The United States (USA) Constitution is central to the American legal system. The original 1789 constitution consists of the Preamble and Articles I through VII. In 1791 came Amendments I through X as the Bill of Rights collectively. Originally the Bill of Rights applied to the federal government only, but interpretations of Amendment XIV applied them to state governments as well. There are now constitutional 27 amendments.


The USA has two separate and distinct court systems. To research American law requires an appreciation of both federal and state courts.


Federal and state court jurisdictions may be concurrent in some cases. As a general rule, federal courts do not hear cases under state laws and vice-versa; however, each may hear cases on matters generally falling within the purview of the other. The rules of stare decisis governing both binding and merely persuasive judicial precedents apply within both federal and state court systems and become complex when state courts apply and enforce federal laws or when federal courts apply and enforce laws of the states.

For legal research it is important to understand that there may be relevant decisions on any issue in both state and federal court systems. For example, even though family matters or domestic relations law are primarily under state laws, there may be relevant cases decided in the federal courts.


American legal resources are valuable sources of information that can help you determine if you should pursue legal action, assist in better understanding discussions with your attorney or file a case pro se. Legal resources are divided into two types; primary sources which include court cases and laws and secondary sources such as legal encyclopedias, books and articles. To effectively use legal resources, you need to know if the law is state or federal and what type of law is applicable. Once you understand the type of law you’re searching for, there are several outstanding legal resources available.