The fundamental principle of American constitutional jurisprudence is that laws and not men shall govern. This means that when a power, exercised by an official or by a governmental organ, is challenged legal authority therefor derived from some existing law must be shown, and that no valid law can exist save that which is recognized as such by the courts. The courts recognize two great bodies of law; the so-called common law, which is a product of custom and judicial interpretation, which in large measure we have inherited from England; and enacted law, which is the formal creation of the legislative organs of government. This formally enacted law is of two kinds: That embodied in written constitutions, and that enacted by the ordinary legislative bodies and termed statutes.
Independently of express statement to that effect, it has become axiomatic that no statute law is valid if not consistent with the provisions of the Constitution from which the enacting legislature derives its powers. A state statute inconsistent with the Constitution of that state is, therefore, invalid, and an act of Congress nut warranted by the provisions of the federal Constitution is similarly void. And the same legal invalidity of course attaches to the unconstitutional act of an executive or judicial organ of government. In addition to being subordinate to the provisions of the state Constitution, every act of the state official or organ is required to conform to the requirements of the federal Constitution, and this applies as well to the provisions of a state Constitution, as to the statutes of its legislature.
Elsewhere we shall have occasion to deal with the constitu tional tests to be applied to executive and judicial acts. In this chapter we are concerned with the relation between statute and constitutional law.