chapter  6
Constitutional Law
Pages 37

In Chapter 1 we introduced constitutional law, along with case law, statutory law, and several others, as one of the many kinds of law comprised by the American legal system. We noted that the U.S. Constitution and the laws and treaties of the United States are the supreme law of the land. However, we also noted in Chapter 1 that the language of the Constitution tends to be ambiguous, employing such phrases as “due process of law,” “equal protection of the law,” and “cruel and unusual punishment” without clearly dening them. This ambiguity presents a problem: How can the Constitution be our supreme law if we don’t know what it means? Also, how can we ever learn the meaning of the Constitution when those who wrote it have long since died? The answer lies in judicial interpretation of the Constitution, which is the main but not exclusive responsibility of the U.S. Supreme Court. As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in the famous case of Marbury v. Madison, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”1 Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, in the same vein, remarked, “We are under a constitution but the constitution is what the judges say it is.”2