United States laws apply to all residents of the U.S. They override any state and local laws that may conflict with them, as provided by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In addition to the U.S. Constitution, which is the supreme law of the U.S., federal laws include statutes that are periodically codified in the U.S. Code. Federal laws also include decisions by courts that interpret federal laws. Finally, federal laws include regulations issued by federal administrative agencies to implement federal laws.
The U.S. Constitution was drafted in 1787, and it took effect two years later. This document contains seven articles and 27 amendments. The first three articles outline the tripartite structure of the federal government, which includes legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Article IV describes the relationship between the federal government and the states, as well as the relationships among the states. Article V provides the process for amending the Constitution. Article VI establishes the supremacy of federal laws, in addition to addressing issues such as the national debt. Article VII provides the process for ratifying the Constitution.
Many of the amendments to the Constitution have become as famous as the articles, especially the amendments in the Bill of Rights. These are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which safeguard certain individual liberties. Some of these liberties include freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, and strong protections for criminal defendants. Another famous group of amendments consists of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. These are known as the Reconstruction Amendments, since they were passed shortly after the Civil War. The Reconstruction Amendments abolished slavery, established the key doctrines of due process and equal protection, and extended voting rights to former slaves.
The U.S. Code contains the laws that are passed by the U.S. Congress, which includes the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. These laws and the provisions of the U.S. Constitution are often interpreted by federal courts throughout the U.S. There are three tiers of federal courts. Federal trial courts are known as federal district courts. Decisions by federal district courts may be appealed to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, which are divided into 13 circuits. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court may review decisions by U.S. Courts of Appeals and by the highest court in each state.