In the United States tradition, the Constitution embodies the general laws of the country where all subsequent laws are derived or patterned after. No law in the country can be instituted when it conflicts with the basic premises of the Constitution precisely because the Constitution is the supreme law that stems as far back as the time of the Founding Fathers. Apparently, the specific laws of the country are legislated either as federal or as state laws. Insofar as the American experience is concerned, federal laws are presumed to be higher than state laws because they are the laws that are instituted by Congress or in the national level whereas state laws are crafted in the state level.
The fact that there is not one legal system existing in the United States suggests that there is the possibility of conflicting interpretations of applicable laws on specific circumstances. A federal law may explicitly proscribe a certain corporate behavior whereas a law of the state with the jurisdiction over the same case may rule otherwise. The result is oftentimes confusing on the part of those who preside over the case and those who defend or prosecute. The main difficulty rests on the issue of which of the two laws should be followed in determining the merits of the case. However, it is rarely the case when state laws overturn existing federal laws. The reason to this is that the federal laws—which are essentially the higher laws—reflect the principles embodied in the United States Constitution.
The Constitution empowers Congress to create statutes that serve various purposes. For the most part, the statutes created by Congress are based on the different clauses of the American Constitution which enable Congress to institute federal laws that cover a broad range of issues, from aviation to telecommunications, among others. Since there is the possibility of conflict between federal and state laws, the federal government can preempt state laws from interfering with or contradicting federal laws so that there will be no conflict in interpretation.
There are several notable examples of federal laws that reflect the principles of the Constitution. For one, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 enacted by the 2nd Congress of the United States of America clearly reflects the protection offered by the Constitution to slavery at a time when slavery was not yet prohibited by the government. In fact, during the 9th Congress, it was the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807 which initially paved the way for the subsequent prohibition of slavery in later years. However, while the Act legally ended the slave trade in the transatlantic region, slavery in general continued for several years in the United States as an accepted practice. Moreover, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 further gave teeth to the protection accorded by the Constitution to slavery by compelling people who are holding runaway slaves to bring the slaves back to their original owners.
All of these federal laws are based on the existing provisions in the Constitution at the time. For instance, Article 1 Section 9 of the original Constitution allowed the continuation of the importation of slaves; Article 4 Section 2 prevented private and public citizens from assisting slaves to escape inasmuch as it encouraged the return of the slaves to their original owners if they are successfully apprehended.
Most notable of all is Article 5 of the original Constitution which prevented Congress from making subsequent changes to the Constitutional provisions that tolerated the importation of slavery and slavery per se until 1808 which granted the different States to resolve the issue of slavery for no more than two decades. It can be said that without these provisions in the original Constitution, federal laws reinforcing the Constitutional provisions would not have been made possible.
In essence, these federal laws tolerating slavery greatly signify the effect of the Constitution on laws that are created on the national level which came at a time when amendments to the Constitution were yet to be realized.
It was only under the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution when slavery was officially abolished by Congress. The Amendment also empowered Congress to legally abolish slavery in the country. The result of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was far-reaching in the sense that its enactment effectively ended the capacity of Congress to enact laws that tolerate slavery in any form. It also effectively preempted state laws that promote slavery from being institutionalized at the local levels.
More recently, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 enacted under the 102nd United States Congress reflects the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The Act modified some aspects the rights of employees with regard to discrimination cases filed against their employers. In relation to the Constitution, the Act is anchored on the Due Process of Law Clause which formally respects all the legal rights of individuals in cases when there are alleged violations by either government or private citizens.
There are many other federal laws which are derived from or are based from the present Constitution. Federal laws are the higher laws of the land precisely because they are rooted from the Constitution and are created in the national government level. The interpretation of state and federal laws may conflict in some cases, but it does not impede with the task of determining which laws should apply and should be enforced.