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constitution

n. the fundamental, underlying document which establishes the government of a nation or state. The U.S. Constitution, originally adopted in convention on September 17, 1787, ratified by the states in 1788, and thereafter amended 27 times, is the prime example of such a document. It is the basis for all decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court (and federal and state courts) on constitutionality. The case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) firmly established the power of the Supreme Court to strike down federal statutes it found unconstitutional, making the Supreme Court the final arbiter of constitutional interpretation. The "equal rights" provision of the 14th Amendment established that the rights in the first ten amendments ("Bill of Rights") applied to state governments. Unfortunately, state constitutions have gathered tremendous amounts of baggage of detail by amendment over the years, and it is more difficult to "fine tune" state constitutions by further amendment than it is to enact statutes (pass new laws). However, state courts are bound by their state's constitution on fundamental issues. The so-called English constitution is an unwritten body of legal customs and rights developed by practice and court decisions from the 11th to the 18th Century.

See also: Bill of Rights  common law  constitutional rights 

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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications