Skip to Main Content

The University of Tennessee

Political Science Department

Frequently Used Tools:

Welcome! » Constitutional Law

Constitutional Law

See Also: American Constitutional Law | Edited Court Decisions

American constitutional law refers to the principles of the United States Constitution as they relate to the organization, powers, and limits of government and to the relationship between government and the American people. American constitutional law has two basic components: the institutional dimension and the civil rights/civil liberties dimension. The former area embraces issues of presidential, congressional, and judicial power, as well as questions of state versus national authority and problems of interstate relations. The latter area involves claims of personal freedom and legal and political equality, usually asserted in opposition to exercises of governmental power.

James Madison"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

James Madison, Federalist No. 51


"It is, emphatically, the province and duty of the judicial department, to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret that rule." 

Chief Justice John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison (1803).

Alexander Hamilton"...[T]he judiciary ... will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. ... The judiciary ... has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society; and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm for the efficacious exercise even of this faculty."

Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 78