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Chapter 3: The Constitution

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1 Chapter 3: The Constitution
3.1: The 6 Basic Principles 3.2: Formal Amendments 3.3: Constitutional Change By Other Means

2 Chapter 3.1: The Six Basic Principles
The Constitution is “the supreme law of the land” – the highest form of law in the United States. It lays out the basic framework and procedures of our government.

3 The Constitution is separated into:
1. “Preamble”: a short introduction. 2. “Articles”: seven numbered sections that outline American government. 3. “Amendments”: 27 additions to the document.

4 The 6 Basic Principles of the Constitution:
1. Popular Sovereignty 2. Limited Government 3. Separation of Powers 4. Checks and Balances 5. Judicial Review 6. Federalism

5 1. Popular Sovereignty: All political power resides in the people – government can only govern with the consent of the governed. *All forms of government (national, state, and local) operate according to this principle.

6 2. Limited Government: Government is not all-powerful, it may only do those things that the people have given it the power to do. *Government must obey the law – it must follow the principle of “constitutionalism”: government must be conducted according to constitutional principles. * “Rule of law”: government and its officers are always subject to – never above – the law.

7 3. Separation of Powers: The basic powers of government are separated among 3 independent branches in our presidential system. *This separation of powers is set forth in the first 3 articles of the Constitution:

8 Article I: the legislative branch makes the laws (Congress).
Article II: the executive branch executes/administers laws (the President). Article III: the judicial branch interprets/applies the laws (Supreme Court). *This separation is intended to create a strong, yet limited, government.

9 4. Checks and Balances: Each branch of government is subject to a number of constitutional checks (restraints) by the other branches. *The three branches are not entirely separated or completely independent of one another.

10 Examples of Checks and Balances:
1. Congress (legislative branch) has the power to make laws, but the President (executive branch) has the power to “veto” any act of Congress. 2. Congress can refuse to provide funds that are requested by the President. This system makes compromise necessary – very rarely are there open clashes between the branches.

11 5. Judicial Review: The power of courts to determine whether what government does is in accord with what the Constitution provides. This power is held by all federal courts and by most state courts. *Judicial review is the power to declare something “unconstitutional”: to declare illegal/null and void, a governmental action that violates some aspect of the Constitution.

12 6. Federalism: The division of power among a central government and several regional governments – the powers held by government are distributed on a territorial basis. *This is a compromise between an all-powerful federal government and totally independent states.

13 Chapter 3.2: Formal Amendments
The Constitution has stood as our fundamental document for over 200 years – in most ways, it has remained exactly the same, but several changes have been made throughout the years.

14 The Formal Amendment Process:
The Constitution itself provides for its own “amendment”: changes in its written words. There are 2 methods of proposal and 2 methods of ratification (there are 4 total methods).

15 Method of Proposal: 1. By Congress (2/3 approval in each House) 2. Proposed at a national convention called by congress, when requested by 2/3 of state legislatures. Method of Ratification: 1. Ratified by the state legislatures of ¾ of the states. 2. Ratified by conventions held in ¾ of the states.

16 Amendment Process Options:

17 *The most common way is to be proposed by 2/3 vote in each house and ratified by ¾ of state legislatures – 26 of the 27 amendments have been passed this way. *15,000 joint resolutions calling for amendments have been proposed in Congress since 1789 – 33 have been sent to the states – only 27 have been passed.

18 The 27 Amendments: “Bill of Rights”: the first ten amendments to the Constitution. These were added less than 3 years after ratification. These amendments ensure our personal freedoms (expression, speech, security, equality before the law).

19 The next 17 amendments have been added throughout the past 200 years
The next 17 amendments have been added throughout the past 200 years. Many were passed, and symbolized, historic changes (13th abolished slavery, 18th banned alcohol, 21st brought alcohol back). *All of the amendments are intended to improve upon the existing governmental structure – they are well thought out, and viewed as necessary by the vast majority.

20 Chapter 3.3: Constitutional Change by Other Means
The Constitution is very skeletal in nature – it lays out a basic foundation, but many of the details are left open to change. Many changes have been made to the Constitution which do not involved any changes in its written words. These changes are made in 5 basic ways:

21 1. Basic Legislation: Congress has added to the Constitution by passing literally thousands of laws. The Constitution established Congressional powers, but Congress has used these powers as it has seen fit.

22 2. Executive Actions: The way that presidents have used their powers has helped the Constitution to grow. Examples: A. Congress must declare war vs. commander in chief. B. “Treaties”: formal agreements between two or more sovereign states require approval from the Senate. “Executive agreements”: a pact made by the president directly with the head of a foreign state do, not require Senate approval.

23 3. Court Decisions: The Supreme Court constantly interprets the Constitution and its powers and limitations – it decides what can and cannot be done under the law.

24 4. Party Practices: Although the Constitution makes no reference to political parties, they not only exist, but have a great influence. Congress is organized and conducted on the basis of political party (from resolutions to nominations).

25 5. Custom: Unwritten custom can be just as strong as written law.
Example: 1. Custom says that the heads of the 15 executive departments make up the “cabinet” (not the Constitution). 2. The “no third-term rule” for presidents, was a custom that was followed for almost 150 years. Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke this custom in 1940. *21st Amendment (1951)

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