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The US. Constitution sets the framework for all other laws of the United States, at both the federal and the state level. It creates a shared balance of power between states and the federal government (federalism) and shared power among the branches of government (separation of powers), establishes individual rights against governmental action (Bill of Rights), and provides for federal oversight of matters affecting interstate commerce and commerce with foreign nations. Knowing the contours of the US legal system is not possible without understanding the role of the US Constitution.
The Constitution is difficult to amend. Thus when the Supreme Court uses its power of judicial review to determine that a law is unconstitutional, it actually shapes what the Constitution means. New meanings that emerge must do so by the process of amendment or by the passage of time and new appointments to the court. Because justices serve for life, the court changes its philosophical outlook slowly.
The Bill of Rights is an especially important piece of the Constitutional framework. It provides legal causes of action for infringements of individual rights by government, state or federal. Through the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, both procedural and (to some extent) substantive due process rights are given to individuals.
For many years, the Supreme Court believed that “commercial speech” was entitled to less protection than other forms of speech. One defining element of commercial speech is that its dominant theme is to propose a commercial transaction. This kind of speech is protected by the First Amendment, but the government is permitted to regulate it more closely than other forms of speech. However, the government must make reasonable distinctions, must narrowly tailor the rules restricting commercial speech, and must show that government has a legitimate goal that the law furthers.
Edward Salib owned a Winchell’s Donut House in Mesa, Arizona. To attract customers, he displayed large signs in store windows. The city ordered him to remove the signs because they violated the city’s sign code, which prohibited covering more than 30 percent of a store’s windows with signs. Salib sued, claiming that the sign code violated his First Amendment rights. What was the result, and why?
Harvey filed a suit against the state of Colorado, claiming that a Colorado state law violates the commerce clause. The court will agree if the statute
The state legislature in Maine enacts a law that directly conflicts with a federal law. Mapco Industries, located in Portland, Maine, cannot comply with both the state and the federal law.
Hannah, who lives in Ada, is the owner of Superior Enterprises, Inc. She believes that certain actions in the state of Ohio infringe on her federal constitutional rights, especially those found in the Bill of Rights. Most of these rights apply to the states under
Minnesota enacts a statute that bans all advertising that is in “bad taste,” “vulgar,” or “indecent.” In Michigan, Aaron Calloway and his brother, Clarence “Cab” Calloway, create unique beer that they decide to call Old Fart Ale. In their marketing, the brothers have a label in which an older man in a dirty T-shirt is sitting in easy chair, looking disheveled and having a three-day growth of stubble on his chin. It appears that the man is in the process of belching. He is also holding a can of Old Fart Ale. The Minnesota liquor commission orders all Minnesota restaurants, bars, and grocery stores to remove Old Fart Ale from their shelves. The state statute and the commission’s order are likely to be held by a court to be
Raunch Unlimited, a Virginia partnership, sells smut whenever and wherever it can. Some of its material is “obscene” (meeting the Supreme Court’s definition under Miller v. California) and includes child pornography. North Carolina has a statute that criminalizes obscenity. What are possible results if a store in Raleigh, North Carolina, carries Raunch merchandise?