U.S. Constitution (A Guide)
Guide to the U.S. Constitution
This is a guide to understanding what the United States Constitution means for the rights of Americans, and how the American government works. We also have the full text of the Constitution.
What is the purpose of the U.S. Constitution?
The Constitution was originally approved in 1787, and has been amended 27 times, as recently as 1992. It sets out the structure of the government, and limits on the government, and thus rights of citizens and other individuals.
Under the Constitution, our three branches of government are created: the Legislative (Congress), Executive (President), and Judicial (Supreme Court and federal courts). There are many specific powers assigned to each branch. See more on this at our page Can the Government Do That?
Individuals occupying these official positions must follow these rules, and may not take actions that violate them. This would be unconstitutional and illegal. The courts have the final say on what is unconstitutional or not. However, the supreme power truly lies with the Congress, which can impeach and remove the president, judges and justices, or individual members of Congress. It does so at its sole discretion and judgment.
What are the key parts of the Constitution?
The Constitution sets out the powers of government (Articles I, II, III). It also describes the limits on government, which essentially gives certain rights to individuals to be free from government power. These are found throughout the Constitution, but most prominently in the Bill of Rights (1st 10 amendments) and other amendments.
These include limits on censoring free speech (particularly through the 1st amendment). It also includes rules about how those accused of crimes may be treated and prosecuted (4th, 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments), particularly through the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th amendments. The due process clause has also been interpreted to grant more substantive rights, known as the substantive due process doctrine.