Essay, Research Paper
The Constitutional convention of 1787 brought together the greatest political minds of contemporary America. Men like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison gathered in Philadelphia in order to reorganize the weak, inefficient government created under our nation s first written Constitution; the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation were reflective of America s fears of concentrated central authority. This remarkable group of intelligent men representing nine out of the thirteen states unanimously elected George Washington as their presiding officer. Instead of revising the Articles of Confederation, which was their initial intent, they plunged boldly ahead and drafted an entirely new frame of government. The resulting Constitution, the product of four months of deliberation, was a bundle of compromises between large and small state influence, between executive and legislative power, between federal and state authority. This document provided the young nation with a balanced and lasting system of government. Our government consists of three branches, the legislative, the executive and the judicial, each of which controls a fair amount of power. The framers of the constitution were wary of placing too much power in the hands of one branch of government. Therefore, they devised a system of separate branches sharing powers. Under this system of government authority, no branch of government could dominate the others. Each branch could only work in cooperation of the others. The first branch of government is the legislative branch, our bicameral Congress. The existence and authority of Congress are derived from the first article of the Constitution:Section 1- All legislative power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives.The Senate, also known as the upper house, is composed of two senators from each state, elected for six-year terms. Senators are elected by the popular vote. A Senator must be at least thirty years old, a Citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and a resident of the state in which they are elected. Each Senator has one vote. The Vice President is the president of the Senate. The Vice President may vote only when there is a deadlock in the Senate. The role of Senators is to represent their state s interests in the congress. Senators are members of committees and subcommittees that coincide with issues that apply to their states needs. For example a Senator from Indiana will most likely belong to an agricultural committee. Each of these committees prepares legislation that they bring to the floor.The House of Representatives, also known as the Lower House. Representatives are appointed to the states on the basis of population. Our House currently consists of four hundred and thirty-five members. Members of the House generally represent congressional districts established by the states. A representative must be at least twenty-five years old, a citizen for at least seven years, and must be a resident of the state in which they represent. The leader of the House is called the Speaker of the House. The role of representatives in the house is to work at a parochial level of government. Where Senators work for the state as a whole, representatives focus their efforts more narrowly to the local interests of their constituents. There are certain power bestowed upon Congress, some of which are, “the power to lay and collect taxes, borrow money on the credit of the US, coin money, declare war.” The congress is mainly accountable for the legislative role of the United States government. The congress main actions are the passage of laws, the ratification of public policy. The House is also, according to the constitution, the only place where impeachment proceedings may begin. The second branch of our government is the executive branch. According to Article II of the Constitution: The Executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years. The President is the chief officer of the executive branch, he is also the commander and chief of the armed forces. The president s duties are to “Preserve and Protect and defend the Constitution.” This position consists of a large amount of work for one person. In discharging this responsibility, the President is assisted by vast numbers of executive bureaucracies, which concentrates on specific governmental areas of policy. The President is also assisted and advised in political and policy matters by members of his cabinet. The President also has the power to appoint cabinet secretaries and the heads of independent agencies, federal judges, and Supreme Court Justices. All of these positions must be confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate. Finally the third branch of government is the Judicial Branch. The Judicial Branch is the Supreme Court, which is the highest level court in the United States. According to Article 3: The Judicial Power shall extend to all cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution. The Supreme Court operates only as an appellate Court. It reviews the decisions of the lower courts. Since there are so many cases going to the Supreme Court, they only review cases that have a legitimate complaint. If they do decide to review a case, they send out a writ of certiorari. A writ of certiorari is a document issued indicating that the court will review lower courts decisions. The Supreme Court consists of nine justices, all of which are appointed by the President and checked by the consent of the Senate. Members serve life terms and can be removed only by death or resignation. The Executive Branch must enforce all decisions made by the Supreme Court. The three branches of our government have different duties. In order to keep a balance of power among the three branches, each branch has a check on the other. This was a major concern of our forefathers because of the fears of a branch of government overreaching its limits of power. This system is called Checks and Balances.
In order to give a clear explanation of how the American system of checks and balances works, I will use a theoretical case as an example. I live in Queens, New York. Let s say that I was fed up with seeing inept senior citizens driving around the area. I report this to my representative, Gary Ackerman. Representative Ackerman then comes up with a bill stating that no person over the age of sixty-five may drive an automobile, as their deteriorating motor skills and reaction times makes them a hazard to the safety of themselves, and other drivers on the road. The Speaker of the house refers the proposal to an appropriate committee. Once this bill goes to a committee, it is referred to an appropriate subcommittee by the chair of that particular committee. If the subcommittee is interested in this bill, the staff will schedule hearings. During these hearings, members of Congress, the executive branch, representatives of associations and even normal citizens speak in favor or in opposition of the bill. After the hearings, the subcommittee begins a markup, which is when they revise, add or delete and prepare the bill so they can present it to the full committee. Then the bill is presented, and the floor decides whether to adopt the bill. For our intents and purposes, the bill is adopted by the House of Representatives, and is sent to the Senate for approval. The Senate goes through a similar process as the House, and likewise agrees to the passage of the bill. Once both parts of Congress agree to the conditions of the bill, it is then sent to the President. The President the reads over the bill. Assuming that the President agrees with everything written in this bill. The president now has at his disposal his most effective check on the legislative branch. If he feels the passage of this law is in any conflict with his own policy preferences, he has the ability to veto the legislation. If he vetoes the bill, by refusing to sign it into law, he must return it to the congress with a written explanation of his objection. However, the Congress then has the ability to override such a veto, in the event that a two-thirds majority of both houses agree that the veto is unwarranted. As two- thirds majority is very difficult to obtain in an ideologically diverse congress, presidential vetoes are rarely overridden. For the purposes of our study the president then signs the bill and it becomes a law, “No person over the age of sixty-five may drive an automobile.” This process of needing the President’s approval is reflective of the need for the legislative and the executive branches working together, through their shared powers and checks on power to effect national public policy. Two weeks later, a police officer pulls over a seventy-year-old man. He is charged and arrested in violation of the new law, and put in jail for his actions. This senior decides to sue saying that this new law violates his civil rights. After being convicted, he appeals each of his decisions through the hierarchy of local, state and federal courts, eventually calling for the hearing of his case in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court sends this man a writ of certiorari. All Supreme Court justices unanimously vote to reverse the lower court s decision and abolish this law, ruling that the law is unconstitutional. The prerogative of the judicial branch to reverse decisions and repeal laws is known as judicial review. The power of judicial review is a check on the other two branches of government, in order to ensure that they are enacting laws that are pursuant and in accordance to the Constitution of the United States. When the Supreme does declare this federal law unconstitutional, Congress may redraft the bill, eliminating the parts of the law that the Supreme Court viewed unconstitutional. The President also has an unwritten power to check on the congress in addition to his explicit power of the veto. If the President does not agree with the bill, he may go public with his argument even though its not stated in the Constitution. The President has the power to influence the public policy by “going public.” Using what Theodore Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit”, the president can use his national presence to persuade the public to support presidential preferences on policies. Going “over the heads” of individual congressmen and Senators is done by going straight to their constituents in order to influence their support and their votes. The legislative branch and the executive branch also share powers concerning the United States involvement in war. Congress has the power to declare war, and raise the armed forces of the United States, but the president maintains authority over the armed forced as commander in chief. Through the “power of the purse,” (appropriations of funds) Congress can also seek to control the actions of the American military. Congress also has the power to impeach, its most powerful check on the executive. Impeachment is the removal of the President from office. Presidents may be impeached by a majority of the House of Representatives for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The President is removed from office if the Senate convicts on the impeachable offenses by a two-thirds vote. The Supreme Court Justices are the presiding judges in impeachment proceedings. The framers created three branches of government with none having a monopoly on authority. This separation of powers restricted the power of any one branch, and it required cooperation among the three in order for them to govern effectively. Through our example we can see each branch of government working in conjunction with the other. We can see each branch exercising their checks, or having the opportunity to exercise their checks, on the other branches in order to insure against their abuse of power. Through this complex maze of interdependency, we can see that the American political system, of necessity, works together in the governing of the American people.