How Have the Values and Principles Embodied in the Constitution Shaped American Institutions and Practices?
The Constitution was a plan for the new national government. It
described the organization of the national government in terms of its
powers and limits. The Framers purposely wrote the Constitution as a
general framework. They left out many details that they knew would need
to be added in the future. They also knew that they needed to reconcile
the tension between the national government and the state governments.
Therefore they devised a new system
In this unit you will learn how the three branches of the national government embody constitutional principles and how they operate. You also will learn how federalism remains a dynamic characteristic of American government.
What is the Role of Congress in American Constitutional Democracy?Congress often is called America's first branch of government because of its lawmaking powers and its control over the nation's purse. More than any other branch of the national government, it is the people's branch. Members of Congress are directly accountable to those who elect them. This lesson examines Congress's constitutional powers and how Congress represents both the people and the states.
How Does Congress Perform Its Functions in the American Constitutional System?The United States Congress is one of the few national assemblies in the world with the power to initiate legislation rather than simply vote on bills proposed by the executive. Congress also conducts important investigations that can lead to changes in public policy and even the removal of federal judges and the president. From its earliest days Congress has relied on rules and leadership structures to facilitate its work. Today, with 535 members, Congress faces a variety of organizational challenges in its effort to represent growing and diverse constituencies.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to describe the role of rules, committees, and political parties in the organization and operation of Congress. You should be able to describe the process through which proposed legislation becomes law. You should be able to identify the primary sources on which members of Congress rely for information in the lawmaking process and to explain the importance of Congress's inherent power to investigate. You also should be able to explain why compromise is required in the deliberative process. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on how Congress functions and whether it should streamline its procedures.
What Is the Role of the President in the American Constitutional System?The president of the United States is among the most powerful political figures in the world. In the international realm the president speaks for the country and is the symbol of America. At home the president suggests the policy agenda for Congress and is the leader of his or her political party. Americans look to the president for leadership, while at the same time fearing the concentration of political power in the executive branch. This lesson examines sources of presidential power and ways that checks and balances limit presidential power.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain the president's constitutional responsibilities and how the office of president has evolved. You also should be able to identify various constitutional and political checks on the president's power. You should be able to explain fundamental differences between the office of prime minister in a parliamentary system and the American presidency. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues involving the exercise of presidential power and the relationship between the president and the other branches of government.
How Are National Laws Administered in the American Constitutional System?Departments, agencies, and bureaus that administer the laws, often referred to as the bureaucracy, touch every aspect of American life. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency sets standards for water and air quality. The Department of Transportation adopts rules for the development and operation of the interstate highway system. The Federal Aviation Administration oversees air traffic safety. The Food and Drug Administration approves medications. This lesson examines the role of administrative departments and agencies in America's national government.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain why Congress creates administrative units, the circumstances that contribute to their creation, and the range of governmental functions that administrative units perform. You also should be able to identify some of the checks on the exercise of administrative power. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on public administration in the United States.
What Is the Role of the Supreme Court in the American Constitutional System?The U.S. Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, a significant departure from the English tradition of formally placing judicial power in the legislative branch. Alexander Hamilton predicted that the Supreme Court would be the "least dangerous branch" because it depends on the other two branches to enforce its decisions. This lesson examines how the U.S. Supreme Court has become a coequal branch of the national government and describes some of the institutional checks on its power.
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain the difference between the Supreme Court's original and appellate jurisdictions. You should be able to explain four methods of constitutional interpretation. You also should be able to explain how America's system of checks and balances limits the power of the Supreme Court. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues relating to the role of the Supreme Court in the constitutional system.
How Does American Federalism Work?The American constitutional system is made up of two levels of government: national and state. The system is called federalism. The powers of and the boundaries between the national and state governments never have been clear. Sometimes the national and state governments seem to work in harmony. Sometimes they seem locked in a struggle for power. This lesson examines constitutional provisions affecting the states in their relationship to the national government. It explains how state governments are organized, including their creation of units of local government. Finally, it describes the role of states as "laboratories of democracy."
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain how American federalism involves divided sovereignty and an ongoing effort to balance power between the national and state governments. You also should be able to explain the function of three basic kinds of local governmental units?counties, municipalities, and special districts. You should be able to give examples of governmental innovations at the state and local levels. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on continuing issues related to America's unique system of federalism.