|HONORS GOVERNMENT UNIT OBJECTIVES|
|UNIT I: THE US CONSTITUTION|
|The Framers of the Constitution sought to create a government
capable of protecting liberty and preserving order. The solution they
chose—one without precedent at that time—was a government based on a
written constitution which combined the principles of popular consent,
separation of powers, and federalism.
Popular consent was most evident in the procedure for choosing members of the House of Representatives. However, popular consent was limited by the requirements that senators be elected by their state legislatures and presidents by the Electoral College. Powers were separated among branches that then had to cooperate to effect change. Thus, separation of powers was joined with a system of checks and balances. This, it was hoped, would prevent tyranny, even by a popular majority.
Federalism came to mean a system in which both the national and state governments had independent authority. Allocating powers between these two levels of government and devising means to ensure that neither large nor small states would dominate the national government required the most delicate compromises at the Philadelphia convention. The Framers’ decision to protect the institution of slavery was another compromise, which presumably helped to ensure the Constitution’s ratification by states engaged in the slave trade.
In the drafting of the Constitution and the struggle for its ratification, the positions people took were determined by a variety of factors. In addition to their economic interests, these included profound differences of opinion over whether the state governments or the national government would be the best protector of personal liberty.
States participate actively both in determining national policy and in administering national programs. Moreover, they reserve to themselves or to localities within them important powers over such public services as schooling and law enforcement, and such important public decisions as land use. In a unitary system, these powers are exercised by the national government.
How one evaluates federalism depends in large part on the value one attaches to the competing criteria of equality and participation. Federalism means that citizens living in different parts of the country will be treated differently. This applies not only to spending programs (such as welfare), but also to legal systems (where civil rights may be differentially protected or criminal sentencing may vary). Yet federalism also means that there are more opportunities to participate in the decision making. It allows people to influence what is taught in the schools, and to decide where highways and other government projects will be built. Indeed, differences in public policy—that is, unequal treatment—are largely the result of wider participation in decision making. It is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to have more of one of these values without having less of the other.From the 1930s to the present, United States politics and public policy became decidedly more nationalized, with the federal government, and especially the federal courts, imposing increasingly uniform standards on the states. These usually took the form of mandates and conditions of aid. Efforts begun in the 1960s and 1970s to reverse this trend by shifting to revenue sharing and block grants were only partially successful. In the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court began to review the doctrine of state
|UNIT II: LEGISLATIVE, EXECUTIVE, and JUDICIAL|
Over the last fifty years or so, Congress, especially the House, has evolved through three stages. The Congress is presently an uneasy combination of stages two and three.
During the first stage, which lasted from the end of World War I until the early 1960s, the House was dominated by powerful committee chairs who controlled the agenda, decided which members would get what services for their constituents, and tended to follow the leadership of the Speaker. Newer members were expected to be seen but not heard; power and prominence came only after a long apprenticeship. Congressional staffs were small, and so members dealt with each other face to face. In dealing with other members, it helped to have a southern accent: Half of all committee chairs, in both the House and the Senate, were from the South. Not many laws were passed over their objections.
The second stage emerged in the early 1970s, in part as the result of trends already under way and in part as the result of changes in procedures and organization brought about by younger, especially northern, members. (As an example of continuing trends, consider the steady growth in the number of staffers assigned to each member.) Dissatisfied with southern resistance to civil rights bills and emboldened by a sharp increase in the number of liberals who had been elected in the Johnson landslide of 1964, the House Democratic caucus adopted rules that allowed the caucus to do the following:
Also, the installation of electronic voting made it easier to require recorded votes, and so there was a sharp rise in the number of times each member had to go on record. The Rules Committee was instructed to issue more rules that would allow floor amendments.
At the same time, the number of southern Democrats in leadership positions began to decline, while the conservativism of the remaining ones began to lessen. Moreover, northern and southern Democrats began to vote together a bit more frequently, though the conservative Boll Weevils remained a significant—and often swing—group.
These changes created a House ideally suited to serve the reelection needs of its members. Each representative could be an individual political entrepreneur, seeking publicity, claiming credit, introducing bills, holding subcommittee hearings, and assigning staffers to work on constituents’ problems. There was no need to defer to powerful party leaders or committee chairs. But because representatives in each party were becoming more ideologically similar, there was a rise in party voting. Congress became a career attractive to women and men skilled in these techniques. Their skills as members were manifest in the growth of the sophomore surge, the increase in their winning percentage during their first re-election campaign.
Even junior members could now make their mark on legislation. In the House, more floor amendments were offered and passed; in the Senate, filibusters became more commonplace. Owing to multiple referrals and overlapping subcommittee jurisdictions, more members could participate in writing bills and overseeing government agencies.
Lurking within the changes that defined the second stage were others, less noticed at the time, that created the beginnings of a new phase. This third stage was an effort in the House to strengthen and centralize party leadership. The Speaker acquired the power to appoint a majority of the Rules Committee members. That body, worried by the flood of floor amendments, began issuing more restrictive rules. By the mid-1980s, this had reached the point where Republicans were complaining that they were being gagged. The Speaker also got control of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee (which assigns new members to committees) and was given the power to refer bills to several committees simultaneously.
These opportunities for becoming a powerful Speaker were not noticed while Tip O’Neill (D, Massachusetts) held that post. However, Jim Wright (D, Texas), O’Neill’s successor, began to make full use of these powers shortly after he entered office. Perhaps if he had not stumbled over his ethical problems, Wright might have succeeded in becoming the policy leader of the House, setting the agenda and getting much of it adopted. The replacement of Wright by Tom Foley (D, Washington) signaled a return to a more accomodationist leadership style.
The pendulum continued to swing between different leadership styles in the latter half of the 1990s. Foley’s replacement, Republican Newt Gingrich (Georgia), was a more assertive policy leader. The first sitting Speaker to be reprimanded by the House for ethics violations, Gingrich resigned from office after the 1998 elections. He was succeeded by a more moderate speaker, J. Dennis Hastert (R, Illinois). The evolution of the House remains an incomplete story. It is not yet clear whether it will remain in stage two or find some way of moving decisively into stage three. For now, it has elements of both. Meanwhile, the Senate remains as individualistic and as decentralized as ever—a place where it has always been difficult to exercise strong leadership.
Congress is a collection of individual representatives from states and districts who play no role in choosing the president. They are therefore free to serve the interests of their constituents, their personal political views, and (to a limited extent) the demands of congressional leaders. In serving those interests, members of necessity rely on investigating, negotiating, and compromise, all of which may annoy voters who want Congress to be “decisive.” The unpopularity of Congress is made worse by the recent tendency of its members to become ideologically more polarized.
One of the most important changes in the profile of Congressional members is the increased ability of incumbents to get re-elected. This reflects the growth of constituent service, name recognition, and the weakening of party loyalties among voters.
Though its members may complain that Congress is collectively weak, to any visitor from abroad it seems extraordinarily powerful. Congress has always been jealous of its constitutional authority and independence. Three compelling events led to Congress reasserting its authority. These were the war in Vietnam, which became progressively more unpopular; the Watergate scandals, which revealed a White House illegally influencing the electoral process; and the continuance of divided government, with one party in control of the presidency and another in control of Congress.
In 1973, Congress passed the War Powers Act over a presidential veto, giving it a greater voice in the use of American forces abroad. The following year, it passed the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which denied the president the right to refuse to spend money appropriated by Congress. This act gave Congress a greater role in the budget process. Congress also passed laws to provide a legislative veto over presidential actions, especially with respect to the sale of arms abroad. Not all these steps have withstood the tests of time or of Supreme Court review, but taken together they indicate a resurgence of congressional authority. They also helped set the stage for sharper conflicts between Congress and the presidency.
A president, chosen by the people and with powers derived from a written constitution, has less power than does a prime minister, even though the latter depends on the support of her or his party in parliament. The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, the distinguishing feature of the political system in the United States, means that the president must compete with Congress in setting policy and even in managing executive agencies.
Presidential power, though still sharply limited, has grown from its constitutional origins as a result of congressional delegation, the increased importance of foreign affairs, and public expectations. But while the presidential office has more power today, the president also faces higher expectations. As a result, presidential effectiveness depends not on any general grant of authority but on the nature of the issues to be confronted and the support gained from informal sources of power. Public opinion and congressional support are extremely important. As a political scientist noted so many years ago, the president’s primary power is often the power to persuade.
Though the president seemingly controls a vast executive branch apparatus, only a small proportion of executive branch personnel are presidential appointees or nominees. Even these may not be under presidential control. Moreover, public support, high at the beginning of any new presidency, usually declines as the term proceeds. Consequently, each president must conserve power (and energy and time), concentrating these scarce resources to deal with a few matters of major importance. Virtually every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has tried to gain better control of the executive branch—by reorganizing, by appointing White House aides, by creating specialized staff agencies—but no president has been satisfied with the results.
In dealing with Congress, the president may be able to rely somewhat on party loyalty. Presidents whose party controls Congress tend to have more of their proposals approved. But such loyalty is insufficient. Every president must also cajole, award favors, and threaten vetoes to influence legislation. Few presidents can count on a honeymoon. Most presidents discover that their plans are at the mercy of unexpected crises.An independent judiciary with the power of judicial review—the power to decide the constitutionality of acts of Congress, the executive branch, and state governments—can be a potent political force. The judicial branch of the United States government has developed its power from the earliest days of the nation, when Marshall and Taney put the Supreme Court at the center of the most important issues of the time.
From 1787 to 1865, the Supreme Court focused on the establishment of national supremacy. From 1865 to 1937, it struggled with defining the scope of the government’s power over the economy. In the present era, it has deliberated about personal liberties.
It became easier for citizens and groups to gain access to the federal courts in the mid- to late twentieth century. This is the result of judges’ willingness to consider class action suits and amicus curiae briefs and to allow fee shifting. The lobbying efforts of interest groups also had a powerful effect. At the same time, the scope of the courts’ political influence has increasingly widened as various groups and interests have acquired access to the courts, as the judges have developed a more activist stance, and as Congress has passed more laws containing vague or equivocal language. Still, the Supreme Court controls its own workload and grants certiorari to a very small percentage of appellate cases. As a result, although the Supreme Court is the pinnacle of the federal judiciary, most decisions are made by the twelve circuit courts of appeals and the ninety-four federal district courts.
|UNIT III: CIVIL LIBERTIES AND CIVIL RIGHTS|
|Like most issues, civil liberties problems often involve competing
interests—in this case, conflicting rights or conflicting rights and
duties—and groups may mobilize to argue for their interests. Like some
other issues, civil liberties concerns can also arise from the
successful appeals of a policy entrepreneur. These appeals have
sometimes reduced liberty, as when popular fears are aroused during or
just after a war or attack.
Civil liberties are foundational to political beliefs and political culture in the United States. Among the most important protections are those in the First Amendment: What is “speech”? How much of it should be free? How far can the state go in aiding religion? How do we strike a balance between national security and personal expression? The zigzag course followed by the courts in judging these matters has, on balance, tended to enlarge freedom of expression.
Also important has been the struggle to strike a balance between the right of society to protect itself from criminals and the right of all people to be free from unreasonable searches and coerced confessions. As with free speech cases, the courts have generally broadened the rights, this time at some expense to the police. In more recent years, though, the Supreme Court has qualified some of its exclusionary rule protections.
The resolution of these issues by the courts is political in the sense that there are competing opinions about what is right or desirable. In this competition of ideas and values, federal judges, though not elected, are often sensitive to strong currents of popular opinion. When no strong national mood is discernible, the opinions of elites influence judicial thinking.
At the same time, courts resolve political conflicts in a manner that differs in three important respects from the resolution of conflicts by legislators and executives. First, the relative ease with which one can enter a court facilitates challenges to accepted standards. An unpopular political or religious group may have little or no access to a legislature, but it will have substantial access to the courts. Second, judges often settle controversies about rights not simply by deciding the case at hand but by formulating a general rule to cover similar cases elsewhere. This means that the law tends to become more consistent and better known, but the rules may also be inappropriately applied. A definition of “obscenity” or “fighting words” may suit one situation, but be inadequate in another. Third, judges interpret the Constitution, whereas legislatures often consult popular preferences or personal convictions. Still, though their own beliefs influence how judges read the Constitution, its language constrains almost all of their decisions.Taken together, the desire to find and announce rules, the language of the Constitution, and the personal beliefs of judges have led to a general expansion of civil liberties. As a result, even allowing for temporary reversals and frequent redefinitions, any value that is thought to hinder freedom of expression and the rights of the accused has generally lost ground to the claims of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments
Through action in the courts and in the Congress, the African American civil rights movement profoundly changed the nature of African Americans’ political participation. In particular, southern African Americans entered the political system, establishing an effective array of interest groups. Another decisive move was to mobilize northern opinion on behalf of this civil rights movement. Northerners initially viewed civil rights as an unfair contest between southern whites and southern African Americans; that perception changed when court rulings and legislative decisions applied to the north as well as the south. Then, there was northern opposition to court-ordered busing and affirmative action programs.
By the time this northern reaction emerged, though, the legal and political system had undergone significant change. It was difficult, if not impossible, to limit the application of civil rights laws to the south or to use legislative means to alter federal court decisions. Courts can accomplish little without strong political allies, as revealed by the massive resistance to the early school desegregation decisions. However, they can accomplish a great deal, even in the face of adverse public opinion, when they have organized allies, as was seen in their ability to withstand anti-busing efforts.
The women’s movement has somewhat paralleled the organizational and tactical aspects of the African American civil rights movement. There was a significant difference, however. The women’s movement sought to repeal or reverse laws and court rulings that, sometimes, were allegedly designed to protect (rather than to subjugate) them. The conflict between protection and liberty was sufficiently strong that it defeated efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Abortion and affirmative action are among the most divisive civil rights issues in United States politics. From 1973 to 1989, the Supreme Court seemed committed to giving constitutional protection to all abortions within the first trimester, with some regulation allowed thereafter. Since 1989, however, the Court has approved various state restrictions on all abortions.
There has been a similar shift in the Court’s view of affirmative action. Though it still approves some quota plans, it now insists that they pass strict scrutiny. This has the effect of ensuring that quotas are instituted only to correct a proven history of discrimination, that they place the burden of proof on the party alleging discrimination, and that they be limited to hirings and not extended to layoffs. Congress has modified some of these rulings through legislation.
The gay rights movement has proceeded along a rather different course than the struggle for African American civil rights or the women’s movement. The gay rights movement has largely proceeded on a state-by-state basis, with mixed results. States may not ban same-sex sexual relations, but they do not have to recognize gay marriages conducted in other states. Just as the country is divided on whether gay men and women should have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts, so policy is divided as well.