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Item 1 - purpose and function of our government - general.
Published on Mon, May 17, 2021 9:00AM PDT | Updated Mon, May 17, 2021 9:10AM PDT
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The United States of America (US) is a federal republic composed of 50 states, a federal district of Washington, D.C., five major and various minor insular areas, as well as over 90,000 local governments, including counties, municipalities, townships, school districts, and special district governments. At 3.8 million square miles and with over 329 million people, the US is the world’s third-largest country by total area and the third most populous.
Our vision and mission
As documented in the US Constitution, the people of the US, through our Government, seek to form a more perfect union by establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
To achieve the mission of the people, our Government raises money, spends money, and exercises its authority. Through these actions, it enables, incentivizes, and forces certain behaviors (e.g. saving for retirement through Social Security and Medicare, attending minimum years of school, getting vaccinated) in an effort to maintain or improve various key metrics related to American life.
Raising and spending money
Our Government raises money through taxes and non-tax sources, including businesses it runs. This money is used to pay government expenditures and to transfer money to individuals and others. At the federal level, when the money raised is not sufficient to cover the money spent (most years), the US Department of the Treasury may borrow money to finance the difference. States may borrow funds for projects but may not borrow to fund annual deficits, except Vermont, where its constitution does not preclude it from doing so.
Our Government exercises its authority directly by regulating, legislating, and issuing executive orders and court orders. It also grants authority to, and rescinds it from, government agencies and state and local governments.
See more at Government operations below.
About this report, government structure, explore the 2021 government 10-k, introduction, item 1a. risk factors, item 2. properties, item 3. legal proceedings, item 6. selected financial data, item 7. management’s discussion and analysis of financial condition and results of operations, item 7a. quantitative and qualitative disclosures about market risk, item 8. financial statements and supplementary data, item 9a. controls and procedures, item 10. executive officers and governance, item 11. executive officer compensation, item 13. certain relationships and related transactions, and director independence, item 15. exhibits, sign up for the newsletter.
- 1.1 What is Government?
- 1.2 Who Governs? Elitism, Pluralism, and Tradeoffs
- 1.3 Engagement in a Democracy
- Review Questions
- Critical Thinking Questions
- Suggestions for Further Study
- 2.1 The Pre-Revolutionary Period and the Roots of the American Political Tradition
- 2.2 The Articles of Confederation
- 2.3 The Development of the Constitution
- 2.4 The Ratification of the Constitution
- 2.5 Constitutional Change
- 3.1 The Division of Powers
- 3.2 The Evolution of American Federalism
- 3.3 Intergovernmental Relationships
- 3.4 Competitive Federalism Today
- 3.5 Advantages and Disadvantages of Federalism
- 4.1 What Are Civil Liberties?
- 4.2 Securing Basic Freedoms
- 4.3 The Rights of Suspects
- 4.4 Interpreting the Bill of Rights
- 5.1 What Are Civil Rights and How Do We Identify Them?
- 5.2 The African American Struggle for Equality
- 5.3 The Fight for Women’s Rights
- 5.4 Civil Rights for Indigenous Groups: Native Americans, Alaskans, and Hawaiians
- 5.5 Equal Protection for Other Groups
- 6.1 The Nature of Public Opinion
- 6.2 How Is Public Opinion Measured?
- 6.3 What Does the Public Think?
- 6.4 The Effects of Public Opinion
- 7.1 Voter Registration
- 7.2 Voter Turnout
- 7.3 Elections
- 7.4 Campaigns and Voting
- 7.5 Direct Democracy
- 8.1 What Is the Media?
- 8.2 The Evolution of the Media
- 8.3 Regulating the Media
- 8.4 The Impact of the Media
- 9.1 What Are Parties and How Did They Form?
- 9.2 The Two-Party System
- 9.3 The Shape of Modern Political Parties
- 9.4 Divided Government and Partisan Polarization
- 10.1 Interest Groups Defined
- 10.2 Collective Action and Interest Group Formation
- 10.3 Interest Groups as Political Participation
- 10.4 Pathways of Interest Group Influence
- 10.5 Free Speech and the Regulation of Interest Groups
- 11.1 The Institutional Design of Congress
- 11.2 Congressional Elections
- 11.3 Congressional Representation
- 11.4 House and Senate Organizations
- 11.5 The Legislative Process
- 12.1 The Design and Evolution of the Presidency
- 12.2 The Presidential Election Process
- 12.3 Organizing to Govern
- 12.4 The Public Presidency
- 12.5 Presidential Governance: Direct Presidential Action
- 13.1 Guardians of the Constitution and Individual Rights
- 13.2 The Dual Court System
- 13.3 The Federal Court System
- 13.4 The Supreme Court
- 13.5 Judicial Decision-Making and Implementation by the Supreme Court
- 14.1 State Power and Delegation
- 14.2 State Political Culture
- 14.3 Governors and State Legislatures
- 14.4 State Legislative Term Limits
- 14.5 County and City Government
- 15.1 Bureaucracy and the Evolution of Public Administration
- 15.2 Toward a Merit-Based Civil Service
- 15.3 Understanding Bureaucracies and their Types
- 15.4 Controlling the Bureaucracy
- 16.1 What Is Public Policy?
- 16.2 Categorizing Public Policy
- 16.3 Policy Arenas
- 16.4 Policymakers
- 16.5 Budgeting and Tax Policy
- 17.1 Defining Foreign Policy
- 17.2 Foreign Policy Instruments
- 17.3 Institutional Relations in Foreign Policy
- 17.4 Approaches to Foreign Policy
- A | Declaration of Independence
- B | The Constitution of the United States
- C | Federalist Papers #10 and #51
- D | Electoral College Map
- E | Selected Supreme Court Cases
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Explain what government is and what it does
- Identify the type of government in the United States and compare it to other forms of government
Government affects all aspects of people’s lives. What we eat, where we go to school, what kind of education we receive, how our tax money is spent, and what we do in our free time are all affected by government. Americans are often unaware of the pervasiveness of government in their everyday lives, and many are unsure precisely what it does. Here we will look at what government is, what it does, and how the government of the United States differs from other kinds of governments.
The term government describes the means by which a society organizes itself and how it allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that the society as a whole needs. Among the goals that governments around the world seek to accomplish are economic prosperity, secure national borders, and the safety and well-being of citizens. Governments also provide benefits for their citizens. The type of benefits provided differ according to the country and their specific type of governmental system, but governments commonly provide such things as education, health care, and an infrastructure for transportation. The term politics refers to the process of gaining and exercising control within a government for the purpose of setting and achieving particular goals, especially those related to the division of resources within a nation.
Sometimes governmental systems are confused with economic systems . This is because certain types of political thought or governmental organization are closely related to or develop with certain types of economic systems. For example, the economic system of capitalism in Western Europe and North America developed at roughly the same time as ideas about democratic republics, self-government, and natural rights. At this time, the idea of liberty became an important concept. According to John Locke , an English political philosopher of the seventeenth century, all people have natural rights to life, liberty, and property. From this came the idea that people should be free to consent to being governed. In the eighteenth century, in Great Britain’s North American colonies, and later in France, this developed into the idea that people should govern themselves through elected representatives and not a king; only those representatives chosen by the people had the right to make laws to govern them.
Similarly, Adam Smith , a Scottish philosopher who was born nineteen years after Locke’s death, believed that all people should be free to acquire property in any way that they wished. Instead of being controlled by government, business, and industry, Smith argued, people should be allowed to operate as they wish and keep the proceeds of their work. Competition would ensure that prices remained low and faulty goods disappeared from the market. In this way, businesses would reap profits, consumers would have their needs satisfied, and society as a whole would prosper. Smith discussed these ideas, which formed the basis for industrial capitalism, in his book The Wealth of Nations , which was published in 1776, the same year that the Declaration of Independence was written.
Representative government and capitalism developed together in the United States, and many Americans tend to equate democracy , a political system in which people govern themselves, with capitalism. In theory, a democratic government promotes individualism and the freedom to act as one chooses instead of being controlled, for good or bad, by government. Capitalism, in turn, relies on individualism. At the same time, successful capitalists prefer political systems over which they can exert at least some influence in order to maintain their liberty.
Democracy and capitalism do not have to go hand in hand, however. Indeed, one might argue that a capitalist economic system might be bad for democracy in some respects. Although Smith theorized that capitalism would lead to prosperity for all, this has not necessarily been the case. Great gaps in wealth between the owners of major businesses, industries, and financial institutions and those who work for others in exchange for wages exist in many capitalist nations. In turn, great wealth may give a very small minority great influence over the government—a greater influence than that held by the majority of the population, which will be discussed later.
Socialism is an alternative economic system. In socialist societies, the means of generating wealth, such as factories, large farms, and banks, are owned by the government and not by private individuals. The government accumulates wealth and then redistributes it to citizens, primarily in the form of social programs that provide such things as free or inexpensive health care, education, and childcare. In socialist countries, the government also usually owns and controls utilities such as electricity, transportation systems like airlines and railroads, and telecommunications systems. In many socialist countries the government is an oligarchy : only members of a certain political party or ruling elite can participate in government. For example, in China, the government is run by members of the Chinese Communist Party.
In the United States, the democratic government works closely together with its capitalist economic system. The interconnectedness of the two affects the way in which goods and services are distributed. The market provides many goods and services needed by Americans. For example, food, clothing, and housing are provided in ample supply by private businesses that earn a profit in return. These goods and services are known as private goods . 1 People can purchase what they need in the quantity in which they need it. This, of course, is the ideal. In reality, those who live in poverty cannot always afford to buy ample food and clothing to meet their needs, or the food and clothing that they can afford to buy in abundance is of inferior quality. Also, it is often difficult to find adequate housing; housing in the most desirable neighborhoods—those that have low crime rates and good schools—is often too expensive for poor or working-class (and sometimes middle-class) people to buy or rent.
Thus, the market cannot provide everything (in enough quantity or at low enough costs) in order to meet everyone’s needs. Therefore, some goods are provided by the government. Such goods or services that are available to all without charge are called public goods . Two such public goods are national security and education. It is difficult to see how a private business could protect the United States from attack. How could it build its own armies and create plans for defense and attack? Who would pay the men and women who served? Where would the intelligence come from? Due to its ability to tax, draw upon the resources of an entire nation, and compel citizen compliance, only government is capable of protecting the nation.
Similarly, public schools provide education for all children in the United States. Children of all religions, races and ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, and levels of academic ability can attend public schools free of charge from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. It would be impossible for private schools to provide an education for all of the nation’s children. Private schools do provide some education in the United States; however, they charge tuition, and only those parents who can afford to pay their fees (or whose children gain a scholarship) can attend these institutions. Some schools charge very high tuition, the equivalent to the tuition at a private college. If private schools were the only educational institutions, most poor and working-class children and many middle-class children would be uneducated. Private schooling is a type of good called a toll good . Toll goods are available to many people, and many people can make use of them, but only if they can pay the price. They occupy a middle ground between public and private goods. All parents may send their children to public schools in the United States. They can choose to send their children to a private school, but the private school will charge them. On the other hand, public schools, which are operated by the government, provide free education so all children can attend school. Therefore, everyone in the nation benefits from the educated voters and workers produced by the public school system. Another distinction between public and private goods is that public goods are available to all, typically without additional charge.
What other public goods does government provide in the United States? At the federal, state, and local level, government provides stability and security, not only in the form of a military but also in the form of police and fire departments. Government provides other valuable goods and services such as public education, public transportation, mail service, and food, housing, and health care for the poor ( Figure 1.2 ). If a house catches on fire, the fire department does not demand payment before they put the fire out. If someone breaks into a house and tries to harm the occupants, the police will try to protect them and arrest the intruder, but the police department will not request payment for services rendered. The provision of these goods and services is funded by citizens paying into the general tax base.
Government also performs the important job of protecting common goods : goods that all people may use free of charge but that are of limited supply, such as fish in the sea or clean drinking water. Because everyone can use these goods, they must be protected so a few people do not take everything that is available and leave others with nothing. Some examples of common goods, private goods, public goods, and toll goods are listed below ( Figure 1.3 ).
Link to Learning
This federal website shares information about the many services the government provides.
Finding a Middle Ground
One of the many important things government does is regulate public access to common goods like natural resources. Unlike public goods, which all people may use without charge, common goods are in limited supply. If more public schools are needed, the government can build more. If more firefighters or mail carriers are needed, the government can hire them. Public lands and wildlife, however, are not goods the government can simply multiply if supply falls due to demand. Indeed, if some people take too freely from the supply of common goods, there will not be enough left for others to use.
Fish are one of the many common goods in which the government currently regulates access. It does so to ensure that certain species are not fished into extinction, thus depriving future generations of an important food source and a means to make a living. This idea is known as sustainability. Environmentalists want to set strict fishing limits on a variety of species. Commercial fishers resist these limits, claiming they are unnecessary and, if enforced, would drive them out of business ( Figure 1.4 ). Currently, fishing limits are set by a combination of scientists, politicians, local resource managers, and groups representing the interests of fishers. 3
Should the government regulate fishing? Is it right to interfere with people’s ability to earn money today in order to protect the access of future generations to the nation’s common goods?
Besides providing stability and goods and services for all, government also creates a structure by which goods and services can be made available to the people. In the United States, people elect representatives to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. These bodies make laws to govern their respective jurisdictions. They also pass measures to raise money, through the imposition of taxes on such things as income, property, and sales. Local, state, and national governments also draft budgets to determine how the revenue taken in will be spent for services. On the local level, funds are allotted for education, police and fire departments, and maintenance of public parks. State governments allocate money for state colleges and universities, maintenance of state roads and bridges, and wildlife management, among other priorities. On the national level, money goes to such things as defense, Social Security, pensions for veterans, maintenance of federal courts and prisons, and management of national parks. At each level, representatives elected by the people try to secure funding for things that will benefit those who live in the areas they represent. Once money has been allocated, government agencies at each level then receive funds for the purposes mentioned above and use them to provide services to the public.
Local, state, and national governments also make laws to maintain order and to ensure the efficient functioning of society, including the fair operation of the business marketplace. In the United States, for example, Congress passes laws regulating banking, and government agencies regulate such things as the amount of toxic gases that can be emitted by factories, the purity of food offered for sale, and the safety of toys and automobiles. In this way, government checks the actions of business, something that it would not do if capitalism in the United States functioned strictly in the manner that Adam Smith believed it should…almost entirely unregulated.
Besides providing goods to citizens and maintaining public safety, most governments also provide a means for citizens to participate in government and to make their opinions known to those in power. Western democracies like the United States, Britain, France, and others protect citizens’ freedom of speech and the press. These nations, and others in the world, also allow citizens to vote.
As noted earlier, politics is the process by which choices are made regarding how resources will be allocated and which economic and social policies government will pursue. Put more simply, politics is the process of who gets what and how. Politics involves choosing which values government will support and which it will not. If government chooses to support an ideal such as individualism , it may choose to loosen regulations on business and industry or to cut taxes so that people have more money to invest in business. If it chooses to support an ideal such as egalitarianism , which calls for equal treatment for all and the destruction of socioeconomic inequalities, it may raise taxes in order to be able to spend more on public education, public transportation, housing for the poor, and care for the elderly. If, for example, the government is more concerned with national security than with individual liberty , it may authorize the tapping of people’s phones and restrict what newspapers may publish. If liberty is more important, then government will place greater restrictions on the extent that law enforcement agencies can intrude upon citizens’ private communications. The political process and the input of citizens help determine the answer.
Civic engagement, or the participation that connects citizens to government, is a vital ingredient of politics. In the United States, citizens play an important role in influencing what policies are pursued, what values the government chooses to support, what initiatives are granted funding, and who gets to make the final decisions. Political engagement can take many forms: reading about politics, listening to news reports, discussing politics, attending (or watching televised) political debates, donating money to political campaigns, handing out flyers promoting a candidate, voting, joining protest marches, and writing letters to their elected representatives.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF GOVERNMENT
The government of the United States can best be described as a republic, or representative democracy. A democracy is a government in which political power —influence over institutions, leaders, and policies—rests in the hands of the people. In a representative democracy , however, the citizens do not govern directly. Instead, they elect representatives to make decisions and pass laws on behalf of all the people. Thus, U.S. citizens vote for members of Congress, the president and vice president, members of state legislatures, governors, mayors, and members of town councils and school boards to act on their behalf. Most representative governments favor majority rule : the opinions of the majority of the people have more influence with government than those of the minority. If the number of elected representatives who favor a proposed law is greater than those who oppose it, the law will be enacted.
However, in representative governments like the United States, minority rights are protected: people cannot be deprived of certain rights even if an overwhelming number of people think that they should be. For example, let’s say American society decided that atheists, people who do not believe that God exists, were evil and should be imprisoned or expelled from the country. Even though atheists only account for about 7 percent of the population, they would be protected due to minority rights. 4 Even though the number of Americans who believe in God far outweighs the number who do not, the minority is still protected. Because decisions are made through majority rule, making your opinions known and voting for those men and women who make decisions that affect all of us are critical and influential forms of civic engagement in a representative democracy such as the United States.
In a direct democracy , unlike representative democracy, people participate directly in making government decisions. For example, in ancient Athens, the most famous example of a direct democracy, all male citizens were allowed to attend meetings of the Assembly. Here they debated and voted for or against all proposed laws. Although neither the federal government nor any of the state governments function as a direct democracy—the Constitution requires the national and state governments to be representative forms of government—some elements of direct democracy do exist in the United States. While residents of the different states vote for people to represent them and to make laws in their behalf in the state legislatures and in Congress, people may still directly vote on certain issues. For example, a referendum or proposed law might be placed on the ballot for citizens to vote on directly during state or local elections instead of leaving the matter in the hands of the state legislature. At New England town meetings, all residents are allowed to debate decisions affecting the town ( Figure 1.5 ). Such occasions provide additional opportunities for civic engagement.
Most countries now have some form of representative government. 5 At the other end of the political spectrum are elite-driven forms of government. In a monarchy , one ruler, usually a hereditary ruler, holds political power. Although the power of some monarchs is limited by law, and such kings and queens often rule along with an elected legislature that makes laws for the country, this is not always the case. Many southwest Asian kingdoms, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, have absolute monarchs whose power is unrestricted. As discussed earlier, another nondemocratic form of government is oligarchy, in which a handful of elite members of society, often those who belong to a particular political party, hold all political power. For example, in Cuba, as in China, only members of the Communist Party are allowed to vote or hold public office, and the party’s most important members make all government decisions. Some nondemocratic societies are totalitarian in nature. Under totalitarianism , the government is more important than the citizens, and it controls all aspects of citizens’ lives. Citizens’ rights are limited, and the government does not allow political criticism or opposition. These forms of government are fairly rare. North Korea is an example of a totalitarian government.
The CIA website provides information about the types of government across the world.
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US government and civics
Course: us government and civics > unit 1.
- Separation of powers and checks and balances
Principles of American government
- Federalist No. 51
- Multiple points of influence due to separation of powers and checks and balances
- Principles of American government: lesson overview
- The Framers of the US Constitution structured the government so that the three branches have separate powers. The branches must both cooperate and compete to enact policy.
- Each of the branches has the power to check the other two, which ensures that no one branch can become too powerful and that government as a whole is constrained.
- This structure ensures that the people’s will is represented by allowing citizens multiple access points to influence public policy, and permitting the removal of officials who abuse their power.
The structure of US government: separation of powers
- (Choice A) The ability of the president to veto legislation and the judicial branch to declare laws unconstitutional A The ability of the president to veto legislation and the judicial branch to declare laws unconstitutional
- (Choice B) State governments and the federal government have exclusive and concurrent powers B State governments and the federal government have exclusive and concurrent powers
- (Choice C) Parts of government act independently from each other and have different responsibilities C Parts of government act independently from each other and have different responsibilities
The structure of US government: checks and balances
- (Choice A) Each branch of government acts independently of the other two in order to control the effects of factions A Each branch of government acts independently of the other two in order to control the effects of factions
- (Choice B) The branches of government must agree on a balanced budget before they proceed with policymaking B The branches of government must agree on a balanced budget before they proceed with policymaking
- (Choice C) Each branch of government has the ability to strongly influence or stop the actions of the other two C Each branch of government has the ability to strongly influence or stop the actions of the other two
What’s important about separation of powers and checks and balances?
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Government 101: The United States Federal Government
A Look at the U.S. Government's Basic Structure and Functions
- History & Major Milestones
- U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights
- U.S. Legal System
- U.S. Political System
- Defense & Security
- Campaigns & Elections
- Business & Finance
- U.S. Foreign Policy
- U.S. Liberal Politics
- U.S. Conservative Politics
- Women's Issues
- Civil Liberties
- The Middle East
- Race Relations
- Crime & Punishment
- Canadian Government
- Understanding Types of Government
- B.S., Texas A&M University
How would you create a government from scratch? The structure of the United States government is a perfect example that gives the people—rather than the "subjects"—the right to choose their leaders. In the process, they determined the course of the new nation.
The genius of the U.S. Constitution is no accident. America’s Founding Fathers had learned the hard way that any government—given too much power—would eventually oppress the people. Their experiences in England left them in fear of the concentrated political powers of a monarchy. They believed that harnessing the government was the key to lasting liberty. Indeed, the Constitution’s famed system of balanced separation of powers enforced through checks and balances was intended to preventing tyranny.
Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton and James Madison summed it up, "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."
Due to this, the basic structure the Founders gave us in 1787 has shaped American history and served the nation well. It is a system of checks and balances, made up of three branches, and designed to ensure that no single entity has too much power.
The Executive Branch
The Executive Branch of government is headed by the President of the United States . He also acts as the head of state in diplomatic relations and as Commander-in-Chief for all U.S. branches of the armed forces.
The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress . Further, he appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet , to ensure legislation is executed.
The Vice President is also part of the Executive Branch. He must be ready to assume the presidency should the need arise. As the next in line for succession, he might become President should the current one die or become incapacitated while in office or the unthinkable process of impeachment occurs.
As a key part of the Executive Branch, the 15 federal executive departments develop, enforce, and oversee the voluminous rules and regulations currently in force in the United States. As the administrative arms of the President of the United States, the executive departments make up the president’s advisory Cabinet. The heads of the executive departments—known as “Secretaries”—are appointed by the president and take office after confirmation by the United States Senate .
The heads of executive departments are included in the line of succession to the President, in the event of a vacancy in the presidency, after the Vice President, the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate.
The Legislative Branch
Every society needs laws. In the United States, the power to make laws is given to Congress, which represents the legislative branch of government.
Congress is divided into two groups: the Senate and the House of Representatives . Each is made up of members elected from each state. The Senate is comprised of two Senators per state and the House is based on population, totaling 435 members.
The structure of the two houses of Congress was the greatest debate during the Constitutional Convention . By dividing representatives both equally and based on size, the Founding Fathers were able to ensure that each state had a say in the federal government.
The legislative powers of the United States Congress are explicitly stated in the Constitution. Article I Section I of the U.S. Constitution, which states in part, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives”. The 18 specifically enumerated powers of Congress are spelled out in Article I, Section 8. Besides the power to make laws, some of the most significant powers of Congress include:
- Declare war
- Levy taxes to be spent to benefit the general welfare and the common defense
- Oversee the expenditure of public funds
- Borrow money
- Regulate commerce with and between states, other nations, and Native American tribes
- Impeach and try federal officers
- Approve treaties negotiated by the executive branch
- Approve presidential appointments
Along with the enumerated powers granted to it in Article I, Section 8, Congress exercises a flexible set of “ implied powers ,” which though not expressly granted to it by the Constitution are considered “necessary and proper” to properly apply its constitutionally granted powers.
The Judicial Branch
The laws of the United States are a complex tapestry that weaves through history. At times they are vague, sometimes they're very specific, and they can often be confusing. It's up to the federal judicial system to sort through this web of legislation and decide what is constitutional and what is not.
The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). It is made up of nine members, with the highest-ranking given the title of Chief Justice of the United States .
The Supreme Court members are appointed by the current President when a vacancy becomes available. The Senate must approve a nominee by a majority vote. Each Justice serves a lifetime appointment, though they may resign or be impeached.
While SCOTUS is the highest court in the U.S., the judicial branch also includes lower courts. The entire federal court system is often called the "guardians of the Constitution" and is divided into twelve judicial districts, or "circuits." If a case is challenged beyond a district court, it moves to the Supreme Court for a final decision.
Federalism in the United States
The U.S. Constitution establishes a government based on "federalism." This is the sharing of power between the national and state (as well as local) governments.
This power-sharing form of government is the opposite of "centralized" governments, under which a national government maintains total power. In it, certain powers are given to states if it is not a matter of overarching concern to the nation.
The 10th Amendment to the Constitution outlines the structure of federalism in just 28 words: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
These governmental “powers” of federalism are thus classified as “enumerated” powers specifically granted to the U.S. Congress, “reserved” powers granted to the states, and “concurrent” powers shared by both the federal government and the states.
Some actions, such as printing money and declaring war, are exclusive to the federal government. Others, like conducting elections and issuing marriage licenses, are responsibilities of the individual states. Both levels can do things like establish courts and collect taxes.
The federalist system allows the states to work for their own people. It is designed to ensure state's rights and it does not come without controversies.
- Basic Structure of the US Government
- The Powers of Congress
- The Three Branches of US Government
- The Executive Branch of US Government
- Separation of Powers: A System of Checks and Balances
- The Implied Powers of Congress
- The 10th Amendment: Text, Origins, and Meaning
- 5 Ways to Change the US Constitution Without the Amendment Process
- About the Legislative Branch of U.S. Government
- The Executive Branch of US Goverment
- About the United States Senate
- Overview of United States Government and Politics
- Federalism and How It Works
- What Is Federalism? Definition and How It Works in the US
- Federalism and the United States Constitution
- What Is the "Necessary and Proper" Clause in the US Constitution?
- Teacher Opportunities
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Lesson Plan: AP Government: Argumentative Essay Practice
The Federalist Papers
Boston College professor Mary Sarah Bilder gives a brief overview backgrounding the Federalist Papers
This is intended as an end-of-course review activity for practice with the argumentative essay format included on the AP United States Government and Politics exam since the 2018 redesign. Eleven practice prompts are provided, reflecting content from Units 1-3.
ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY PROMPT ANALYSIS
- Review the provided Argumentative Essay Prompts in either an individual or jigsaw format.
- Write a thesis statement for your selected prompt(s) and identify the selection you would make from the provided list and the second piece of evidence you would choose.
- If there are prompts for which you struggle to develop a thesis, or items on the bulleted lists with which you are not conversant, use the hyperlinked C-SPAN Classroom resources to extend your understanding of the required founding documents and SCOTUS cases that you found challenging.
- Chose one or more of the provided Argumentative Essay Prompts , as assigned, and use the planning and exploration you did above to write a full essay in response to your designated prompt(s) in 25 or fewer minutes , since that's the time limit you'll face on the AP Exam!
- Exchange essays with a classmate and evaluate each others' work.
- 1st Amendment
- Branches Of Government
- House Of Representatives
- Separation Of Powers
- Supreme Court
Background Essay: “A Glorious Liberty Document:” The U.S. Constitution and Its Principles
Guiding Questions: How are republican principles of limited government, separation of powers, and checks and balances reflected in the U.S. Constitution?
- I can identify the ways the Founders tried to limit the power of the government.
- I can explain how the principles of government in the Constitution limit the power of the government.
- I can explain how the Constitution protects liberty.
In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave a speech on the meaning of the Fourth of July. He addressed the inequalities and injustices for Black Americans that made them feel they did not belong and had no reason to celebrate the holiday. However, he also stated his belief that the Constitution was “a glorious liberty document.” Douglass believed that the document created a constitutional government with the central purpose of protecting liberty and a free society for all Americans.
The Founders of the Constitution wanted to build a new and enduring representative government based on the authority of the people. Important constitutional principles guided their work at the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787. The balancing act of including these principles was difficult but necessary to protect the liberties of the people. Given their assumptions about human nature, and always keeping in mind the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Founders created a Constitution rooted in sound principles of government.
Human Nature and Limited Government
The Founders’ understanding of human nature determined the kind of government they created. In Federalist No. 51, James Madison asked, “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” The Founders believed that humans were flawed but capable of virtue. Therefore, humans must be allowed to govern themselves, but that government had to be limited and controlled by the people, or liberty would be lost.
The Constitution defines the powers of the national government. Some powers are enumerated powers , or specifically listed. Others are implied powers or not explicitly listed. These are powers that relate to other powers and are therefore implied. For example, the power to raise an army for defense implicitly includes the power to raise an air force. The Founders wanted to strengthen the national government over what existed under the Articles of Confederation, but they also wanted to limit the powers of that government.
Republican Government and Popular Sovereignty
Based upon the Enlightenment ideas of John Locke, the Declaration asserted that just governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed and thus laid the basis for American self-government. This is the principle of popular sovereignty , which means the people hold ultimate authority. The authority of the people themselves is the greatest limit on the power of the government. In Federalist No. 39 , Madison defined a republic as a government that derives its powers from the people and is governed by representatives elected by the people to serve for a defined period.
The republican principle of self-government guided the Founders in creating the new constitutional government. The Preamble begins, “We the People,” and lists the guiding principles of government. The Constitution also provides for defined terms of office, including two years for the House of Representatives, four years for the president, and six years for the Senate. The most republican feature of the Constitution is the predominance of the legislative branch, which is closest to the people.
Separation of Powers
The Founders trusted the people and their representatives in the new government but created additional tools to prevent government from amassing too much power. Madison made it clear in Federalist No. 48 that the people cannot rely on mere “parchment barriers,” limits written on paper, to control government. Government is most effectively limited through well-founded institutions. The Founders chose to divide power as the best way to avoid tyranny and to ensure the rights of the people are protected. The Constitution contains many examples of the separation of powers . Each division of government exercises distinct powers to carry out its functions and to prevent the accumulation of power. The Congress is divided into two houses—a House of Representatives and a Senate—in a principle called bicameralism. The national government is divided into three branches with different powers and functions to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful. A legislature makes the law, an executive enforces the law, and a judiciary interprets the law. Some specific constitutional examples are Congress’s power to declare war, the president’s power to make treaties, and the courts’ power to hear cases resulting from legal disputes. The government is also divided into different levels—national, state, and local—to separate power and limit government. This principle of different levels of government having their respective powers is called federalism .
Checks and Balances
Another central device limiting the power of the national government is the provision for the three branches to check and balance each other’s powers. The Constitution contains many such examples of checks and balances . Congress may pass a law, but the president has to sign or veto it. The president can make treaties, but the Senate has to ratify them. The Supreme Court can review a congressional law or an executive order. Another example is that the House can impeach a president and the Senate can remove a president from office if found guilty in a trial presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There are numerous other examples that would make a very long list.
The division of power among different levels of government is called federalism. As Madison described in Federalist No. 39 , the Constitution is a mixture of the national and the federal principles. In other words, sometimes the national government has exclusive power, and at other times, the national government shares power with the states. Some examples of federalism from the Constitution include the ratification process for the document itself. The people and their representatives had to decide whether to ratify, or approve, the Constitution in popular ratifying [approving] conventions in the states. The amendment process includes ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures or state conventions. Structuring these processes through the states ensures that approval of and changes to the national government are balanced among the states. Similarly, the Senate equally comprises two senators per state, who were originally elected by state legislatures. The Electoral College gives the states a voice in presidential elections through electors the states choose. These provisions also ensure that though the federal government is supreme, the states have a meaningful role in the system.
In the American federal system, both the national and state governments have sovereignty. In general, the national government is sovereign over national matters, such as national defense, foreign trade, and immigration, while states are sovereign over local matters, including basic rules of public order. As Madison noted in Federalist No. 45 , “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” In the federal system, the ultimate power to make decisions for the entire nation rests exclusively with the national government, which, when operating under its proper jurisdiction,is supreme in its enumerated powers. Article VI of the Constitution states that the Constitution, all constitutional laws, and all treaties are the supreme law of the land. More generally, the Constitution empowers the national government to govern for the entire nation. It makes the laws for the country. It makes decisions related to war and peace and conducts relations with foreign nations. It regulates trade between the states and settles disputes among them.
American constitutional government is rooted in the ideas of limited government, popular sovereignty, separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism. These ideas protect the liberties of the people and their right to govern themselves. The Constitution contains words and principles that have the flexibility to respond to centuries of social, economic, and technological change. While the text of the Constitution has words that should be adhered to closely, they are hardly etched in marble. Besides the amendment process that offers a constitutional means of change over time, the American people and their representatives breathe life into the meaning of their Founding documents. They have done so for more than two centuries, through civil dialogue, debate, and deliberation, to reason through the often contested meaning of the Constitution.
Background Essay Graphic Organizer: “A Glorious Liberty Document”: The U.S. Constitution and Its Principles
“A Glorious Liberty Document”: The U.S. Constitution and Its Principles
How are the republican principles of limited government, separation of powers, and checks and balances reflected in the U.S. Constitution?
James Madison and Federalist No. 51
The Battle of the Branches: Madison’s “Auxiliary Precautions”
Home — Essay Samples — Government & Politics — American Government — US Government And Politics
Us Government and Politics
- Categories: American Government Policy
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Published: Aug 16, 2019
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Write an Essay on Government Policy
Students write essays about the role of government in their lives and how different policies have affected them directly.
Goal: Students think critically about government policy.
Learning Objectives: Students learn about the role of government in their lives and how different policies have affected them directly. Students think critically and do research to find evidence to back up their arguments for or against an issue.
Time: 4-5 classroom periods depending on class size and time available. Students work individually or in groups.
Teachers may use their own example or the example of federal versus states’ policies regarding marijuana. This has been a hot topic for years and high school students will be aware of the unusual nature of policies surrounding the medical and recreational use of marijuana.
Lead class in a discussion of the pros and cons of the policy as well as the creation of the law in their state. If using federal versus state regulations of marijuana, explain the creation of the Drug Schedule and the evolution of drug policy at the federal and local levels in the 2000s.
Have students choose a policy and write an explanatory essay. They may do so in groups or individually. Students will then research and write an essay about the legislation. Have each student include examples of two or three pros and two or three cons about the legislation and how it affects people’s lives.
Questions to Consider:
- Choose a policy.
- What were the arguments for and against this policy?
- What were/are the social and political implications of that policy?
- What do you view as some of the pros and cons for the policy?
- What effects has the policy had on the United States and the world today?
- Was this a good policy to enact? Why or why not?
- Provide at least 5 examples to support your argument.
Examples of a policy to discuss:
- Changing marijuana laws in students’ home states
- Pure Food and Drug Act
- Seatbelt laws
- Legal drinking age
- Legal voting age
- Controlled Substances Act
Evaluation: Educators will ask student groups to present to their peers about what they learned and their essay’s.
Drug Scheduling (DEA)
Drug Scheduling and Penalties (Campus Drug Prevention)
The Controlled Substances Act (DEA)
Drug Abuse (Get Smart About Drugs)
Statement of the Department of Justice Before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health For a Hearing Entitled “Cannabis Policy—For the New Decade,” January 15, 2020
Teens Ask: “Is There a Cure for Addiction?” (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Marijuana Withdrawal is Real (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Drug Facts (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
Standards of Learning:
History and Social Studies
Key Ideas and Details:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.3 Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.
Craft and Structure:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.5 Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.8 Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claims.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.10 By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Text Types and Purposes:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content .
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1.A Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1.B Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form and in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1.C Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1.D Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.1.E Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2.A Introduce a topic and organize ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2.B Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2.C Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2.D Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2.E Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.2.F Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.3 (See note; not applicable as a separate requirement)
Production and Distribution of Writing:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Range of Writing:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
11th and 12th Grades
History & Social Studies
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.5 Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.10 By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content .
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1.A Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1.B Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audience's knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1.C Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1.D Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.1.E Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2.A Introduce a topic and organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2.B Develop the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2.C Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2.D Use precise language, domain-specific vocabulary and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic; convey a knowledgeable stance in a style that responds to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.2.E Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation provided (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.3 (See note; not applicable as a separate requirement)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.11-12.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Lesson Plan PDF
The Most Powerful Branch of the US Government Essay
The division of the US federal government into three branches is a practice designed to balance the decision-making system at the national level and distribute powers in accordance with the functions performed. The legislative, executive, and judicial branches coexist successfully to ensure the sustainability of both the national government and the individual state authorities. As a result, the governing bodies cannot carry out uncontrolled work, which is the background for a democratic society. However, given the potential of the possibilities, of the three aforementioned branches, the executive one has the most power in the modern era.
One of the main reasons why the executive branch is more powerful is the decision-making flexibility that the other two branches cannot afford. According to Laidler (2019), the President has the ability to act more freely, in contrast to the judiciary and legislative branches, which are subject to strict regulations and conduct entirely public activities. One of the examples is the work of the presidential administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, when, in the context of ever-changing sanitary conditions, the powers of the President allow for the issuance of urgent decrees and the imposition of necessary restrictions. Congress cannot act at the same speed, which limits the capacity of its members.
Another argument in favor of greater executive power is the coordination of foreign policy. Blanc and Weiss (2019) consider the example of US sanctions against Russia and note that the presidential administration is responsible for the measures taken to weaken the economy of the eastern rival. In relation to modern realities, the situation is similar; Joe Biden retains the status of the first person of the state and either approves or rejects the proposals of Congress to introduce sanctions measures against Russia, the country pursuing an aggressive foreign policy toward Ukraine. Any decisions related to the supply of weapons, humanitarian aid, and other activities are considered by the legislative branch, but it is in the power of the President to make adjustments to these plans. This confirms the more powerful potential of the US executive branch.
Finally, the substantial opportunities of the executive authority in the judiciary sphere are further evidence that the former branch is the most powerful. The appointment of judges, even with the approval of the Senate, is the prerogative of the President. As Resh et al. (2021) argue, the executive branch has the power to change quorum requirements, change the number of state representatives, and coordinate decisions made by the Supreme Court. Any checks must be carried out with the permission of the country’s first person. Resh et al. (2021) give an example of the recent appointment of a new head of the Internal Revenue Service and note that, despite the fact that such a position involves a serious assessment of the candidate’s professional background, including by the responsible judiciary, the decision was made personally by the President. Thus, even in the judiciary, the executive branch has ample opportunities.
When analyzing the current situation, one can say that the executive branch should hardly take a leading role in the modern federal system. The basis of a democratic society is a set of views and decisions taken by authorized persons. The will of one person may be subjective and sometimes incorrect, which, in turn, may entail political, economic, social, and other difficulties. Therefore, giving more power to the legislative branch would be a smarter decision from the perspective of reducing potential bias and following the principles of democratic decision-making.
Blanc, J., & Weiss, A. S. (2019). US sanctions on Russia: Congress should go back to fundamentals . Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Web.
Laidler, P. (2019). How Republicans and Democrats strengthen secret surveillance in the United States. Political Preferences , (25), 5-20. Web.
Resh, W. G., Hollibaugh, G. E., Roberts, P. S., & Dull, M. M. (2021). Appointee vacancies in US executive branch agencies. Journal of Public Policy , 41 (4), 653-676. Web.
- Chicago (A-D)
- Chicago (N-B)
IvyPanda. (2023, November 17). The Most Powerful Branch of the US Government. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-most-powerful-branch-of-the-us-government/
"The Most Powerful Branch of the US Government." IvyPanda , 17 Nov. 2023, ivypanda.com/essays/the-most-powerful-branch-of-the-us-government/.
IvyPanda . (2023) 'The Most Powerful Branch of the US Government'. 17 November.
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The Supreme Court will decide if the government can seize control of YouTube and Twitter
We’re about to find out if the Supreme Court still believes in capitalism.
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In mid-2021, about a year before he began his longstanding feud with the biggest employer in his state , Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation attempting to seize control of content moderation at major social media platforms such as YouTube , Facebook , or Twitter (now called X by Elon Musk ). A few months later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, signed similar legislation in his state .
Both laws are almost comically unconstitutional — the First Amendment does not permit the government to order media companies to publish content they do not wish to publish — and neither law is currently in effect. A federal appeals court halted the key provisions of Florida’s law in 2022, and the Supreme Court temporarily blocked Texas’s law shortly thereafter (though the justices, somewhat ominously, split 5-4 in this later case).
Nevertheless, the justices have not yet weighed in on whether these two unconstitutional laws must be permanently blocked, and that question is now before the Court in a pair of cases known as Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton .
The stakes in both cases are quite high, and the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to reveal where each one of the Republican justices falls on the GOP’s internal conflict between old-school free market capitalists and a newer generation that is eager to pick cultural fights with business.
Proponents of the two laws have not hidden that they were enacted entirely because Republican lawmakers in Texas and Florida believed that social media websites must do more to elevate conservative voices. As DeSantis said of his state’s law, it exists to fight supposedly “biased silencing” of “ our freedom of speech as conservatives ... by the ‘big tech’ oligarchs in Silicon Valley .”
So, if the Supreme Court were to uphold these laws, it would give Republican policymakers sweeping and unprecedented ability to control what many American voters read about our elections and our political debates. More broadly, the NetChoice cases are a test of how this Supreme Court, with its 6-3 Republican supermajority, views free market capitalism in an era when many of the justices’ fellow partisans view corporate America as the enemy in a culture war.
DeSantis, in particular, is one of the GOP’s leading voices for a kind of reactionary anti-capitalism that is eager to use the government’s authority to suppress voices that disagree with conservative orthodoxy — often when those voices are associated with big businesses — while elevating opinions DeSantis finds more congenial.
DeSantis famously signed legislation retaliating against the Walt Disney Corporation after Disney denounced Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law — a law that is itself an unconstitutional attempt to suppress speech . He’s also signed legislation seeking to limit investment strategies DeSantis views as too “woke.” DeSantis said he endorsed former President Donald Trump bid to return to the White House because Nikki Haley , Trump’s final rival for the GOP presidential nomination, embodies a “ repackaged form of warmed-over corporatism .”
This anti-capitalist Republicanism, moreover, is hardly limited to DeSantis. Among other things, it’s penetrated deep into the Federalist Society — the powerful legal organization that plays an enormous role in selecting Republican appointees to the federal bench. During the Biden administration , the Federalist Society’s annual conventions have featured an array of paranoid speakers making grandiose claims about corporate America , such as “massive corporations are pursuing a common and mutually agreed upon agenda to destroy American freedom.”
The social media laws at issue in the two NetChoice cases place the GOP’s internal conflict between free market traditionalists and MAGA-aligned culture warriors in stark relief. Again, these laws seek to use the power of the government to seize control of private media companies’ editorial decisions. That’s not simply an attack on the “marketplace of ideas” protected by the First Amendment; it’s a direct attack on the market itself.
Social media companies moderate content and ban users because they want to make money
Before we dive into the details of the social media laws at issue in the NetChoice cases, it’s helpful to understand why social media companies often delete content they deem to be offensive, dangerous, or simply unwelcome on their site.
The premise underlying both Texas’s and Florida’s laws, which put strict limits on these companies’ power to remove such speech or ban users who engage in it, is that there is, in Abbott’s words, a “dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas,” and that the government must step in to quell this supposed movement.
In reality, there is little evidence that companies like Facebook or Google (which owns YouTube) are engaged in any kind of systematic effort to suppress conservative content — right-leaning posts tend to perform quite well on social media . But it is true that some viewpoints associated with the political right, such as support for the January 6 insurrection , tend to be frowned upon by many social media moderators.
The best explanation for such content moderation, however, is not that Mark Zuckerberg is secretly determined to elect Democrats by quieting conservative voices. It’s that social media companies depend on advertisers to make money, and those advertisers demand “ brand safety ” — meaning that they don’t want to advertise on a site that will list their product next to a swastika, a rant against Covid-19 vaccines, or some other content that is likely to offend many potential customers.
As the Verge’s Nilay Patel colorfully explained , running a profitable social media company “means you have to ban racism, sexism, transphobia, and all kinds of other speech that is totally legal in the United States but reveals people to be total assholes.” These sorts of assholes also apparently have many friends in the Florida and Texas state legislatures.
Patel’s thesis was recently tested in a very unusual real-world experiment. After billionaire Elon Musk purchased Twitter, he declared that the company would move in a more “free speech absolutist” direction, and restored the accounts of thousands of users who were suspended or banned by Twitter’s previous management. That included the accounts of several prominent neo-Nazis and QAnon conspiracy theorists , as well as Trump’s infamous Twitter account .
This move away from moderating far-right content proved disastrous for Twitter . According to an estimate by the data and analytics company Similarweb, which was released last fall, “in September, global web traffic to twitter.com was down -14%, year-over-year, and traffic to the ads.twitter.com portal for advertisers was down -16.5%.” Other reporting shows advertisers fleeing the site .
In fairness, Musk’s management of Twitter has been so comprehensively awful that it is hard to attribute the site’s falling fortunes solely to the reactivation of many previously banned right-wing users. Among other things, Musk’s Twitter tweaked the site’s algorithms in ways that elevated low-quality content produced by people who signed up for Twitter’s new $8-a-month subscription service. And he’s retaliated against users who’ve mocked him online .
Nevertheless, all of these examples of Musk’s poor management support the thesis that a social media company’s profitability rises and falls based on how well the company moderates its content to attract both high-quality users and advertisers. And that means that companies that hope to remain profitable will ban some users who share some opinions that are common within the Republican Party — for reasons that have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with capitalism.
Texas and Florida’s laws are ham-handed, incompetently drafted, and almost laughably unconstitutional
Both Florida and Texas frame their laws as anti-discrimination regimes intended to prevent social media companies from treating certain opinions differently than others. The core provision of Texas’s law prohibits the major social media companies from moderating content based on “ the viewpoint of the user or another person ” or on “the viewpoint represented in the user’s expression or another person’s expression.” Florida’s law, meanwhile, has a similar provision requiring the biggest social media sites to moderate content “ in a consistent manner among its users on the platform .”
If taken seriously, however, a ban on viewpoint discrimination wouldn’t just make moderation of offensive political content impossible. It would effectively forbid major social media platforms from taking the most basic steps to sanction rude behavior that is likely to drive away users.
Suppose, for example, that a woman’s stalker ex-boyfriend harasses her on Twitter, creating multiple accounts that bombard her with tweets calling her “ugly” and “stupid.” Under Texas’s law (and most likely under Florida’s more vaguely worded law), Twitter may not ban this stalker, or otherwise take action against his online harassment, unless it also takes identical action against someone who labels the same woman “beautiful” or “intelligent.” Only banning users who express negative opinions about this woman would amount to viewpoint discrimination.
Now consider how these provisions will operate in the political context. Facebook cannot ban someone who calls for a MAGA revolution that overthrows the United States government and installs the Trump family as an absolute hereditary monarchy, unless it also bans people who support the US Constitution. Twitter cannot delete tweets claiming someone can cure Covid-19 by injecting themselves with bleach , unless it also deletes tweets by doctors and public health officials warning people not to do this. YouTube cannot ban a literal Nazi who posts videos calling for the extermination of all Jewish people, unless it also bans people who express the opposite viewpoint — that is, the view that Jews should not be exterminated.
In case there is any doubt, the First Amendment does not allow the government to force media outlets to publish Nazis, quack medical theories, monarchal revolutionaries, stalkers, or anyone else, for that matter. To understand why, it’s helpful to understand four principles of First Amendment law.
First , this amendment protects against both government censorship and government actions that attempt to force someone to speak against their will. As the Supreme Court said in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (2006), “freedom of speech prohibits the government from telling people what they must say.”
Second , the First Amendment protects corporations. This idea became controversial after the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) held that the First Amendment permits corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections, but it’s impossible to imagine free speech or a free press enduring unless the First Amendment extends to corporate speech. After all, media companies like Vox Media, the New York Times, and the Washington Post are all corporations.
Third , the First Amendment protects the right of traditional media companies such as newspapers to choose what they want to print. As the Court held in Miami Herald v. Tornillo (1974), a news outlet’s “choice of material to go into a newspaper” is subject only to the paper’s “editorial control and judgment,” and “it has yet to be demonstrated how governmental regulation of this crucial process can be exercised consistent with First Amendment guarantees of a free press.”
Finally , the same rules apply to internet-based media as apply to traditional outlets. Though the Supreme Court acknowledged in Reno v. ACLU (1997) that online media is distinct from other mediums because it “can hardly be considered a ‘scarce’ expressive commodity” — that is, unlike a newspaper or magazine, there is no physical limit on how much content can be published on a website. Nevertheless, Reno concluded that “our cases provide no basis for qualifying the level of First Amendment scrutiny that should be applied to this medium.”
Together, these four principles establish that YouTube, and not the government, gets to decide what videos will appear on YouTube — just as CNN gets to decide which guests appear on its network, and which news stories it will emphasize, without government coercion.
This conclusion, moreover, is bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision last June in 303 Creative v. Elenis , which held that an anti-LGBTQ website designer could refuse to do business with same-sex couples — even if her state’s law forbids such discrimination — because “the government may not compel a person to speak its own preferred messages.”
If the Supreme Court were to hold that religious conservatives have a First Amendment right to defy anti-discrimination laws, at least in the context of online speech, but that Republican states can forbid major media outlets from “discriminating” against insurrectionists and anti-vaxxers — well, it’s hard to see how anyone could take this Court seriously as a nonpartisan institution after such a decision.
Someone has to have the final word on what content appears online, and this authority must not be given to the government
Having laid out these constitutional principles, it’s important to acknowledge that social media companies do not always make responsible decisions about what content should appear online. Just ask the Rohingya people .
But the fact that social media platforms sometimes make bad decisions does not mean that we should trust the government to override those decisions.
Ordinarily, we trust government officials to regulate business because they are more likely to act in the public’s interest than executives at a for-profit company. EPA regulators do not always reach the right conclusions, but they are more likely to strike the right balance between economic growth and environmental protection than the CEO of Exxon.
But this dynamic is reversed in the free speech context — which is why the First Amendment exists in the first place. If Texas Republicans are allowed to regulate political speech, they will likely elevate speech that benefits Republicans and suppress speech that elevates Democrats.
Ultimately, someone needs to decide what content will appear online. And leaving these decisions to the free market means that they won’t be made by the most self-interested people in the world: elected officials who are more likely to hold onto their jobs if they can manipulate what information is seen by voters.
Nor is it a solution to give this power to unelected officials. Federal judges, and especially Supreme Court justices, are political appointees who are typically vetted by the White House to ensure that they support the incumbent president’s political goals. Government agencies are also normally run by political appointees chosen, at least in part, because they are loyal Democrats or Republicans.
So there’s no government agency that can be trusted to regulate speech in a politically neutral way. The only choice is to either let the social media companies run their own platforms or to give that power to the government. And, in the NetChoice cases, giving that power to the government means placing control over what information voters will see in the hands of men like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott.
It is right to be uncomfortable with Mark Zuckerberg or, for God’s sake, Elon Musk wielding the kind of power they wield over public discourse. But few things are more dangerous to democracy than a government that can override editorial decisions made by a free press.
More broadly, the NetChoice cases will show us which members of the Supreme Court’s six-justice Republican majority still believe in traditional Republican ideas about the free market and capitalism, and which of them agree with DeSantis that the power of the government should be used to reshape our culture — and that corporations that do not align with the rightward side of a culture war should be forced to do so against their will.
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Essay On The American Government
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Law , Government , United States , Congress , Politics , President , Democracy , Elections
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The United States government is a model federal government composed of fifty states and one capitol.
The first United States government was composed in 1789 making it one of the earliest governments in a constitutional country.
The legislature The people have the right to elect the leaders that they want to legislative offices. House of Representatives This house is made up of 435 members with voting rights. Each member represents a congressional district.
This is an important department that interprets the law and applies it. The executive The executive is comprised of the president and cabinet secretaries. Challenges The resistance to changes that are brought about by democracy Onset of international bodies that have contradicting policies The American Government The United States government is a model federal government composed of fifty states and one capitol. The government has three different branches which are; the legislature, judiciary and the executive. All the branches of the government derive their powers from the supreme law of the United States which is the constitution. In addition, the abilities of these branches of the government are further regulated by the congress through special amendments and creation of some departments in the executives to serve this course
The first United States government was composed in 1789 making it one of the earliest governments in a constitutional country. The outline used in the formation of the government is clearly documented in the constitution. The outline indicates that the United States Government is a federal system where power is divided among various levels of authority. However, there have been a lot of debates on how much power should be devolved to the states The governments’ functions are delegated to governors that are elected in each state. The governors are responsible in executing the policies of the federal government and also the state government where he is president or chief executive officer. The powers of the state governments are limited and controlled by the constitution and other amendments made by the congress through legislation. The laws made by the national government are supposed to be followed by all citizens or people living in the country, however, the state laws apply to people who live in the state or people visiting the state. Schmidt asserts that ‘the national government possesses sovereignty over all external affairs such that it is only the federal government that is supposed to engage with other governments as opposed to state governments’ (136). Nevertheless, the federal government can also control domestic affairs through laws meant to provide for the interests of the government. However, this has been as source of controversy where national laws conflict with states laws. The citizens may be subject to two sets of law and might be damaging since the public might lose faith in their government.
Branches of the United States government
The legislature The people have the right to elect the leaders that they want to legislative offices. A person must get the approval of the people through a democratic process.
The congress has the powers to make laws that; the power to impose taxes on the people, regulation of money value, the establishment of roads and post offices, enhancing science development through giving patents and also the creation of sub-courts that are subject to scrutiny by the supreme court. Congress has also the powers to; declare war on an enemy, enacting laws to combat piracy and other hostile actions House of Representatives This house is made up of 435 members with voting rights. Each member represents a congressional district. The members of this house serve a term of two years and the members can be reelected into office after expiry of their term. Free and fair elections must be held to elect the members of this house as provided for in the constitution. This is one of the reasons why the government of the United States has massive support from the citizens. It is a clear case where democracy triumphs.
Each state is represented by two senators, withal factors aside. The house has 100 members duly elected by the people. The senate has powers to advice on appointments made by the president. The officers approved include cabinet secretaries, military officers, and the diplomatic teams like ambassadors. For a law to pass, it must be discussed and approved by both houses (Janda 160). Moreover, the houses can re-pass the bill that has been vetoed by the president to make it a law without the presidential approval. The congress possesses powers to impeach a non performing president. The other persons at the mercy of congress are the judges and the federal officers who can be removed from office by the congress. The last steps in the impeachment process are done in a trial at the senate such that to provide a clear reason as to why the impeachment is necessary. To determine the outcome of a trial, the senate takes the opinion shared by the majority. The judiciary This is an important department that interprets the law and applies it. The operation of the judiciary involves listening and determining cases as provided by the law. The members of the judiciary in the USA are appointed by the president with the approval of the congress and the senate. The judiciary is instrumental in the democracy since it is the courts that determine the disputes arising from elections. Moreover, the election rules and regulations are enforced by the judiciary. This is the reason why the United States has such a stable democracy. The executive The executive is comprised of the president and cabinet secretaries. The president is elected by universal suffrage where voters engage in a democratic process to choose their commander in chief. The American government is democratic since all the members are chose by the people or the representatives of the people.
Despite this triumph of democracy in the United States, there have been several factors that hinder full implementation of democracy.
Challenges to democracy in the United States The federalism government through the constitution advocates for democracy in that the rule and governance must be defined by the will of people. The American government has actually tried to implement this mostly through delegating power to the state governments alongside many other ways. Ensuring that democracy prevails is a process that has to take time some first to start and later requires a lot of efforts to maintain it. When loopholes are allowed into the democratic system the result is always worse and might term the whole system as non-democratic. Therefore, any government that wishes to practice democracy has to maintain a public agreement with the citizens as these offers the government authenticity to rule. Despite the much efforts made to enhance democracy by the US government, unite states of America has not yet been fully democratic as several challenges have been encountered in several stages of developing and implementing it. During the first stages of developing democracy, that involves getting the skills necessary for democracy and implementing them, challenges come out. Many countries, including the US have the tendency to resist change. Due to this any new system implemented takes an extraordinary long time. Moreover the states of the United States of America although termed as a developed country still show some unsatisfactory development. The inclusion of women representatives in the governing body has remained inadequate (Pitney 56). Mostly in the political part of government where leaders are elected by majority votes the number of women is always the minority an issue that retards the level of democracy as women will always feel less represented. The main cause of these small numbers is actually the culture that terms man as the head while ladies are less involved in decision making with the society taking time to adopt any changes. Globalizing the world has made nations to be fully interactive and they enjoy the benefits accruing from it mutually. International bodies such as UN have been formed to enhance relations among countries. This has caused a great problem to the democracy as most of the international aid s come up with some principles that contradict democracy. Opting to be self-reliant is the only way to curb this challenge but no country is willing to o so due to the many shortcomings accompanied. Therefore any country that joins hands with others and allows the intervention of international bodies has to prepare to accommodate any unfriendly policies that retard democracy. Mostly these organizations tend to advocate on economic issues and mostly make it hard for the democratic countries while paving ways for the autocrats who have maintained a high economic positions and stable prices. Bessette urges that choosing to be democratic might seem to be a very easy decision, however there comes a problem in implementing it, (254). Inculcating the views of every citizen and giving them from to react to government made decisions might contradict the policies of improving the welfare of citizens. Good governance attracts foreigners to invest in that country and thus efforts are made countries to maintain democracy in these countries. The largest challenge occurs when there are conflicting countries in the neighborhood. It’s actually impossible to control the neighbor’s action and thus introduces flaws in democracy. Changes in the international framework that occur on daily basis retard democracy. According to Jerry Goldman, Scarce resources like oil that are only found in certain countries harden democracy as the government aims at market more than the welfare of the country (234). In the US these resources are not available but the desire for power gives a similar effect on the democracy. Technological forces together with the improvement of private enterprise pose a great challenge to democracy as new ways a discovered to improve productivity. Economic status has termed democracy to be of less importance. Poverty and unemployment encourages violence as citizens sometimes feel that violence will make things work better. In most countries this is the cause of government overthrow a situation that automatically leads to autocracy. In America these has not been witnessed but several instances show some sort of inadequacy of the government especially in the aspect of sharing power. The US government, despite the fact that there are several state governments maintained most decision making in the federal government.
Janda Kenneth, Jeffrey M. Berry, Jerry Goldman, Hula W. Challenge of Democracy Essentials: American Government in Global Politics, 8th Edition. Cengage Learning, 2011. Print Schmidt Steffen W. Mack C. Shelley, II, Barbara A. Bardes American Government and Politics Today. Cengage Learning, 2010. Print Bessette M., Pitney John, Jr. American Government and Politics: Deliberation, Democracy and Citizenship, Election Update. Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
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Of Course Presidents Are Officers of the United States
To think otherwise threatens the entire idea of a constitutional republic.
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Last week, Donald Trump’s lawyers attempted to convince the Supreme Court that he was a 16th-century European monarch who cannot be disqualified from holding office, because he enjoys immunity from certain constitutional laws. Jonathan Mitchell, Trump’s lawyer, began his argument before the Court by declaring, “Trump is not covered by Section 3 [of the Fourteenth Amendment] because the president is not ‘an officer of the United States’ as that term is used throughout the Constitution.”
This effort to avoid the designation “officer of the United States” smacks of a conclusion in want of a rationale. Neither Trump nor his defenders have found a single quotation from the 1860s declaring that the president is not an officer of the United States for purposes of Section 3. Proponents of disqualification, by comparison, have unearthed numerous assertions that Section 3 was meant to encompass all offices and all officeholders. Neither Trump nor his defenders have explained why the Constitution would permit a president who encouraged an attack on Congress to hold all offices in every state and the national government while disqualifying from every office a dogcatcher who was a foot soldier in an insurrection.
Nevertheless, this position has gained a bizarre amount of scholarly support among so-called originalists and textualists, and some justices may now be leaning toward this view. To find this argument persuasive requires an obsession with technicalities that forgoes any big-picture understanding of what made the American republic different from the monarchies that preceded it. Should the Supreme Court fail to grasp this difference, the resulting decision would threaten to vest presidents with the attributes of the monarchs rejected by Americans in both the First and Second Foundings.
In those regimes, some people made law but were not bound by or accountable to law. English kings, Henry VIII understood well, were not officers of England, but sovereign rulers of the land. To the extent that Henry VIII was an officer or held an office, he was an officer under God. No mere English officer was empowered to judge the conduct of the sovereign King. The Tudors and Stuarts appointed “officers of the Crown.” Such officers got their authority from the King and were answerable only to the King.
By contrast, Americans in 1787 and 1866 (when the Fourteenth Amendment was written) worked within a framework that sharply distinguished officeholders in a constitutional order in which the people were sovereign from officeholders in those other orders. In a constitutional regime, all persons who exercise government power are officers; as such, their authority is prescribed by law, and they are accountable to law. The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States recognizes that the people are sovereign in the United States. No person with governing responsibilities is above the law. The legal authority that all officers exercise is ultimately grounded in the Constitution and laws of the United States, not in the sovereign president, sovereign Congress, or sovereign Supreme Court. No one in the United States is an “officer of the president” or an “officer of Congress” or an “officer of the Supreme Court.”
Quinta Jurecic: The Supreme Court is eager to rid itself of this difficult Trump question
Americans from the very beginning recognized that presidents in a regime in which the people were sovereign were officers of the United States. Andrew Johnson, who was president when the Fourteenth Amendment was framed, routinely referred to himself as “the chief civil executive officer of the United States.” Members of Congress consistently referred to the president as an officer of the United States. When Representative James Ashley in 1867 called for an investigation to determine whether “any officer of the Government of the United States” had committed an impeachable offense, both he and Representative John Bingham, considered the primary framer of the Fourteenth Amendment , agreed that the president was a civil officer of the United States subject to investigation. All exercises of power in America (presidential and otherwise) had to be authorized by law, and all power-holders were subject to law.
Members of Congress understood that one consequence of the transition from a regime in which a person or institution was sovereign to a regime in which the people were sovereign was some confusion at the use of the word officer in the Constitution. Representative James A. Bayard in 1799 acknowledged that the word office in the Constitution was “incautiously used.” Members of Congress also easily acknowledged that the president was not an officer for purposes of the commissions clause in Article II because the president did not commission the president. Many, not all, recognized that members of Congress were not civil officers under the impeachment clause because the Constitution provided for a distinct means for removing representatives and senators who committed misdeeds. Nevertheless, a consensus existed on officeholding. As articulated by both the prosecution and the defense in the impeachment hearings of Senator William Blount in 1799, presidents and members of Congress were officers of the United States unless the particular constitutional context made clear that a different treatment was warranted. Immediately after declaring that presidents and senators were not officers of the United States for purposes of the impeachment clause, Bayard insisted that the president, senators, and representatives were officers under the Constitution for purposes of the emoluments clause .
The Republican members of the 39th Congress who framed the Fourteenth Amendment consciously worked within the American understanding of popular sovereignty and officeholding. Members routinely referred to the president as an officer of the United States. Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, a Republican, maintained that the president was “the chief executive officer of the United States.” Senator James Guthrie of Kentucky, a Democrat, did the same. Less than a month after Congress sent the Fourteenth Amendment to the states for ratification, the House of Representatives approved a committee report that declared that the Constitution used the phrases “officer,” “officer of the United States” and “officer under the United States” indiscriminately, and that all officers should be considered officers of and under the United States unless the context makes clear that a more limited use was intended.
Trump and his defenders do not comprehend the significance of denying that the president is an officer of the United States. Trump was a president bound by law, not a monarch above the law. As an officer of the United States, he engaged in an insurrection against the Constitution he swore to protect, preserve, and defend, and the laws of this nation—laws he is subject to, laws that prohibit any such person from officeholding ever again. Henry VIII would not understand, but George Washington and the men who drafted Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment would.
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A Legal Showdown on the Border Between the U.S. and Texas: What to Know
A court in Austin heard oral arguments in the federal government’s bid to block Texas from imposing a wide-ranging new immigration law.
By J. David Goodman
Reporting from Austin
The Biden administration is suing the State of Texas over a new state law that would empower state and local police officers to arrest migrants who cross from Mexico without authorization.
On Thursday, a federal court in Austin heard three hours of arguments over whether to halt the implementation of the law, which is set to go into effect on March 5.
The case has far-reaching implications for the future of immigration law and border enforcement and has been closely watched across the country. It comes amid fierce political fighting between the parties — and within them — over how to handle illegal immigration and follows the impeachment by House Republicans of the secretary of homeland security , and the failure of a bipartisan Senate deal to bolster security at the border.
Texas has argued that its law is necessary to deter migrants from crossing illegally, as has happened in record numbers over the past year. The Biden administration argues that the law conflicts with federal law and violates the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government authority over immigration matters.
The judge hearing the case, David A. Ezra of the Western District of Texas, was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. He had frequent questions, particularly when the lawyer representing the Texas attorney general was speaking, and appeared skeptical of the law.
“Let’s say for the purpose of argument that I agree with you,” Judge Ezra told the state’s lawyer, Ryan Walters. California might then want to pass its own immigration and deportation law, he said. Maybe then Maine would follow, he added, and then other states.
“That turns us from the United States of America into a confederation of states,” Judge Ezra said. “What a nightmare.”
What does the Texas law say?
The law passed by the Texas Legislature, known as Senate Bill 4 , makes it a crime to cross into Texas from a foreign country anywhere other than a legal port of entry, usually the international bridges from Mexico.
Under the law, known as S.B. 4, any migrant seen by the police wading across the Rio Grande could be arrested and charged in state court with a misdemeanor on the first offense. A second offense would be a felony. After being arrested, migrants could be ordered during the court process to return to Mexico or face prosecution if they don’t agree to go.
Texas lawmakers said they had designed S.B. 4 to closely follow federal law, which already bars illegal entry. The new law effectively allows state law enforcement officers all over Texas to conduct what until now has been the U.S. Border Patrol’s work.
It allows for migrants to be prosecuted for the new offense up to two years after they cross into Texas.
How does it challenge federal immigration authority?
Lawyers for the Biden administration argue that the Texas law conflicts with numerous federal laws passed by Congress that provide for a process for handling immigration proceedings and deportations.
The administration says the law interferes with the federal government’s foreign diplomacy role, pointing to complaints already lodged against Texas’ border actions by the government of Mexico. The Mexican authorities said they “rejected” any legislation that would allow the state or local authorities to send migrants, most of whom are not Mexican, back over the border to Mexico.
The fight over the law is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts have said . If so, it will give the 6-to-3 conservative majority a chance to revisit a 2012 case stemming from Arizona’s attempt to take on immigration enforcement responsibilities. That case, Arizona v United States, was narrowly decided in favor of the power of the federal government to set immigration policy.
Immigrant organizations, civil rights advocates and some Texas Democrats have criticized the law because it could make it more difficult for migrants being persecuted in their home countries to seek asylum, and it does not protect legitimate asylum seekers from prosecution in state courts.
Critics have also said that the law could lead to racial profiling because it allows law enforcement officers even far from the border to arrest anyone they suspect of having entered illegally in the previous two years. The result, they warn, could lead to improper traffic stops and arrests of anyone who looks Hispanic.
Wait, didn’t the Supreme Court already rule against Texas?
Not in this case.
Texas and the Biden administration have been battling for months over immigration enforcement on several legal fronts.
One case involves the placement by Texas of a 1,000-foot barrier of buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande, which Gov. Greg Abbott said would deter crossings. The federal government sued, arguing that the barrier violated a federal law over navigable rivers. In December, a federal appeals court sided with the Biden administration, ordering Texas to remove the barrier from the middle of the river while the case moved forward.
A second case involves Border Patrol agents’ cutting or removing of concertina wire — installed by the Texas authorities on the banks of the Rio Grande — in cases where agents need to assist migrants in the river or detain people who have crossed the border. The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, filed a lawsuit claiming that Border Patrol agents who removed the wire were destroying state property.
It was a fight over an injunction in that case that reached the Supreme Court on an emergency application. The justices, without giving their reasons, sided with the Biden administration , allowing border agents to cut or remove the wire when they need to while further arguments are heard in the case at the lower court level.
Why the stakes are higher now
Unlike the other cases, the battle over S.B. 4 involves a direct challenge by Texas to what courts and legal experts have said has been the federal government’s unique role: arresting, detaining and possibly deporting migrants at the nation’s borders.
“This will be a momentous decision,” said Fatma E. Marouf, a law professor and director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the Texas A&M University School of Law. “If they uphold this law, it will be a whole new world. It’s hard to imagine what Texas couldn’t do, if this were allowed.”
The federal government is seeking an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect next month.
“S.B. 4 is clearly invalid under settled precedent,” said Brian Boynton, who presented the Justice Department’s case.
“There is nothing in S.B. 4 that affords people the rights they have under federal law,” he said, later adding that the law would interfere with foreign affairs and the actions of the Department of Homeland Security.
Lawyers for Texas argued that the new law would not conflict with existing federal law. “This is complementary legislation,” said Mr. Walters, a lawyer for the state.
But Judge Ezra expressed concern that the law did not allow a judge to pause a prosecution for illegally entering Texas in the case of someone applying for asylum, calling that provision of the Texas law “troublesome” and “very problematic.”
“It just slaps the federal immigration law in the face,” he said.
Texas argued that the record number of migrant arrivals at the Texas border constituted an “invasion” that Texas had the power to defend itself against under Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from engaging in war on their own “unless actually invaded.”
The state has cited the same constitutional provision in the other pending cases between Texas and the federal government. But legal experts said the argument was a novel one.
And Judge Ezra appeared unconvinced on Thursday, as he had been when the same argument was presented last year in the buoy barrier case, which he decided in favor of the federal government .
“I do not see any evidence that Texas is at war,” he said on Thursday.
Before adjourning, the judge turned to Mr. Walters, the Texas lawyer, and said that he would work quickly to issue his decision so that if the state wanted to appeal before March 5, “you can.” He then turned to the federal government’s lawyers and added: “Either of you.”
J. David Goodman is the Houston bureau chief for The Times, reporting on Texas and Oklahoma. More about J. David Goodman
The Supreme Court Could Permanently Break the Government. Liberals Have a Chance to Stop Them.
The administrative state is squarely in the high court’s crosshairs. but public pressure has successfully kept the justices from going over the brink before—and it might work again..
On January 17, the Supreme Court hosted oral arguments in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo which, while over a hyper-technical legal issue, lasted more than three hours, drawing wide coverage from mainstream media. At issue was whether the court should overturn what’s become known as “ Chevron deference.” Established as a precedent in a 1984 decision, Chevron v. NRDC, Chevron deference requires federal courts to “defer” to—that is accept without attempting their own interpretation—“reasonable” executive agency interpretations of governing statutes.
The consensus, following the oral arguments, held that the justices did seem likely to abolish Chevron . Liberals reacted to this prospect in near-apocalyptic horror, typified by the Center for American Progress, which put out a statement saying that “completely do[ing] away with Chevron deference [will be] existentially threatening.” Indeed, the argument seemed to indicate that at least three of the right-wing bloc—Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch — and, quite plausibly, as many as all of the remaining three — Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Chief Justice John Roberts — could wind up doing just that. (For his part, The New Republic ’s Tim Noah came away unconvinced that Barrett and Roberts were locks to vote against the doctrine.)
Regardless, liberals should not simply throw up their hands in despair, cowering in their foxholes as they wait for the decision to drop. Instead, a closer look at what the individual justices said in the argument and in relevant past pronouncements is warranted—the better to peel back the hyperbolic rhetoric on both sides and surgically identify what is really at stake. Above all, liberals need to act — to hone and execute messaging strategies that strip away the legalese, maximize prospects for the best possible outcome in the pending case, or at least minimize the worst.
Furthermore, they should seize the opportunity presented by the unusual media interest in this forbiddingly off-putting case to spotlight, and lay groundwork for, sustained political opposition to the yen of both the furthest-right justices and their deep-pocketed political allies, who have long sought to incinerate long-standing fiduciary, health, safety, environmental, and safety-net regulatory safeguards. Few Americans have any sense that these vital protections are under dire threat from the Supreme Court.
Whether or not the court overturns Chevron, or offers some more narrow nip and tuck to the doctrine, the question that will matter is: What specific instructions will the decision lay down for judges to calibrate agencies’ flexibility in implementing statutory mandates? If the court instructs that broadly worded statutes must be read accordingly—to continue granting agencies broad discretion to decide how to interpret instructions from Congress—then the impact could be much less than anti-regulatory zealots hope and liberals fear. The argument indicated that such an outcome, while hardly certain, is not implausible.
The answer to that big question will depend on Justice Brett Kavanaugh. During oral arguments, Kavanaugh channeled a 46-page Harvard Law Review article he had published in 2016, two years before President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court. The crux of the piece, which was titled “Fixing Statutory Interpretation,” was that existing Chevron doctrine inappropriately makes judges’ decisions whether to defer turn on a murky distinction that has yielded arbitrary and inconsistent, though hugely consequential, outcomes.
The threshold question judges face, Kavanaugh emphasized, is whether the meaning of statutory language in question is, on the one hand, “clear,” “plain,” or “unambiguous” — in which case judges themselves should apply that meaning (as they understand it) — or “ambiguous,” in which event judges should accept the agency’s view. Experience has proven, he contended, that the difference between the two categories rests purely in the eye of the beholder.
Instead, Kavanaugh wrote, judges should simply seek from the outset, and later apply, their own “best reading” of the relevant terms. However, he stressed, this “suggested approach” would require judges to “still defer to agencies in cases involving statutes using broad and open-ended terms like ‘reasonable,’ ‘appropriate,’ ‘feasible,’ or ‘practicable.’” “In those circumstances,” then-Judge Kavanaugh wrote, “Courts should be careful not to unduly second-guess the agency’s choice of regulation.”
High-impact regulatory actions that trigger all-hands-on-deck industry court challenges most often rest on just the sort of broad statutory provisions specified by Kavanaugh to merit continued deference to agency discretion. For example: The 1970 Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, “designed … in the Administrator’s judgment … to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety and to protect the public welfare from any known or anticipated adverse effects.” (Emphasis added.)
In similar fashion, the 2014 Federal Trade Commission Act empowers the FTC to choose among a wide array of regulatory tools to “prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce.” The 2013 Federal Reserve Act empowers the Fed to deploy make-or-break powers over the national economy to “maintain long run growth of the monetary aggregates, commensurate with the economy’s long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.”
In the January 17 argument, now-Justice Kavanaugh reiterated the thrust and specific formulations from his 2016 article. “My understanding,” he lectured, “is Congress oftentimes will use terms like ‘the agency can regulate reasonable limits’ or ‘appropriate limits,’ and that gives, under [Supreme Court precedent predating Chevron ] a lot of discretion to the agency to make choices … to think about the world as it exists five years from now or 10 years from now and not have to worry about going back to Congress … and [that Congress] can legislate broad policy discretion explicitly through words like ‘reasonable,’ ‘appropriate,’ and public interest.”
Kavanaugh wrested from industry counsel agreement that “in many cases, maybe most cases, the best understanding of those types of capacious words is that Congress is in fact conferring the discretion on the agency.”
Fellow Trump appointee Justice Barrett echoed Kavanaugh’s stress on the need for courts to respect broad statutory mandates “task[ing agencies] with deciding what was the most feasible, most useful, most reasonable” method to uphold their legal mandates.
If Kavanaugh’s and Barrett’s oral argument performances can be taken at face value—and/or if Chief Justice Roberts would join them—a post- Chevron regime could retain directions that courts continue to uphold and enforce the mass of twentieth- and twenty-first-century laws whose terms expressly delegate broad discretionary authority to regulatory agencies. This could come in the form of a 6–3 decision in which Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch either join or concur in the result or, less plausibly, a 9–0 or 6–3 decision in which the liberal justices join for damage-limitation purposes.
Naturally, there is a catch — or rather two catches. First, the high court’s supermajority right wing has already flaunted its readiness to disregard precisely the sort of “capacious” statutory terms that Kavanaugh’s caveat purports to respect. Not two years ago, in June 2022, the right-wing justices invented a mutant version of the till-then rarely invoked “major questions” doctrine in order to set aside EPA’s Clean Power Plan regulations. These regulations, the justices were obliged to acknowledge, were textually authorized by the Clean Air Act’s explicit command to deploy the “best system for emission reduction.”
Nevertheless, the justices invalidated EPA’s regulations. They accomplished this by turning “major questions” into an open-ended recipe enabling them to strike down any agency action that could have what they consider prohibitively significant economic or political impact. In that law-canceling case, the anti–global warming regulations struck down clashed with top priorities of the GOP megadonors and politicians bent on keeping the world safe for fossil fuels.
In the recent argument on the fate of Chevron, Chief Justice Roberts revealed little if anything of his own views on the merits, except seeming to pooh-pooh the “actual” difference that interring Chevron would make. What that offhand comment did reveal was that, in the chief justice’s mind, his 2022 decision had so hollowed-out Chevron that not only was deference to agencies a thing of the past but so was any guarantee that his court will honor clear, statutory delegations enacted by Congress and signed by the president.
Thus, as Roberts’s skepticism suggests, the issue to retain or dispense with Chevron, so hotly debated around the pending Supreme Court case, probably won’t affect “major” controversies that get to his court — and, by and large, the only cases that his court takes up are “major.” So, at this point, if Chevron falls, even if Kavanaugh’s discretion-preserving caveats are incorporated in the court’s decision, that will affect only challenges to regulation in the lower federal courts. But that is a big deal. And it gives rise to the second catch.
This catch arises not merely because, as administrative law expert Professor Thomas Merrill wrote in an amicus curiae brief, the Supreme Court considers only a “handful” of statutory interpretation, whereas “lower federal courts have caseloads many times greater [and lack] the decisional capacity to engage in an exhaustive review of every statutory interpretation question arising on judicial review.” A far worse threat is that overturning Chevron, however qualified, will surely be brandished, by the cadre of partisan judicial zealots sitting on federal district and appellate courts, as a license to seize every opportunity to further their cherished goal of “dismantling the administrative state.”
Just as surely, these judges will be handed multiple, strategically selected such opportunities by litigators representing and funded by the same industrial, financial, and political interests behind the pending challenge to Chevron . As recent experience has amply demonstrated, even if Supreme Court majorities ultimately reverse, anti-regulatory interests can generate interim gridlock that obstructs or defeats outright valid and urgently needed agency initiatives.
So what should liberal leaders do? They should get out the message early, often, hard, and, above all, smartly—to keep media attention trained on the case and on the legal and real-world-impact reasons right-wing judges must be kept from second-guessing valid regulatory decisions. Just as the Dobbs decision created a post- Roe dystopia along fault lines that few imagined in advance, the gutting of Chevron will have numerous ill effects that will impact the quality of life of ordinary Americans in ways that hardly anyone has anticipated.
In all likelihood, the final decision on Chevron ’s fate will not come till the end of the term in June. But here, recent experience is a valuable guide. Last term, the high court rendered several surprisingly positive decisions, and sustained campaigns of canny liberal pressure and messaging played a big role in pushing the Roberts court to make those volte-face course corrections. Here in this interval, and in light of the signals sent during the oral argument, liberal advocates and, above all, politicians should feel like they still have time enough to have an impact on the justices’ final ruling, including on what they end up saying in their decisions and possibly how they align.
In the longer run, media attention to this case opens a critical opportunity for liberals to spotlight the fact that battles in and about this Supreme Court are not simply over culture-war issues—important as those issues may be—but also over this court’s threat to basic economic, health, safety, and environmental concerns of everyday Americans. This is a threat hiding in plain sight that liberal leaders’ relative inattention has for decades led the media and the electorate to ignore.
More specifically, liberal messaging needs to vanquish the “administrative state” frame that the right has, unanswered, draped over the arena of judicial oversight of regulation. It must detail how, in the real world, what is at stake is not this single portentous abstraction of a far-off bureaucracy but rather myriad specific guarantees of fundamental, concrete needs for virtually all Americans.
Representatives and advocates for particular interests and constituencies need to add this threat to the priorities they stress with their communities. And, critically, they should stress that the right aims to take away long-standing, vital legal and regulatory safeguards.
One aftershock of Dobbs ’s evisceration of abortion access is that the populace is now conditioned to grasp that this court can strip rights and safeguards long taken for granted, including by large constituencies who had long seen no need to pay attention to the court. This sort of messaging about meeting everyday Americans’ material needs is congenial for liberals. They need now to train that skill on the threat to those needs from this reactionary court.
But also, liberal leaders, especially political leaders, must take on messaging efforts of a sort to which they have become singularly unaccustomed, unlike predecessor icons such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and the original Founders — as I and others have shown . This means spelling out, in informed but slickly packaged ways, the legal stakes — what legal principles and precedents are essential to preserve the ability of the people’s representatives to meet their urgent needs.
An overarching point should be that the courts must follow the law, which the right is out to dismantle, and which the right-wing justices on the Supreme Court have demonstrated they themselves are primed to do, when their political and megadonor patrons so demand. Talking points can include acknowledgments by the right-wing justices themselves that Congress can “legislate broad policy discretion” and empower government to “make choices about the world as it exists five or 10 years from now,” to enable agencies to deploy the “most feasible, most useful, most reasonable” tools to serve those goals and enable ordinary people to meet their urgent needs. On the need to follow the law, and ensure that government can get that job done, the justices on the right have talked the talk but not always walked the walk.
Finally, as I have written , and some Democratic political leaders have figured out, spotlighting Supreme Court ethics reform, and the embarrassingly flagrant misadventures that have raised the salience of that issue, is a serendipitous opportunity for keeping the reality of the right-wing megadonor threat before the press and the electorate.
In the pending Supreme Court case, numerous advocacy organizations filed amicus curiae briefs detailing the peril to vast constituencies and the integrity of democratic government. Several leading environmental organizations — the Environmental Defense Fund , the Natural Resources Defense Council , the Conservation Law Foundation , the Ocean Conservancy, and Save the Sound — ticked off on-the-mark message points that both touted the virtues of Chevron deference while describing the industry-funded drive to gum up the works and cripple the federal government’s ability to erect robust quality-of-life safeguards.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law stressed the need for “ensuring that federal administrative agencies make real the promises of our nation’s civil rights laws through Congressionally authorized rulemaking and enforcement.” Eighteen major health associations, led by the American Cancer Society, underscored that “publicly funded health insurance programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program” are critical for ensuring health care access for millions of Americans.
This group also noted that “the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the expert agency with responsibility for implementing these famously complex statutes … [requiring] myriad policy-laden interpretive determinations,” and that it is “vastly preferable for such authority to lie with a centralized agency, staffed with subject matter experts and accountable to the President, Congress, and the courts, rather than expect that Congress or the courts would be willing or able to assume such a role.”
The AFL-CIO likewise warned that the National Labor Relations Board promotes uniformity and harnesses “expertise that the Courts lack.” Public Citizen, the consumer advocacy group originally launched by Ralph Nader, cited publications by conservative Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh, and prominently quoted a 2013 opinion by the late conservative icon Justice Antonin Scalia that “ Chevron is rooted in a background presumption of congressional intent” and is “firmly grounded” in relevant constitutional and statutory law.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and several fellow Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats filed a brief detailing “the assault in this case on the regulatory system” as part of a fossil fuel industry–funded “campaign to delegitimize and dismantle federal regulations,” urging the court not “to enlist in an industry-driven deregulatory agenda.” This is a good start. It’s now for all constituency-based friends of the court to pivot, and galvanize their members, funders, supporters, and political patrons in calling out and beating back the nefarious campaign to remove the authority to govern our lives from the hands of the people and place it instead in the purview of unelected and unaccountable judges.
Simon Lazarus served as associate director of President Jimmy Carter’s White House Domestic Policy Staff, and since then with private and public-interest law firms in Washington, D.C.
What is Presidents Day and how is it celebrated? What to know about the federal holiday
Many will have a day off on monday in honor of presidents day. consumers may take advantage of retail sales that proliferate on the federal holiday, but here's what to know about the history of it..
Presidents Day is fast approaching, which may signal to many a relaxing three-day weekend and plenty of holiday sales and bargains .
But next to Independence Day, there may not exist another American holiday that is quite so patriotic.
While Presidents Day has come to be a commemoration of all the nation's 46 chief executives, both past and present, it wasn't always so broad . When it first came into existence – long before it was even federally recognized – the holiday was meant to celebrate just one man: George Washington.
How has the day grown from a simple celebration of the birthday of the first president of the United States? And why are we seeing all these ads for car and furniture sales on TV?
Here's what to know about Presidents Day and how it came to be:
When is Presidents Day 2024?
This year, Presidents Day is on Monday, Feb. 19.
The holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of every February because of a bill signed into law in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Taking effect three years later, the Uniform Holiday Bill mandated that three holidays – Memorial Day, Presidents Day and Veterans Day – occur on Mondays to prevent midweek shutdowns and add long weekends to the federal calendar, according to Britannica .
Other holidays, including Labor Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day , were also established to be celebrated on Mondays when they were first observed.
However, Veterans Day was returned to Nov. 11 in 1978 and continues to be commemorated on that day.
What does Presidents Day commemorate?
Presidents Day was initially established in 1879 to celebrate the birthday of the nation's first president, George Washington. In fact, the holiday was simply called Washington's Birthday, which is still how the federal government refers to it, the Department of State explains .
Following the death of the venerated American Revolution leader in 1799, Feb. 22, widely believed to be Washington's date of birth , became a perennial day of remembrance, according to History.com .
The day remained an unofficial observance for much of the 1800s until Sen. Stephen Wallace Dorsey of Arkansas proposed that it become a federal holiday. In 1879, President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law, according to History.com.
While initially being recognized only in Washington D.C., Washington's Birthday became a nationwide holiday in 1885. The first to celebrate the life of an individual American, Washington's Birthday was at the time one of only five federally-recognized holidays – the others being Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.
However, most Americans today likely don't view the federal holiday as a commemoration of just one specific president. Presidents Day has since come to represent a day to recognize and celebrate all of the United States' commanders-in-chief, according to the U.S. Department of State .
When the Uniform Holiday Bill took effect in 1971, a provision was included to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with Abraham Lincoln's on Feb. 12, according to History.com. Because the new annual date always fell between Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, Americans believed the day was intended to honor both presidents.
Interestingly, advertisers may have played a part in the shift to "Presidents Day."
Many businesses jumped at the opportunity to use the three-day weekend as a means to draw customers with Presidents Day sales and bargain at stores across the country, according to History.com.
How is the holiday celebrated?
Because Presidents Day is a federal holiday , most federal workers will have the day off .
Part of the reason Johnson made the day a uniform holiday was so Americans had a long weekend "to travel farther and see more of this beautiful land of ours," he wrote. As such, places like the Washington Monument in D.C. and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota – which bears the likenesses of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt – are bound to attract plenty of tourists.
Similar to Independence Day, the holiday is also viewed as a patriotic celebration . As opposed to July, February might not be the best time for backyard barbecues and fireworks, but reenactments, parades and other ceremonies are sure to take place in cities across the U.S.
Presidential places abound across the U.S.
Opinions on current and recent presidents may leave Americans divided, but we apparently love our leaders of old enough to name a lot of places after them.
In 2023, the U.S. Census Bureau pulled information from its databases showcasing presidential geographic facts about the nation's cities and states.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the census data shows that as of 2020 , the U.S. is home to plenty of cities, counties and towns bearing presidential names. Specifically:
- 94 places are named "Washington."
- 72 places are named "Lincoln."
- 67 places are named for Andrew Jackson, a controversial figure who owned slaves and forced thousands of Native Americans to march along the infamous Trail of Tears.
Contributing: Clare Mulroy
Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at [email protected]
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