VERY REV. ANDREW B. MEEHAN, Saint Bernard's Seminary, Rochester, N. Y. LAW, Civil. See CIVIL LAW.
LAW, Commercial.. See COMMERCIAL LAW.
LAW, Common. See COMMON LAW.
LAW, Constitutional, that part of public law which regulates the political organization of a State and so named because usually em bodied in a written instrument called a con stitution. It is sometimes spoken of as the organic or fundamental law of the State be cause it is the basis of all other municipal law. It differs from international law in being wholly municipal in character and from admin istrative law in that it regulates only in a gen eral way the organization of the government, leaving the details to be regulated by the rules of administrative law. It differs from ordinary statute law both as to its source and method of enactment and as to its content. While statute law is enacted, modified and repealed by the legislature, constitutional law is usually enacted by a constituent convention especially chosen for the purpose while its validity is, in America at least, usually made to depend upon the op proval of the electorate, to whom it is sub mitted by way of referendum. Hence it is commonly said that constitutional law is enacted by the people, whereas statute law is the work of their representatives. This distinction as to method of enactment, however, is not universal. In some States the same bodies which enact ordinary statute law also ordain and alter the body of constitutional law.
This is true in Great Britain, where the Parliament may alter the constitution in the same manner in which it may enact or repeal an ordinary statute. Likewise in France and in Germany the Parliaments may make .amend ments to the constitution subject only to the limitation that the French Chambers are re quired to observe certain formalities which they do notobserve in passing ordinary i statutes, and in Germany an extraordinary majority is required. In Switzerland the peo ple participate directly in the enactment of their constitutional law, not only through the refer endum (q.v.) but also through the so-called initiative by which they are empowered to draw up proposed constitutional amendments and submit them directly to the electorate for ap proval. For the different types of constitutions see the article CONSTITUTION.
The distinction between the content of con stitutional law and that of ordinary statutory legislation is largely one of degree and in the States of the American Union this distinction is fast disappearing. Among the proper sub
jects of constitutional law are (1) the struc ture and powers of the government including a distribution of its legislative, executive and judicial functions, among separate and distinct organs; (2) a definition of the class empowered to participate in the choice of elective officers and the method by which that choice is to be exercised; (3) the determination of the qualifi cations, duties and privileges of those em powered to hold government offices and man dates; (4) the creation of a sphere of indi vidual liberty —usually embodied in a bill of rights — upon which the government is for bidden to encroach, and (5) provision for a legal and orderly method of making changes in the constitution so as to avoid the risks and dangers of revolution. In addition to these subjects which may be denominated the essen tials of a constitution scientifically drawn, it is common to incorporate therein various pro visions relating to education, patents, copy rights, the army and the navy, the militia, cor porations, public debts, rules of judicial pro cedure, regulations concerning official salaries, taxation and administration, etc., which accord ing to strictly juristic tests are more properly subjects for statutory regulation. The effect of this practice has been to introduce into the domain of constitutional law a considerable amount of private law, thus derogating from the principle that the constitution should be ex clusively an instrument of public law. On the other hand the usual difficulty of amending the constitution so as to adapt it to new conditions and exigencies has made it necessary to deal with certain subjects by statutory legislation, although they are properly matters that should come within the province of constitutional law. Notable instances are statutes for the govern ment of dependencies. Thus the ordinance of the old Confederate Congress of the United States, passed in 1787, for the government of the Northwest Territory, the various statutes for the organization of the other Territories of the United States, the acts for the government of the Philippine Islands and Porto Rico were of the nature of constitutions of government for the dependencies to which they applied. They were mainly instruments of constitutional public law, although cast in the form of statutes.