists would be called a general practice law firm.

You can always find more information about a lawyer by visiting their website or by calling them. Most types of lawyers offer free consultations where you can get a feel for them before starting payment.

Types of Lawyers

There are multiple factors to consider when talking about the different types of lawyers out there. It depends on the case and your budget, for starters. The best-connected lawyers with stellar track records will command a higher price. They will probably have offices in downtown office buildings and have great views. The size of the law firm may determine how much personalized attention you get. If you are a small client at a firm that deals mostly with big-name corporate clients, you may get lost in the shuffle.

There are many types of lawyers for all different cases. However, most lawyers fall into two categories; they practice either civil law or criminal law.

1.Criminal Law Lawyers

criminal-lawyer-in-eaton

Criminal law pertains to people who have been accused of committing a crime. Lawyers work as criminal defense attorneys to protect your rights and make sure you get a fair trial. They represent you and are with you every step of your case. They help you in cases against a person, like assault and battery, cases against property, such as burglary or arson, or any other criminal offense. If you are accused of a crime, it is imperative to find a competent criminal defense attorney.

2.Civil Law Lawyers

civil-law

The second type of lawyers deal with civil law. Civil law covers an array of specialization. These are some types of lawyers who practice civil law and their specialties.

PUBLIC INTEREST

ESTATE PLANNING

FAMILY

IMMIGRATION

PERSONAL INJURY

How Do I Know Which Kind of Lawyer I Need?

The types of lawyers you should look for depends on your case and its complexity, where you live, and what you can afford. We recommend you search online for the best types of lawyers near you on sites such as www.avvo.com. With Avvo, you can search for lawyers near you by practice areas.

Avvo.com creates ratings for the lawyers on their sites from information taken from their profiles, information from state bar associations, and other organizations that license legal professionals. Avvo only provides ratings for lawyers whose profiles have been claimed. Otherwise, they do not provide a numerical rating. However, 97 percent of lawyers in the United States are rated on Avvo.

How Are Avvo Ratings Determined?

Avvo ratings, which are scored 1-10, are based on the lawyer’s experience and background, their legal community recognition such as peer endorsements, associations, awards, and legal thought leadership track records including speaking engagements and publications. All factors affecting a lawyer’s Avvo rating are visible. You can also read reviews of your prospective lawyer on Avvo from past clients.

What to Look for in a Lawyer

1.Positive Rapport

It is very important that you feel comfortable with your lawyer. Honesty is key. Your lawyer can best help you when you give him or her complete and accurate information. Your lawyer’s job is to represent you. Trust and an open line of communication between the two of you is very important. Changes to your case may come at any moment, information may be required of you, and it is possible you will need to be in regular contact with this person, especially if it’s something like a divorce case.

2.Availability and Response Time

You can feel out your prospective lawyer’s availability before you sign a contract by sending a few phone calls and emails to see how fast you get a response. If your concerns and questions are addressed quickly, then you may just have found the right lawyer for you.

3.Track Record

You can search any prospective lawyer’s name online to see what has been said about him or her. You can check your state bar association’s website to see if any complaints have been lodged against your prospective attorney.

You will want to ask about whether they have handled this type of case before and what the outcome was. Less-experienced lawyers will come at a lower cost. Lawyers with the best and most experience will come at a higher cost.

4.Fee Structure

You want to be clear on how you will be charged for their services. If it is a small legal matter, you likely need not use the services of a high-powered litigator. Smaller matters may be better handled by a lower-priced attorney. Some attorneys offer a flat fee structure while others will bill by the hour. Besides the work on your case, time spent corresponding about your case (such as phone calls and emails) are often also billed. Lawyers who bill a flat fee may charge for additional costs such as the cost to file court documents. It is important to get clarity on these matters before proceeding. Small costs can add up.

Conclusion

As you can see, choosing the best types of lawyers for your needs can be simple. Use online resources to get all the best, up-to-date information on types of lawyers near you. Don’t get lost in the shuffle with a high-powered attorney who doesn’t have time for your case when you need a personalized, hands-on approach. The right types of lawyers out there will see you and your case as important—not as just another case number on the docket.