What is the highest law in the United States, and why does it have so much power?
The Supreme Law of the Land
In general, “the supreme law of the land” refers to the highest power in any nation’s law. This power overrides the rest of the government and therefore determines how much power they have.
It is typically an outline of the basic nature of a country, including aspects of the nation that are meant to be permanent such as the form of government, citizens’ rights, and governing processes. This ensures that the spirit and identity of a country remain consistent for future generations.
The United States of America
In the United States, the supreme law of the land is the Constitution, the document drafted by the founding fathers after the Articles of Confederation proved inadequate. Having experienced tyranny in the colonies and chaos in the confederacy, they knew that the country needed a carefully drafted balance between the two extremes and provide a system that would lead to prosperity.
Both the government and the people had shown their potential to skew that balance of power and threaten the nation’s wellbeing, so the Constitution reigning supreme over both was the perfect solution.
The Constitution remains effective even today, thanks in large part to the founding fathers’ willingness to have it amended without the original ideas being altered or tainted.
The supreme law of the United States is the original Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
The original Constitution detailed exactly how the government was to be run. It revolved around the concept of checks and balances within the government because any person or group of people acquiring too much power was perceived to be the greatest danger to the nation’s longevity.
This balance was accomplished through the division of power between the three branches of government: the legislative branch makes laws, the executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch interprets them.
These laws can sometimes take the form of constitutional amendments, but no matter what, the government can neither repeal nor modify the original Constitution.
The legislative branch is divided into two houses in a system known as a bicameral legislature. In the Senate, states get equal representation at two senators each, in the House of Representatives, states’ representation is based on their respective populations.
Together, the two houses form Congress, the primary lawmakers of the United States. The executive branch consists of the President, the Vice President, and the Cabinet of officials appointed to assist and advise them.
The President and Vice President can interact with Congress, but their main job is to manage and direct the rest of the government and the military.
Lastly, the judicial branch consists of the country’s system of courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court, which hears especially significant cases at a federal level.
The nine supreme court justices are tasked with upholding the Constitution. Their rulings on laws are meant to be derived from the Constitution, not their own opinions. They have the power to revoke a law approved by Congress if they consider it to be unconstitutional, which goes to show that the Constitution does indeed rule over the rest of the government.
The Bill of Rights
The second part of the original Constitution is known as the Bill of Rights, which includes the first ten amendments. They are considered amendments because they were actually not part of the original draft.
When the Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, they would not approve it unless citizens were guaranteed specific rights that stemmed from the core values upon which the country was founded.
According to the Declaration of Independence, that underlying belief is that all people are created equal and deserve the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That noble ideal served as the foundation for the Bill of Rights, which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights is an extremely important document for any American citizen. The following is a summary of the first 10 amendments:
All people have the right to freely express their thoughts and ideas through speech and press, to adhere to any religion or none at all, to assemble in groups, to petition the government, and to protest, a combination of the previous two.
All people have the right to bear arms, defend themselves, and have the security of a well-regulated militia.
Forceful quartering of troops is prohibited. This was added because, in the colonial days, British soldiers could barge into people’s homes and stay without permission.
Unreasonable searches and seizures are not allowed. This means that any law enforcer must have a good reason and a warrant to search a person or property. That cannot be done on an impulse or out of emotion.
People accused of crimes must be given fair trials before they can be convicted and punished. They have the right to remain silent and cannot be tried for the same incident more than once.
Such trials must be done efficiently, publicly, and impartially, and the accused must be clearly informed of their charges.
The right to a jury trial also applies to federal civil cases.
Punishments must be reasonable. Bails and fines cannot be excessive, and cruelties such as torture are not allowed.
All people have basic rights, and those extend beyond the ones that have been clearly defined in the previous amendments.
The federal government only has the powers granted to it by the Constitution. Anything else belongs to states and citizens.
A Remarkable Precedent
There is something to be said about a document that has remained effective for well over two hundred years. The concept of a “supreme law of the land” is somewhat awe-inspiring.
The idea that the country’s foundational values are everlasting and more powerful than any human provides a sense of confidence and security. Supremacy is normally associated with tyranny, but that is only when it is granted to people who do not deserve it.
All people are created equal, but ideas and values can be so much more. That is why an insentient document serves as the supreme law of the land.