The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. It provides the precepts of individual rights and government. It was designed to balance government powers equally among executive, legislative and judicial branches. It also sought to balance powers among the States. In all cases, ultimate authority always rests with the People.
Constitutions break distinct sections into articles. These work like chapters in a book. Within an article can be found sections. The R.I. Constitution is the supreme law of the State of Rhode Island (R.I. Const. Art. 6, Sec. 1) and is only alterable by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People of RI. (R.I. Const. Art 1, Sec. 1).
The States used the U.S. Constitution as a template, but often state constitutions contain unique differences. When it comes to individual rights, whichever constitution contains the stronger principles and rights usually prevails in judicial rulings. The Rhode Island Constitution has a very strong set of individual rights as found in Article 1.
Constitutions must go through an amendment process or through a constitutional convention to be changed. This makes them stable and any changes subject to strict scrutiny.
In Rhode Island, laws implementing the state constitution are known as “general” laws. R.I. General Laws are contained in a collection of 47 books known as “Titles.” Each Title is composed of “chapters” and within each Chapter, ”sections.” A Section is abbreviated with: § References to multiple sections use: §§ Each fully referenced section is a “statute” typically found on a single page.
Title-Chapter-Section work as an address path to the statute/law. Example: R.I. Title 30, Chapter 15, Section 9 is abbreviated as RI 30-15-9. Iterated/listed statute items are referred to within parenthesis: RI 30-15-9(e)
All R.I. General Laws must conform to the R.I. Constitution. “Any law inconsistent therewith shall be void.” (R.I. Const. Art. 6, Sec. 1) Since the General Assembly keeps and implements General Laws, it falls upon the judicial branch to oversee their conformance to the constitution through “case” law.
General laws are balanced in the scales (a “libra” – basis of the word liberty!) by the judicial branch, where they weigh out questions raised, constitutional validity and comparison to existing law so the tested statutes apply appropriately to all the people in the state. Like general laws, existing case law can be tried and overturned by judges, but they must describe their decisions in “opinions” in a case by case basis. Usually judges are very reluctant to overturn existing case law unless they have excellent reasons. This is a judicial principle known as “stare decisis” – it’s been decided. But that’s not completely final.
The people always have the final say
Although judges and justices can make decisions and explain opinions, the people, through authentic and explicit acts of election can change their laws to suit their needs. This makes the law conform to the will of all the people, and conversely, the people then conform their actions to the law. Authentic, secure and highly transparent elections are the essential foundation for a constitutional republic. The actual election process must be the most open and highly visible activity of the People, so the People can be assured their decision results accurately reflect the reality of what they each decided when combined.