Fundamental law, also called organic law, sets standards for a system of laws. Most federal and state constitutions are considered examples of fundamental law. A fundamental law system sets forth the major principles from which all other laws must be built.
In a constitution, this kind of law is used to set up the basic categories of rights and responsibilities both for citizens and for the government. The US Constitution, for instance, confers both powers and limitations on government and lays out some of the major rights of US citizens.
The rights and regulations created by these laws will vary based on the needs and will of the citizens involved in creating the constitution. The original US Constitution was very concerned with creating a stable, elected government that would have limited power as a result of centuries of dissatisfaction with tyrannous monarchies.
Similarly, at the time of the Founding Fathers, America was a place of immigrants and refugees from plagues, tyrants, and religious oppression. Thus, one of the fundamental principles repeatedly asserted in the US Constitution was the idea that people have individual rights to free expression, freedom of religion, a right to participate in elections, and freedom to own property. Of course, in the 18th century, the definition of “people” was limited to land-owning white males, which later Constitutional amendments altered to include all adults of any race or sex.
A fundamental law does not only apply to nation building. The term may be used to describe any legal basis on which a system of some kind is founded. For instance, in Japan, the Fundamental Law of Education was created in 1947 as a charter for the education system throughout the country. This document, which was revised in 2006, lays down the fundamental principles that education is vital to the state and that it should be available in all places, to all people.
Documents and charters that are recognized as fundamental laws may be open to amendments, but may impossible to legally overturn. Since the principles contained within are believed to be the foundation of the state, they are therefore usually the most concrete laws in existence. This does not mean, however, that this law is open to broad interpretation. Constitutional scholars, lawyers, politicians, and scholars frequently come to loggerheads over exact meaning of a law.
While violation of a fundamental law may be technically illegal, there are not always enforceable or even widely-sought punishments in all situations. For instance, the US Constitution quite explicitly guarantees freedom of individual expression, held up by a long history of judicial precedence that includes choice of clothing as a form of protected expression. Nevertheless, many public, compulsory schools require that students adhere to a dress code, even though this technically violates fundamental laws.