There’s nothing like a good legal drama to catch your attention. You love watching the law play out on TV shows, true crime podcasts and even in real life! If the legal system interests you, you’ve probably seen the term “constitutional law” thrown about without giving it much thought until now.
What is constitutional law? This legal specialty focuses on interpreting the Constitution as it applies to the U.S. government and legal disputes. Constitutional law is part history lesson, part legal drama—and it’s essential to understanding some of the biggest cases circling the courts these days.
We spoke with constitutional law experts to bring you the scoop on how this area of law works and why it’s so important to the nation’s legal system.
Interpreting the Constitution
The interpretation of the Constitution is a heated topic in the legal world.
“Constitutional scholars are usually grouped into two distinct categories: originalist and non-originalist,” says attorney Falen O. Cox, partner at Cox, Rodman & Middleton, LLC.
The originalists generally take a narrow approach to the Constitution, trying to interpret it as it would have been back in 1787. Non-originalists have a broader view, seeing the Constitution as “a living document,” Cox says. “They consider it to be more of a framework for governance as opposed to an all-encompassing document that explicitly addresses all relevant issues.” Of course, there are also shades of gray between these polarized views, with plenty of legal experts landing in the middle of the spectrum.
Regardless of how they interpret the Constitution, most legal professionals would agree that they’re just trying to do what’s best for the country. “One thing that originalists and non-originalists have in common is that they believe their way is right and in the best interest of the nation,” Cox says.
These are a few of the modern-day issues that are regularly debated in constitutional law.