Salient Features of US Constitution


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Department of Political Science Raja N.L. Khan Women's College
Offers Course Material
For Sem – IV (Hons) Paper - CC8T
On 1. Salient Features of US Constitution 2. American Federalism – past, present, future
3. Party system in USA 4. Judicial Organisation of the USA 5. Powers & Functions of the US President
By Anjali Pramanick Associate Professor

Salient features of US Constitution: Although there are many interesting features in its constitution but the most important are:
• Written constitution • Rigid constitution • Popular sovereignty • Bicameral legislature • Separation of powers • Checks and balances • Judicial Review • Presidential system • Federal system • System of republic • System of spoils • Bill of Rights • Dual Citizenship
1. Written Constitution:
American constitution is a written constitution framed in 1787 and enforced in 1789. It consists of seven articles; three of them related to structure and powers of Legislative (Article 1), Executive (Article 2) and Judiciary (Article 3) and the other four dedicated to position of states (Article 4), modes of amendments (Article 5), supremacy of national power (Article 6) and ratification (Article 7). It also holds that constitution is the supreme law of the land. Article one is the longest and cannot be amended. Like other constitutions, it also consists of preamble; a single sentence that introduces and defines purpose of the document.

2. Rigid Constitution:
It is one of the most rigid constitutions in the world which means that for amending it, a special and difficult procedure has to be followed. It consists of 2 steps;
2.1 Proposal for Amendment:
Either two-third (67%) of both the houses (Senate and House of Representatives) shall propose for amendment to constitution or on the application of legislatures of two-third (67%) states shall call a convention for proposing amendment.
2.2 Ratification of Proposal:
The amendment shall be ratified by the legislatures of three fourth (75 %) of all states or by the convention of three fourth of states. It is because of this rigidity that American constitution has been amended only 27 times in over 200 years.
3. Popular Sovereignty:
In U.S, the people rule i.e. they have delegated their powers to the government and the government owes its authority to the will of the people. The principle of popular sovereignty is stated in the Preamble of constitution as “we the people……..do ordain and establish this constitution for United States of America.”
4. Bicameral Legislature:
The constitution of USA provides for bicameral legislature i.e. two houses in the centre. According to Article 1, “All legislative powers are vested in Congress.” Congress consists of two houses i.e. Lower House or House of Representatives and the Upper House or Senate.

4.1 House of Representatives:
The House of Representatives has 435 members who are elected by the people through adult franchise method for a period of two years on population basis i.e. state with larger population gets more seats in this house like California has 53 members.
4.2 Senate:
The members of Senate are elected by the state legislatures. Each state has two senators meaning that each state has two votes in senate. These senators are elected for a period of six years on parity basis. The total number of senators is 100 as the total states are 50.
5. Separation of Powers:
The doctrine of separation of powers divides power between the three pillars/institutions of government to prevent interference of one institution in the affairs of another. The powers are divided among Congress, President and the Judiciary. Congress has the power to make laws which outline general policies and set certain standards. President can enforce, execute and administer law. He is assisted by his cabinet but is solely responsible for all actions of Executive branch.Judicial Powers are exercised by the Supreme Court which interprets laws and decided cases and controversies in conformity with the law and by the methods prescribed by law.
6. Checks & Balances:
The system of Checks and Balances laid down by the separation of powers prevents misuse of powers. The powers are provided in such a way that it provides a check upon other institutions. Examples: a) President can veto a bill passed by the Congress. The congress can pass legislation over president’s veto by two third majority.

b) President has the power to appoint judges of the Supreme Court subject to approval of the Senate. c) The constitution has vested the powers of “Judicial Review” in Supreme Court. Supreme Court can approve, reject or review any action taken by the President or laws made by the Congress as it did in Marbury vVs Madison Case. All this creates a system which makes compromises necessary which is a sign of healthy democracy. It prevents the rise of dictators as well.
7. Federal System:
The U.S constitution provides for a federal system of government which means that powers are divided among centre/federal government and the states. According to Article 1, the federal government has jurisdiction over 18 matters and residuary powers are vested in states. States are autonomous bodies and centre cannot meddle in their affairs. In case of conflict, Supreme Court decides or settles the dispute.
8. Presidential System:
The constitution provides for a presidential form of government. Article 2 provides the powers, election and their matters related to president. President is elected for a term of 4 years and is not answerable to Congress but cannot dissolve Congress. He has a cabinet to assist him in running his executive powers.
9. Republicanism:
The constitution calls for a republican system with President as elected head of the state. The constitution derives its authority from the people and is supreme law of the land. Neither centre nor states can override it.
10. Bill of Rights:
The first ten amendments to the constitution are called “Bill of Rights”. The BOR provides for the rights of a person’s property, liberty, freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly.

11. Dual Citizenship:
The constitution provides for dual citizenship i.e citizen of United States and the state where one is domiciled. Britain and Pakistan provides for single citizenship.
12. System of Spoils:
When a president is elected, he does appointment of public offices. If in elections, President elected is of the opposition party, he dismisses the public office bearers and makes fresh appointments. Under this system, a civil servant appointed by one president on political consideration cannot retain his office when an opposition President secures victory in polls.

American Federalism
Past, Present and Future

by Ellis Katz
Since its inception more than 200 years ago, American federalism has undergone tremendous change.Today, all governments—federal, state and local—play a greater role in the lives of their citizens. Expectations about what kind of services and rights people want from government have changed, and relations among the federal, state and local governments have become infinitely more complex. In this brief essay, Ellis Katz, professor of political science and a fellow of the Center for the Study of Federalism at Temple University, explores the origins and development of American federalism, its contemporary practice and problems, and the forces that seem to be moving it in new directions.

When the 13 North American
colonies declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, they recognized the need to coordinate their efforts in the war and to cooperate with each other generally. To these ends, they adopted the Articles of Confederation, a constitution which created a league of sovereign states which committed the states to cooperate with each other in military affairs, foreign policy and other important areas. The Articles were barely sufficient to hold the states together through the war against England and, at the successful conclusion of that war, fell apart completely as the states pursued their own interests rather than the national interest of the new United States.

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The Origin and Development
of American Federalism
To remedy the defects of the Articles (or, in the words of the Constitution of 1787, “to create a more perfect union”), George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and other nationalist leaders called upon the states to send delegates to a constitutional convention to meet in the city of Philadelphia in May 1787. It was, of course, that convention that produced the Constitution of the United States.
The framers of the Constitution rejected both confederal and unitary models of government. Instead, they based the new American government on an entirely new theory: federalism. In a confederation, the member states make up the union. Sovereignty remains with the states and individuals are citizens of their respective states, not of the national government. In a unitary system, on the other hand, the national government is sovereign and the states, if they exist at all, are mere administrative arms of the central government. In the American federal system, the people retain their basic sovereignty and they delegate some powers to the national government and reserve other powers for the states. Individuals are citizens of both the general government and their respective states.
This brief history is important for two reasons. First, the American federal system is not simply a decentralized hierarchy. The states are not administrative units that exist only to implement policies made by some central government. The states are fully functioning constitutional polities in their own right, empowered by the American people to make a wide range of policies for their own citizens.

Second, the framers expected that the states would be the principal policymakers in the federal system. The powers granted to the federal government are relatively few in number and deal mainly with foreign and military affairs and national economic issues, such as the free flow of commerce across state lines. Most domestic policy issues were left to the states to resolve in keeping with their own histories, needs and cultures.
The first 75 years of American development (1790–1865) were marked by constitutional and political conflicts about the nature of American federalism. Almost immediately George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall and their Federalist colleagues argued for an expansive interpretation of federal authority, while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Spencer Roane and their partisan allies maintained that the American union was little more than a confederation in which power and sovereignty remained with the states. By the 1850s, the debate focused on whether slavery was a matter for national or state policy.
The American Civil War (1860– 1865) did much to resolve these federalism questions. The northern victory and the subsequent adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution ended slavery, defined national citizenship, limited the power of the states in the areas of civil rights and liberties, and, generally, established the supremacy of the national Constitution and laws over the states. Federalism issues continued, of course, and during the first third of this century, the U.S. Supreme Court often cited federalism considerations to limit federal authority over the economy. Two

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developments, however, led to the expansion of federal authority, and, according to some critics, brought about an imbalance in American federalism.
First, under the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the functions of the federal government expanded enormously. It was the New Deal that gave rise to Social Security, unemployment compensation, federal welfare programs, price stabilization programs in industry and agriculture, and collective bargaining for labor unions. Many of these programs, while funded by the federal government, were administered by the states, giving rise to the federal grant-in-aid system. The U.S. Supreme Court legitimated this expanded federal role, and since 1937 has pretty much allowed the national government to define the reach of its authority for itself.
Second, during the 1950s and 1960s, the national government came to be viewed as the principal promoter and defender of civil rights and liberties. In a series of very important decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down statesupported racial segregation, state laws that discriminated against women, and state criminal proceedings that violated the due process of law provision of the 14th Amendment. Thus, people looked to the institutions of the national government (especially to the U.S. Supreme Court) to defend them against their own state governments.
These two developments required a reconceptualization of federalism. Until the New Deal, the prevailing concept of federalism was “dual federalism,” a system in which the national government and the states have totally separate sets of responsibilities. Thus foreign affairs and

national defense were the business of the federal government alone, while education and family law were matters for the states exclusively. The New Deal broke this artificial distinction and gave rise to the notion of “cooperative federalism,” a system by which the national and state governments may cooperate with each other to deal with a wide range of social and economic problems.
Cooperative federalism characterized American intergovernmental relations through the 1950s and into the 1960s. The principal tool of cooperative federalism was the grant-in-aid, a system by which the federal government uses its greater financial resources to give money to the states to pursue mutually agreedupon goals. The building of the interstate highway system in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s is usually cited as an example of cooperative federalism working at its best. The federal government provided up to 90 percent of the cost of highway construction, gave technical assistance to the states in building the highways, and, generally, set standards for the new roads. The highways were actually built and maintained by the states.
Three points about this sort of cooperative federalism need to be made clear. First, the federal government and the states agreed on the goals; both wanted the roads built. Second, only the federal government and the states were involved in the programs. Cities and other units of local government were not full partners in the cooperative federalism of the 1950s and early 1960s. Third, the grant-in-aid programs affected only a small number of policy areas; most of the funding went for highways, airport construction, and hous-

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ing and urban development. As late as 1963, the total funding for all federal grants-in-aid was only about $9 thousand-million.
But this sort of cooperative federalism ended by the mid-1960s. Under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, the federal government sometimes enacted grant-in-aid programs in which the states had little interest, or to which they were actively opposed. Second, federal funds were now often given directly to units of local government—counties, cities, small towns, and school and other special districts. Third, while previous grant-in-aid programs were limited to a few areas on which the federal government and the states agreed, the Great Society reached almost every policy area— education, police and fire protection, historic preservation, public libraries, infant health care, urban renewal, public parks and recreation, sewage and water systems and public transit.
The consequence of all this was two-fold. First, the number of players in the intergovernmental system increased tremendously, from 51 (the states and the federal government) to the 80,000 or so units of local government that existed at the time. Second, federal grants-in-aid, which affected only a few policy areas previously, now affected almost all areas of public life. This led to a number of managerial and political problems (coordination, accountability, priorities, micromanagement, etc.) that political scientist David Walker has summed up with the phrase “the hyperintergovernmentalization” of American public policy.
President Richard M. Nixon tried to fix all of this by the consolidation of small

categorical grant programs into larger bloc grant programs in which the states would have more discretion. By and large, however, his efforts failed. By the time he left office, there were more grant programs (over 600) than when he started. The presidency of Ronald Reagan seemed to promise a solution. While Reagan supported many of Nixon’s proposed solutions, his real impact was on federal spending, which has caused Americans to re-think not only federalism, but the role of government itself.
Wanting a smaller role for government, especially for the federal government, Reagan successfully fought for increased defense spending, tax cuts and increased (or at least maintained) levels of Social Security payments. The result was that there was less and less money available for federal domestic grant-inaid programs. While federal grant-in-aid spending crept upwards during the Bush administration, and has remained fairly stable during the Clinton administration (over $225 thousand-million in 1996), Reagan’s strategy, by and large, has worked—although it has created a new set of problems for state and local government.
American Federalism To d ay a n d To m o r ro w
American federalism was never merely a set of static institutional arrangements, frozen in time by the U.S. Constitution. Rather, American federalism is a dynamic, multi-dimensional process that has economic, administrative, and political aspects as well as constitutional ones. This is perhaps more true today than it ever has been. Let me suggest six crucial

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Salient Features of US Constitution