Essay: US constitution and government, separation of powers

A) During the Constitutional Convention, it was decided that the new nation would have a representative democracy, where citizens elect individuals to represent their ideas. Throughout history however, it has often been questioned whether those representatives represent the people or themselves. The government is split up into three branches: executive, judicial, and legislative.

The executive executes the law, judicial interprets, and legislative makes the laws. They all work together to maintain order and protect our rights. Our legislative branch is broken apart into two houses; one voted upon by population, and the other that gives the same representation to each state. Our government was split up this way to ensure that ideas of the citizens were heard and protect our rights.

Another controversy has been whether our government should have a lot or little power. The Constitution has been set up to protect citizens from the government infringing upon their rights. Another question that arose was whether a small or large republic would do a better job protecting our liberties.

B) Often it is questioned why we even need government. Locke perfectly explains it’s necessity stating, “Man naturally has two powers, to preserve himself and punish others, but he allows society to give justice to the wrongdoer” (Locke 112). People in a society give up natural rights in exchange for the protection of property and trust that the government will establish laws that protect those liberties. In How Not to Read the Constitution by Tribe, it furthers this idea. It stated that the Constitution was a framework of ideas set up by the government, but people should interpret the Constitution. This means that they should apply the laws in the Constitution to current events. Tocqueville also talks about the necessity of the Constitution. The United States has become a strong political power because they are the one of the first to have a written set of laws that it uses to govern. It made me realize that since the Constitution’s main purpose is to protect our liberties given to us by birth, every decision must abide to the Constitution in order to protect our rights. That is evident in our government today. For example, each law must be tested in order to determine whether it has the effect of establishing religion. Furthermore, the branches of government all abide to the Constitution but all have different political powers. Each branch runs by itself and has a different responsibility in making sure the voices of the citizens are heard.

C) The legislative branch became a bicameral legislature because of the fight over how representation should work. During the Convention, two systems for how citizens should be represented were proposed. The New Jersey Plan favored equal representation from each state, while the Virginia plan favored representation based on population. To appease both conflicting perspectives, Roger Sherman proposed the Great Compromise which allowed there to be two parts of Congress. A House based on population and a Senate equal for all states. When noticing how this system works in 2014, it is seen as beneficial for all states. It reflects the founding fathers great ability to compromise, but also has prevented arguments over representation today.

Even though there are a lot of concurrent powers that are established, there is an ongoing debate on what issues should be decided by individual states or the nation as a whole. The battle between federalism and state’s rights is different for every political and social issue. In general, I believe that states need to be able to have more of a voice in determining what they want because the constituents in Texas probably have different ideas than constituents in New York. However, for issues that affect the whole nation like the current issue of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, I believe that since this issue affects a large portion of the population the is a federal/constitutional issue. Another area of concern is that in the representative democracy, many constituents aren’t accurately represented. Many people who live in the inner city, in places like Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles, are lower-income families however, the person representing them most likely is a high-income politician who may be making decisions solely based on his own needs. With the system of government currently in place, we are often time forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, rather than an actual reasonable able candidate. In a way, I believe that we need more elements of a direct democracy in our government, in order to make sure that everyone’s voice is accurately heard. In a society where ‘the richest 1% will have as much wealth as the other 99% combined by next year.’ (CNN) there has to be a change, politically, in order to make sure that we aren’t disregarding a specific group based on income. Otherwise the astounding inequity gap will keep on getting larger. The Constitution is supposed to protect rights for ALL people; however, sometimes it looks as if our government is only aiding businesses and the elite.

Executive Branch & Bureaucracy

A) The president is given a lot of power, and especially in times of crisis, they have even less restriction in order to protect the security of this nation. Presidents have raised an army, spent money, and even suspended habeas corpus without Congressional approval. In times of crisis this is necessary in order for quick and intelligent decisions to be made. The President can also veto bills the Congress has passed through and force Congress to garner more votes to overturn the veto. The Founders, unsure if the President would attempt to take advantage of their powers, put restraints on his/her power in the other branches of gov’t. Throughout history, in cases where the President has abused his power, impeachment has been used to remove the President from his office.

Another concept to understand is the bureaucracy; which implements, administers, and regulates federal programs. The president has a White House Staff that he selects himself. Sometimes, these advisers influence the way the President thinks or the information that he receives. The number of people in the staff has increased exponentially throughout history, and today the President’s staff has had more of an influence that the actual Cabinet Chairs. Outside of fifteen Presidential cabinets are Independent agencies. These agencies do not operate within the cabinet structure. The most important agencies include the CIA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

B) Hamilton, in Federalist 70, makes the argument that one executive would be better than multiple leaders. He states that, ‘two people are prone to disagree with each other’ (Hamilton 182). A sole president would be able to provide critical, decisive decision making that is expected from the leader of the nation. More leaders, according to Hamilton, would create more arguments and decisions would be delayed. However, Cronin, in The Swelling of the Presidency, argues that it isn’t the president or cabinet that is the strongest power. Rather, he states that the aides of the president are the most powerful. He believes that they control the president’s actions and that the Cabinet doesn’t do much. I agree to the extent in which that the aide’s voices do influence the president; however, I think that the president is educated enough to know what he’s doing. Lupia, in Delegation of Power, continues to say that when a person delegates something to someone else, he also transfers some of his powers to the other person. I believe that this assertion is accurate. I don’t think that the President has the capability to complete all his actions without the help of his staff. Yet, he must be able to complete the more important actions by himself without the collaboration of other people.

C) The President can use a circular or an ad hoc structure to help delegate its tasks into different groups. These systems can create a lot of confusion over who is responsible for what task, but it is helpful in getting information to everyone. Another power the president is given is executive privilege. The president has the right to withhold information from other branches because of separation of powers. Yet, it is often questioned why the president should have this power. It allows him to hide illegal material, especially when the Watergate tapes have shown that presidents are capable of doing scandalous things. While impeachment is the ‘check’ to make sure the president does not overuse his power, it is often questioned where there should be more checks in place. Another issue at hand is who is allowed to be on the staff and communicate with the President. Why does the president talk to non-elected members rather than representatives about policy? People should be restricted over the amount of times they visit the President because it allows for ill-advised communication to take place. The President has the duty to communicate with his representatives and elected members about policy because they represent the voice of the constituents. The White House Staff is chosen mostly through patronage; they are not elected by the people. I believe that more influential members of the President’s staff should be elected either through the electoral college, or by the people. While more voting can be annoying for the American public, voting would help prevent the President from excluding himself from the people. Another solution to the presidents overwhelming staff is that The President needs to be more involved in Congress rather than communicating only with un-elected staff members or even interest groups. Also, the Cabinet needs to play more of an influence in the president’s decisions. Even though the President appoints these members, he often does it based on popularity and through Senate Confirmation. Thus, the Cabinet is still somewhat representative of the constituents and should be consulted upon on critical decisions that he has to make.

Judicial Branch & Civil Rights/ Civil Liberties

A) The primary purpose of the judicial branch is to interpret the constitution. There are times when the Supreme Court does not follow previous rulings in similar cases because they believe the Constitution should be interpreted differently to reflect modern times. The president chooses the justices and rarely does political party influence the confirmation of justices. These justices have the ability to choose whatever cases they want to hear. This branch is very important in helping us realize what our rights are as citizens and seeing what Constitutional rights we are given. When taking a stance on a certain issue justices are to only look at the Constitution and other laws rather than what they feel is right. Cases they hear usually revolve around free speech, personal expression, and other rights that may be in infringed upon. Their goal is to protect our civil liberties and redefine the Constitution to protect them. In terms of civil rights, they want to make sure that every single person, regardless of race or income, are equally protected under the law and make sure that there is no discrimination.

B) A key difference between the judicial and other two branches is the fact that the judicial branch is consisted of people who are not elected to office. Hamilton in Federalist 78 asserts that judges should not be elected. He believes that judges shouldn’t be elected since they have to interpret the law rather than make the laws or bills. He specifically states that the ‘liberty of people can be endangered’ if justices were to be elected as well (Hamilton 210). They are supposed to serve as an intermediate between the people and the legislature in determining whether the law is constitutional. Brennan, in How the Supreme Court Works, ties to show the actual process of what a justice does and shows where each decision comes and how it is an individual decision. Both of these Woll readings help to depict the justice’s actual job and how different it is to a legislator’s job. It shows how they need to make sure Constitutional rights are protected and how they must have reasoning to back their decisions.

C) Judicial Activism is when a justice ignores precedent and applies the Constitution to modern circumstances. The Warren Court is famous for this in their decision on the Brown vs. Board of Education case. Courts sometimes need to ignore precedent in order to make sure every indvidual’s liberties are protected. On the other hand, Judicial restraint is when precedent is followed. The Rehnquist Court is famous for this along with its conservative/traditional tendencies. This is also necessary to make sure that the Constitution is actually followed rather than following personal beliefs. A major issue that is centering the judicial system right now is how to overturn ‘incorrect’ decisions. Many people believe that the decisions by the courts in the Ferguson and Eric Legrand case were inaccurate, but they have no ability to change the court rulings. While our judicial system is centered on the idea that ‘it is better to release a criminal than put an innocent person in jail’, these cases have significant evidence to show that there has been some wrongdoing by the police. It is wrong that the families will not be able to get justice for the loss of their son. Another interesting aspect to examine is which civil liberties are more important. In cases like abortion, there are two groups that arise. One values life while another group values the freedom of privacy/choice. It is interesting to see that the courts have favored the freedom of privacy/choice in this case. As in all cases with contradicting rights, one right is chosen to have a higher value than another one. Yet, one group of people who did not look the same way as the courts will disagree and may create violence. Even though the courts have a very important job in protecting our rights, they are often times harassed for their decisions.

Legislative Branch & Public Policy

A) The legislative branch is the most scrutinized, but one of the most powerful branches. It used to be controlled by a majority of white males; however Hispanics and blacks have been relevant in the House and kind of in the Senate. Members either have a representational, organizational, or attitudinal view where they make decisions based on voters, other members, or their own beliefs. There are many committees that have a voice and influence politicians as well. In the policy making process, if an issue is to rise up on the governmental agenda, a coalition needs to support it. Again, public policy is actions that people believe the government needs to take like taxes, energy, welfare, and civil rights. In order to be a good voter, you should understand the candidate’s views and understand the influence of committees upon the representatives. It is also necessary to understand that selection committees choose what topics are sent to Congress to vote on.

B) The legislation branch is often criticized for being inefficient. Authors like Bayh and Gulgiotta attack them for wasting time. Bayh says that the lack of bipartisanship is the reason for this while Gulgiotta blames it on the 3-day work weeks. Gulgiotta also cites that members are frequently late to meetings and it is way too much work for one person to do by himself. Binder offers a solution to this problem; voters should elect more centrists. She believes that they possess the ability to compromise which would increase efficiency within the system. Mill has a conflicting opinion, stating that arguments are necessary in order for good rulings to happen. There are truths in what all the authors are saying. Congress is inefficient. They cannot get all their necessary work done and need to find a solution to become more efficient. However, the work they are doing now is beneficial and the policies that are being implemented now are necessary changes that the public supports.

C) The problem with our government right now is gridlock. Since the President is a democrat, and the House majority is republican, we are less likely to see policies being passed. A key issue on the eyes of many citizens is the Keystone pipeline. Obama is against its creation while Republicans are for it. Even Alex Rogers of Time magazine says both sides are making this issue ‘overrated’ and ‘an easy solution is po. Another problem with this is that many members are filibustering, causing many members to change their opinions on this case just to move on to other issues. Congressmen already have a lot to do and wasting their time by filibustering causes many decisions to be hurried or rushed without proper reasoning behind them. In both Houses there are whips that actually have a job to make sure all members of their party have the same political view. While this may be efficient in passing bills, representatives and their constituents do not have their ideas accurately portrayed. Rather, they are just listening to opinions of their parties. Another thing members do is logrolling or pork-barrel legislation, which is primarily designed to get support from the constituents. Money is going towards the home-town, and constituents are more likely to approve of the bill. Also, when looking at economic policies, they either are monetarism, Keynesianism, supply-side, or Reaganomics. They have tried to increase/decrease taxes and regulations in order to stimulate the economy. Politicians are also swayed by interest groups. A group that has money has the ability to bribe politicians but also publicize what the interest group is about, drawing more support. If a politician is supportive of the ideas of an interest group, it is likely that he will support their policies.

Political Participation

A) The United States has traditionally had a 2-party system which currently is Democrats and Republicans. Minority parties have influenced voting habits but have not succeeded because the majority party is more famous and has more general views. Voting is only one way to participate though. One can also participate in the campaigns or contact officials about ideas. It is more likely that people who are more religious and educated are going to vote. This may be because less educated people feel that voting will not affect them at all. While African Americans and Hispanics have low voter turnouts, the ones that do participate are highly active in the political process. It is also necessary to note that the people who vote in primaries are more likely to be radicals rather centrists. This means that in the actual elections, people have to choose between two far-winged candidates rather than people they actually want. If there was a higher turnout for the primary election, this may not happen. Another way to participate is to join political organizations. These interest groups hire lobbyists to help influence public policy and help popularize public issues. If there is an issue you value, joining a political organization can be a way to help your voice be heard to politicians.

B) Key, in The Responsible Electorate, argues that constituents are smart enough to select the candidate with the better policies. The candidate with the best ideas will appear that way to the voters, and thus, the better candidate will always end up wining. This idea is also backed up by the fact Eric Cantor, the candidate with the publicity and spent way more money on his campaign, lost to a rather unknown candidate in David Brat. The citizens of Virginia believed that Brat was the better candidate even though he isn’t that popular. Putnam in Bowling Alone and Bowling Together argues that the lack of political participation as a general trend of people unwilling to join organizations as well as not being concerned as they should be. He also says that 9/11 caused people to be more connected to the government but also urged for more social reforms to take place. Politicians should take advantage of the fact that citizens are more politically active and advise for more reform to take place. The ideas that both the authors assert have some accuracy to them. If people participate actively in politics, they will be able to choose candidates and have policy that benefits the nation. Yet, there needs to be ways to instantiate more political participation from the public.

C) One issue is that people who vote are more likely to split the ballot rather than voting for who they think the better candidate is. This creates gridlock/divided government in the system. This is the reason why there is inefficiency, yet constituents just blame the politicians for the problems when some of the blame should fall upon themselves as well. Another problem is the presence of lobbyists from interest groups that have an influence on politicians. While the ideas behind an interest group are beneficial, hiring lobbyists to influence politicians is ‘destructive’ (Thomas). Interest groups should just act by itself to get their policy known to politicians rather than raising money to hire a lobbyist. In regards to political participation, it is not just that the percentage of white people who vote is higher than that of African Americans. Statistics have shown that African Americans have increased voter turnout (Pate). Yet, there needs to be more access to voting sites for low income families as well as an easier way to vote. People have to wait in line for hours just to be able to vote! There should be a smartphone app that can allow voters to vote without having to leave their house. Also this app should be able to have a notification to acknowledge when a primary is. Citizens complain about not being able to vote for a good candidate and say they are forced to choose between the ‘lesser of two evils’. The adversarial press also plays a factor by showing negative images of both candidates. If more people voted in the primaries, we would not have this issue. Finally, the plurality system needs to be questioned. If a candidate does not win by more than 50% of the votes, they should not be put into office. Rather, the list should be narrowed down to two candidates and there should be a revote! This is often times the case when the majorities of citizens are conservative but have to choose between a tea party or moderate conservative candidate, and then a liberal ends up winning the election. This is simply unfair. A revote needs to take place in order to reflect the real ideas of the constituents.

Civics is a crucial part of a student’s education for many reasons. Most apparent is that these classes are the foundation for good citizenship. How can we expect someone to mature into a well-rounded productive adult, able to perform as an effective member of society, if they have no understanding of how and why government should work? Most teenagers in the United States or even at Downers Grove South, have no idea what is happening, politically and culturally in the world around them. While they may see some current events exploding on Twitter, most students aren’t active in society and truly understand these issues. Just look at the number of students who don’t know who the current Speaker of House is, their governor, or what the Bill of Rights is. I’m not saying that government classes should comprise of only lectures and memorization. In my opinion, students need to think critically about our system of government in order to form their own ideas about how our system works. These classes, I believe will help students form their own political ideas, rather than a reflection of their parents biased views, consequently they will become a more informed voter; participating more in society.

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