Street Law: A Course in Practical Law

Chapter 36: Introduction to Constitutional Law

Chapter Overviews

Amendments to the Constitution  The U.S. Constitution establishes our framework of government and the basic individual rights of Americans. Many Americans take these rights for granted and do not realize that there are many other countries that do not provide their citizens with similar rights. An amendment is a written addition to the Constitution that must be adopted according to specific procedure. The Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—includes the freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly and guarantees the right to a fair trial. Constitutional amendments demonstrate the evolution of American society and law.

Basic Constitutional Law Principles  The U.S. Constitution provides American citizens with many invaluable rights. States also have constitutions and laws that protect individual rights. These rights are usually protected by limiting the power of the government. However, these rights are not without limits. For example, freedom of press does not mean that a journalist can knowingly publish information that is untrue. Restrictions on constitutional rights exist so that each citizen is able to enjoy his or her freedom without violating the freedom of another citizen. The U.S. Supreme Court has developed various tests to measure when the government has overstepped its constitutional limits.

The U.S. Constitution primarily protects political and civil rights. Some people, however, believe that social and economic rights—such as the right to adequate health care and a decent standard of living—should be enforceable by the government. Others argue that while social and economic concerns can influence government policies, the government should not be legally responsible for guaranteeing these rights.

Glencoe Online Learning CenterSocial Studies HomeProduct InfoSite MapContact Us

The McGraw-Hill CompaniesGlencoe