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United States: legal resources: Constitutions

Subjects: American Studies, Law

Constitutions & added value

WestlawNext (first link below) in Statutes & Court Rules - Federal has United States Code Annotated (USCA) treatment of the US Constitution.

The US Constitution & state constitutions

The Constitution of the United States was written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and put into effect in 1789.  It is really the second constitution, the first being the Articles of Confederation (written 1777, ratified 1781), a document that is invariably referred to by its title.

The Constitution now includes twenty-seven amendments, the first ten of which (1791) are known collectively as the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights initially restricted only the powers of the federal government.  This began to change after the American Civil War when three further amendments were passed.  The 14th Amendment (1868) specifically prohibited the states from depriving anyone of equal protection of the law or due process of law.  Over the years, and especially since World War II, the courts have increasingly held that many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights are an essential part of due process of law, and, in this way, much of the Bill of Rights has come to be applicable to the individual states.

The Constitution is not simply a technical document for lawyers, but is universally regarded as an essential part of history, citizenship and politics.  As such, its text is widely available in both official and unofficial publications.  The Constitution, though not part of any code, is published for convenience in Vol. 1 of United States Code and in the “Constitution” volumes of United States Code Annotated.  It is included in almost any textbook or casebook on American constitutional law, and in almost any university-level textbook on American history.  It has frequently been published as a pamphlet.  It can be found on the U.S. National Archives website, on other websites too numerous even to count, and (with extensive notes and annotations) in the Lexis and Westlaw databases.  The Code volumes and many of the electronic sources will also include the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, and a number of other important historical documents.

Each state has its own constitution which is normally published (for convenience) in one of the volumes of the state code of laws, and can usually be found on one of the official websites of the state government.   It can also be found (with notes and annotations) in the Lexis and Westlaw databases.

Electronic resources to just the text(s)

Consult links in box to left for annotated treatments (eg for leading case law relating to each article)

Printed sources