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Flashcards in US politics - Constitution Deck (61):

What is meant by a 'codified constitution'?

A full and authoritive set of rules that are all written down in a single text.


How much does the government have?

Not unlimited power, but what is given to it in the Constitution.


How does the US Constitution have a blend of specificity and vagueness?

Because not everything is explicit. The government has certain powers that aren't specifically mentioned.

E.g. The power to draft people into the armed forced may be implied from Congress' enumerated power to raise an army and navy.


What is the supremacy clause?

The portion of Article VI which states that the Constitution as well as treaties and federal laws shall be the 'supreme law of the land'


What are enumerated powers?

Powers delegated to the federal government under the Constitution. Generally, these are enumerated under the first 3 articles of the Constitution.


What are implied powers?

Powers possessed by the federal government by inference from those powers delegated to it in the Constitution


What is the necessary and proper clause?

The final clause of Article I, Section 8, which empowers Congress to make all laws 'necessary and proper' to carry out the federal government's duties.


What are reserved powers?

Powers not delegated to the federal government, or prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states and to those people.


What are concurrent powers?

Powers possessed by both the federal and state governments.


What is the third feature of the US Constitution?


Application of extra legal safeguards to a constitutional provision so changing it is more diffucult.


What is the most common way used to change the US Constitution?

Proposed by two thirds of the House and Senate

Ratified by threequarters of the state legislatures (38)

Used 26 times


Advantages of the amendment process?

Super-majorities ensure against a small majority being able to impose its will on a large minority

The lengthy and complicated process makes it less likely the Constitution will be changed by short term issues

Provision for a constitutional convention called by the states ensures against a veto being operated by Congress on the initiation of amendments.


Disadvantages of the amendment process?

Makes it overly difficult for the Constitution to be amended

Makes possible the thwarting of the will of the majority by a small and possibly unrepresentative minority

The difficulty of formal amendment enhances the power of the (unelected) Supreme Court to make interpretative amendments.


Why has the Constitution been amended so rarely?

The Founding Fathers created a deliberately difficult process. The need for super majorities make the process difficult.

The document is deliberately unspecific and vague, such as Congress' power 'to provide for the common defense and welfare' of the US. This has allowed the document to evolve without formal amendment.


What are constitutional rights?

Fundamental rights guarenteed by the Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion. The government must take steps to ensure these rights are effectively protected.


What are the key principles of the Constitution?

Seperation of powers

Checks and balances



What is meant by 'seperation of powers?'

Where political power is distributed amongst the legislature, executive and judiciary in equal amounts in order to avoid tyranny

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 he had to resign from the Senate


What is meant by 'checks and balances'?

Where each branch can partially control the powers of the other branches.


What is the State of the Union address?

An annual speech made by the President to a joint session of Congress, setting out his proposed legislative programme for the coming year.


Checks by the president on congress?

State of the Union address used to urge them to side with ideas. Eg Obama - 'lets get it done' when talking about healthcare reform, signed it into law 2 months later.

Can veto bills passed by Congress. Obama used this 12 times.


Checks by the president on the courts?

The President nominates all federal judges. Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. By appointing judges whose judicial philosophy match their own it is likely they'll side with them.

Power of pardon. This is controversial. In 1974, President Ford pardoned his predecessor Nixon for any crimes he may have committed in the so called 'Watergate affair'. President Clinton pardoned 140 people on his final day.


Checks by Congress on the President? 1 and 2

Congress can amend,block or reject items of legislation recommended by the President. In 2010 it passed - but in a significantly amended version Obama's healthcare reform plan. Congress blocked and rejected every one of his immigration reform plans.

Congress can override a presidential veto. To do so, it needs a two-third majority in both houses of Congress. It overrode 4 of George Bush's 11 vetoes including the 2007 Water Resource Development Bill.


Checks by Congress on the President? 3 and 4

Congress has 'the power of the purse' meaning all the money the President wants to spend on his policies are first voted on by Congress. In 2007, the Democrat controlled Congress attempted to limit President Bush's spending on military activity in Iraq.

Power to declare war. Although president is 'commander in chief' it confers to Congress about war. Although the last time Congress actually declared war was 1941, Congress has successfully forced preside to seek specific authorisation eg Bush in 2002 had 296 votes to 182.


Checks by Congress on the President? 5 and 6

Ratifying treaties. This requires a two third majority. In 2010, the Senate ratified the new START Treat with Russia by 71 votes to 26.

The Senate alone has the ability to confirm appointments to the executive (head of FBI, CIA and cabinet members etc) and judicial branches. In 1987 the Senate rejected (42-58) President Reagan's nominee, Robert Bork.


Checks by Congress on the President? 7 and 8

The power of investigation of the actions/policies of any member of the executive branch. Following a terrorist attack on an American diplomatic compound in 2012 in which American Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed, seven congressional committees held meetings on the ways Obama and secretary of state Clinton had held the situation.

Impeachment. The House of representatives with just a majority needed. Eg Clinton - for perjury (228 to 206) and obstruction of justice (221 to 202). In Senate a two thirds majority is needed. Both failed 45-55 on perjury and 50-50 on obstruction of justice.


Checks by Congress on the courts?

Power of impeachment, trial and removal from courts. In 2010, the House of Representatives impeached federal judge Thomas Porteous for corruption.

Congress can propose constitutional amendments to in effect overturn a decision of the Supreme Court. When in 1896 the Supreme Court declared federal income tax to be unconstitutional, Congress proposed the Sixteenth amendment granting Congress the power to levy income tax. It was ratified and became operative in 1913.


Checks by the courts on Congress?

Power of judicial review. This is the power of the court to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional and therefore null and void. In 2013, in the case of United States vs Windsor, the Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act (1996) unconstitutional.


Checks by the courts on the president?

Power of judicial review over the executive branch. The ability to declare actions of any member of the executive branch unconstitutional. In United States vs Nixon (1974) the court ordered Nixon to hand over the so called White House tapes and stop impeding the investigation of the Watergate affair. Nixon obeyed, handed over the tapes and resigned 16 days later when it showed his involvement.


What is meant by bipartisanship?

Close cooperation between the two major parties to achieve desired political goals. However, many times the President claims Congress goes against them for partisan reasons. This can lead to gridlock.


What is meant by divided government?

When the presidency is controlled by one party, and one or both house of Congress are controlled by the other party. The 48 years between 1969 and 2015 has seen 36 years of divided government. Making it more difficult to achieve what a President wants


Does the US Constitution still work? YES ANSWERS

Federalism has proved to be an excellent compromise between strong national government and state government diversity.

The text has proved very adaptable to change in American society.

The demanding amendment process has usually prevented frequent proposals for amendment

Rights and liberties of Americans have been protected.


Does the US Constitution still work? NO ANSWERS

The amendment process is too difficult, making it almost impossible to amend parts that are no longer applicable.

The power of judicial review gives the Supreme Court too much power to 'amend' its meaning

Some parts make little sense in today's society (eg the Electoral College)


What is federalism?

A theory of government by which political power is divided between a national government and state governments, each having their own areas of substantive jurisdiction


What is limited government?

What the framers of the Constitution wanted. Where the federal government is limited in size, leaving the citizens rights are feedoms as untouched as possible.


What is popular soverignity?

The principle, inherent in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, that ultimate political authority rests with the people.


Benjamin Franklin quote on federalism?

'We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang seperately.'


Federalism in the Constitution

Nowhere is the word 'federalism' directly used

It was written into the enumerated powers of the three branches of the federal government.

It was written into the implied powers of the federal government


How have Supreme Court decisions altered federalism?

The Court applied a more expansive meaning to the powers allocated to Congress in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, especially the 'necessary and proper clause'


George Bush education plans?

'No child left behind' which was signed into law 2002.

Major expansion of the federal governments role in education. Children in grades 4 to 8 are tested annually. It required that children in failing schools are moved to better ones and a 20% increase in funding for the poorest inner-city schools.



Healthcare programme for the over-65s introduced in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson. In 2003, Bush signed a Medicare expansion bill costing $400 billion over 10 years.

A Republican president siding with the expansion of Medicare was an irony and many party members were angry. In the House, 25 voted no of his final passage as did 9 in the Senate.


Homeland and defense under Bush?

Between 2001 and 2009, spending by the Department of Defense increased by 125% from $291 million to $651 million.

Between 2001 and 2006, spending on homeland security increased from $13 million to $69 million, a five fold increase.

Both of those were the result of 9/11.


Economy and jobs under Bush?

Bush authorised Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson to take control of the troubled Federal National Mortgage Association which owned or guarenteed half of the US $12 trillion mortgage market.

Also, Bush's administration's sponsorship of a $700 billion so-called 'bail-out' package for Wall Street to alleviate the credit crunch. This looked more of a Democrat


How was Obama more in favour of federalism than Bush?

The ratio of state and local government employees to federal employees was the highest since Roosevelt's new deal in the 30s

Federal government assistance to the states increased from 3.7% to 4.6%


Legal consequences of federalism?

Tremendous variety in state laws on such matters as age at which people can marry, drive a car or attend school until. Laws vary on drugs and death penalty also


Federalism consequences on policy?

The states can act as policy labs. Of late this is seen in healthcare provision, immigration reform. Healthcare reform in Massachusetts and immigration in Arizona recieved national attention


Federalism consequences upon elections?

All elections are state based and run under state law. Eg Oregon is entirely postal vote


Does Federalism work today? YES ANSWERS

Permits diversity

Creates more access points in government

Provides a 'double security for individual rights and liberties

Well suited to a geographically large and diverse nation.


Does federalism work today? NO ANSWERS

Can mask economic and racial inequalities

Can frustrate the 'national will'

Makes problem solving more complicated

Overly bureaucratic - and therefore costly to run and resistant to change


Differences between the UK and US. Nature of constitution?


Codified vs non - Codified

However, even a codified constitution contains parts not written down. The US Constitution gives no mention of important matters such as primary elections or congressional committees.

Also, convention can become part of the Constitution in a codified arrangement. When George Washington declined to seek a third term in office in 1796, he put in place the convention of a two-term limit on the presidency.


Differences between the UK and US. Nature of constitution?


The UK Constitution is not entirely unwritten also. For instance, Acts of Parliament and Common Law.


Difference between UK and US Nature of Constitution?

Explanation POINT 2

Entrenchment - where its hard to change the constitution

Under Article I of the US Constitution, the length of terms for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate is fixed as two and six respectively. Changing this would require super majorities in houses of Congress and among the state legislatures.

The length of terms for members of the House of Commons is 5 years. This is fixed by merely an Act of Parliament - The Fixed Terms Parliament Act (2011). Changing this would only require a majority in both houses of Parliament. In the US the provision for legisaltures terms of office is entrenched, whilst in the UK it's not.


Difference between UK AND US, Democracy and Sovereignity?

Although both Constitutions can be said to be based on democracy, the two have evolved at different speeds to different conclusions. In the USA, as a result of the culture of the nation, the concepts of direct democracy and popular sovereignity are more popular. So, although both constitutions are based on democracy, the shared ideas and beliefs that shaped them are different.


Difference between UK AND US, Democracy and Sovereignity?


The US Constitution allows Americans a greater role in the electoral process of their nation than in Britain. From the 1780s the US house of representatives was elected on a wider franchise than the UK House of Commons. The Senate has been directly elected since 1914 whereas Britain's second chamber still has no elected members. Moreover, in the states, the initiative, referendum and recall procedures allow a high level of direct participation. The 10th amendment clearly sets out where power lies - the people.


Difference between UK AND US, Democracy and Sovereignity?


The UK Constitution emphasises representative democracy and parliamentary sovereignity. British citizens who are 'subjects of the crown' - have fewer participations for democratic participation than their American counterparts. Again, this reflects the heritage of the UK, they can elect members to only one of Parliament's houses and the primer minister is not subject to any direction. However, a recent innovation is the use of referendums, of which there has been 13 since 1973"


Difference between UK and US constitution, seperation of powers?


The US Constitution is said to be based on the seperation of powers. This is better understood as the doctrine of shared powers. This is notable when considering the relationship between the legislative and executive under each constitution. Under the US Constitution, both these branches are entirely seperate. Eg no serving member of congress can be in the executive (Obama resigning 2008). The president cannot prematurely call elections and neither can Congress remove members of the executive except impeachment, even there the vice president automatically takes over, there's no new elections.


Difference between UK and US constitution, separation of powers?


Under the UK Constitution there is said to be a fusion of powers. British members operate in both the legislative and executive branches. As MPs they pass legislation and as members of the executive they are also responsible for its implementation. The PM is both head of the executive as well as leading their party in the House Of Commons. Furthermore, until 2009 when the Supreme Court was set up the Law Lords in the House of Lords served concurrently in both the legislative and the judiciary, the Lord Chancellor served in all 3, also being a member of the cabinet.


Difference between US AND UK Constitutions - checks and balances?


In the US this portrays the Founding Fathers fears of executive power. 'Ambition must be made to counteract ambition' wrote James Madison. By an intricate series of checks and balances 'a double security arises to the rights of the people'. Once more this shows how constitutional differences reflect cultural differences between the two countries. The US Constitution was written to protect the rights of the governed, the UK Constitution evolved to protect the powers of the government.


Difference between US AND UK Constitutions - checks and balances?


The PM draws up legislative proposals which their ministers then introduce into and shepherd through Parliament with a (virtually) guarentted parliamentary majority. The PM is leader of the largest party in the House of Commons. The five-yearly general election decided both the make-up of the House of Commons and the identity of the PM. The end result is concentration of power and the promotion of a strong usually one-party government


Similarity between UK AND US Constitution - Federalism

Part 1

Both federalism and devolution are two quite different political animals. In a federal system,certain powers are granted solely to the national government, other specific and substantitive powers are granted solely to state governments and some are shared. The states are not subservient to the national government but beside it.


Similarity between UK AND US Constitution - Federalism

Part 2

Although, in a devolved system such as the UK, the national government is sovereign. All devolved governmental powers exists only with the agreement of the national government. It can reclaim these powers, such as in 1972 when Westminster suspended the Northern Irish parliament and replaced it with direct rule from Westminster.


Similarity between UK AND US Constitution - Federalism

Part 3

Both federalism in the US and devolution in the UK seek to fill the same purpose - to give increased voice to local communities. They allow the national government to feel 'nearer the people' and stop the people feeling alienated.

Both systems also encourage a debate as to how much autonomy the sub-government should have. In the USA, this is between the Democrats seeking to increase the power and economic clout of Washington compared with moves towards more decentralisation and 'states rights' by Republican's such as Nixon and Reagan. In the UK, these debates are over whether devolved powers should be granted to Scotland and Wales. Nowadays, this goes as far as to say whether is allowed to become an independant nation. Showing a difference from federalism.