constitutional law


Abortion: an overview

In 1973, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, changed the legal status of abortion by striking down a Texas law that criminalized abortion except as a means of saving the mother’s life. The case pitted individual privacy rights against...



To formally annul or repeal a law through an act of the legislature, constitutional authority, or custom.  In contract and insurance law, it is to rescind or terminate a contract.  In constitutional law,...

Absolute Disparity


A calculation used to analyze a claim that a jury pool did not represent a fair cross-section of the community. Calculated by subtracting the percentage of a group in the jury pool from the percentage of that group in the general population...

Absolute Privilege


Absolute privilege, in defamation law, refers to the fact that in certain circumstances, an individual is immune from liability for defamatory statements..


Absolute privilege applies to statements made in certain contexts...



A person who has been arrested for or formally charged with a crime.

Illustrative case law

Regarding rights of the accused, see, e.g. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).

See alsoAccusationRights of Accused in Criminal...

Administrative Hearing


A trial-like proceeding before an administrative agency or administrative law judge.  As in a trial, evidence is proffered and testimony is given.  Unlike a trial, an administrative hearing is often shorter in duration and...

Advocacy of Illegal Action

OverviewImminent Lawless Action Requirement

This is a category of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment.  In Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), the Supreme Court held, "the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free...

American Civil Liberties Union


A national organization that engages in litigation, legislative lobbying, and educational outreach in order to preserve and further individual rights and liberties that are guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States....

Baker v. Carr (1962)


A Supreme Court case that held that federal courts could hear cases that claimed that malapportionment of state legislatures violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. By holding that such cases were justiciable, the...

Balancing test


A subjective test with which a court weighs competing interests, e.g. between an inmate's liberty interest and the government's interest in public safety, to decide which interest prevails.

Illustrative caselaw

See, e.g....

Bivens Actions


A Bivens action generally refers to a lawsuit for damages when a federal officer who is acting in the color of federal authority allegedly violates the U.S. Constitution by federal officers...

Board of Education v. Earls (2002)

Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary

The U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that public schools could require students to submit to a drug test before participating in extracurricular activities. The Court said that drug...

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)

Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary

The U.S. Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld as constitutional a Georgia sodomy law that prohibited oral and anal sex between consenting adults. The Court later overruled this decision in...

Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000)

Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court allowed the Boy Scouts of America to bar homosexuals from serving as troop leaders. The Court said that the Boy Scouts' decision was protected by the...

Brandenburg test


The Brandenburg test was established in  Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 US 444 (1969), to determine when inflammatory speech intending to advocate illegal action can be restricted. In the case, a KKK leader gave a speech at a rally to his...

Civil Forfeiture


Civil forfeiture occurs when the government seizes property under suspicion of its involvement in illegal activity. Such a proceeding is conducted in rem, or against the property itself, rather than in personam, or against the owner of the...

Clinton v. City of New York (1998)


A Supreme Court case that struck down the Line Item Veto Act because it gave the executive the unilateral authority to amend a law without having to go through the legislative process. The Line Item Veto Act, intended by Congress...



The legal principle that political entities (such as states, nations, or courts from different jurisdictions) will mutually recognize each other’s legislative, executive, and judicial acts. The underlying notion is that different...

Commander in Chief Powers

Article II Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Commander in Chief clause, states that "[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when...

Commerce Clause



The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian


Commercial Speech


Speech which promotes at least some type of commerce.


Under Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557 (1980), commercial speech is less protected under the First Amendment than other forms of...

Confrontation Clause


See Right to confront witness.


Congressional Power

Article I of the US Constitution creates and defines the powers of Congress. For more on specific congressional powers, see:







Constitutional Avoidance

Constitutional Avoidance is the principal that, if possible, the Supreme Court should avoid ruling on constitutional issues, and resolve the cases before them on other (usually statutory) grounds.  In practice, what this often means is that if the...

Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

The Excessive Bail section provides constitutional protection...



Election Law: An Overview

Citizens make choices by voting in elections. Two types of elections exist: general elections and special elections. A general election occurs at a regularly scheduled interval as mandated by law. A special...

Electronic Surveillance


Electronic surveillance is defined in federal law as the nonconsensual acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire or electronic communication, under circumstances in which a party to the...

Emergency Powers


The Constitution does not expressly grant the President additional war powers or other powers in times of national emergency.  However, many scholars think that the Framers implied these powers because the structural design of the...

Emoluments Clause

Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any person holding a government office from accepting any present, emolument, office, or title from any "King, Prince, or foreign State...

Executive Power

 Executive Power: An Overview

In its first three articles, the U.S. Constitution outlines the branches of the U.S. Government, the powers that they contain and the limitations to which they must adhere. Article II outlines the duties of the...

Expectation of Privacy


The expectation of privacy test, originated from Katz v. United States is a key component of Fourth Amendment analysis. The Fourth Amendment protects people from warrantless searches of places or seizures of persons or objects, in which they...



Federalism is a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government. Generally, an overarching national government is responsible for broader governance of larger territorial areas, while the smaller...

Fifth Amendment

Fifth Amendment: An Overview

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except...

First Amendment

First Amendment: An Overview

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. It prohibits any laws that establish a national religion,...



A forum in First Amendment law refers to the place in which a speaker speaks. The First Amendment's protections regarding the right to speak and assemble will vary based on the speakers’ chosen forum. In Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Educators’...

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)


A Supreme Court case that adopted an expansive view of the scope of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by holding that Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce. The case involved the right of competing ferry services...