What is the primary source of law in the United States?

The primary source of law is the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the blueprint for the country's legal system. It is the highest form of law. States also have their own constitutions, which serve as their highest forms of legal documents. If a law does not comport with the Constitution, the law is declared unconstitutional or void.

What this means is that other forms of law must comport with the Constitution. In other words, a common legal claim asserted by a party challenging a law is that the law is unconstitutional. This means that the law violates a provision of the Constitution and is unenforceable.

What exactly does the U.S. Constitution do?

This most fundamental of all legal documents defines and limits the powers of the federal government. It also separates and defines the powers of this federal government into three branches of government—the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. The Constitution also establishes the baseline between the federal government and various state governments.

How is the U.S. Constitution composed?

The U.S. Constitution is composed of seven articles. The first three articles are the longest and arguably the most important. These three articles explain the powers of the three branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial. Article I of the Constitution outlines the powers of the U.S. Congress. Article II outlines the power of

The U.S. Constitution is the fundamental document that establishes a balance of power between the branches of the federal government, as well as for indicating what powers are under state or federal control (iStock).

The U.S. Constitution is the fundamental document that establishes a balance of power between the branches of the federal government, as well as for indicating what powers are under state or federal control (iStock).

the president—the chief officer of the executive branch. Article III outlines the powers of the judicial branch.

Article IV deals with the states and how the laws of one state are treated in other states. It also deals with how to admit a state to the union. Article V describes the amendment process. Article VI—a very short part of the Constitution—contains the Supremacy Clause, which ensures that federal law and the Constitution are the highest law of the land. Article VII consists of a single sentence explaining that it would take nine states to ratify the Constitution.

How many constitutional amendments have been enacted?

There have been only 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution in over two centuries. The first ten amendments were added only four years after the ratification of the Constitution. These ten amendments are collectively known as "the Bill of Rights." The next amendments were added at various times in the nation's history.

The Amendments to the U.S. Constitution


Issue Addressed

1st Amendment

Freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition

2nd Amendment

Right to bear arms

3rd Amendment

No quartering of troops in private homes

4th Amendment

No unreasonable searches and seizures

5th Amendment

Right to grand jury, no double jeopardy, freedom from self-

incrimination, due process and just compensation

6th Amendment

Speedy trial, public trial, notice of charges, compulsory

process, confrontation clause and assistance of counsel

7th Amendment

Right to jury trials in civil cases

8th Amendment

No excessive bail, fines or cruel and unusual punishment

9th Amendment

Asserts unenumerated (nonlisted) rights; that is, that the Bill

of Rights provides individual rights beyond those listed in the

first eight amendments (e.g., right to privacy)

10th Amendment

Affirms a basic principle of federalism, that power is divided

between federal and state governments; reserves powers to the


11th Amendment

Asserts state sovereign immunity, which shields states from

many lawsuits

12th Amendment

President and vice president must be from same political party

13th Amendment

Outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude

14th Amendment

Citizenship, rights of equal protection and due process

15th Amendment

Right to vote

16th Amendment

Income tax

17th Amendment

Popular election of senators

18th Amendment

Prohibition of alcohol

19th Amendment

Right of women to vote

20th Amendment

Date of presidential swearing-in; solves lame-duck problem

21st Amendment

Repeals the Eighteenth Amendment; no Prohibition

22nd Amendment

Limits presidents to two full terms (eight years)

23rd Amendment

District of Columbia; voting for president

24th Amendment

No poll tax

25th Amendment

Line of succession upon president's death

26th Amendment

Voting age becomes 18

27th Amendment

Congressional pay raises

What does the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution say?

The Supremacy Clause states: "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."

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