The U.S. Constitution
The U.S. Constitution
Article Five, clause two of the United States Constitution states, "under the Authority of the United States, [the Constitution] shall be the supreme law of the land." As a result of the fact that the current activist government is pursuing inconsistent policies, many believe the Constitution has become irrelevant because no guiding principles seem to exist. Thomas Jefferson once said, "The Constitution belongs to the living and not to the dead." Accordingly, it is often referred to as a "living" document because of its regular alteration and reexamination; therefore, the Constitution has not become irrelevant in defining the goals of American government. This will be shown by examining how the Constitution ensures and upholds American ideas of rights, defines governmental structures, allows for an increase in governmental growth, and permits the Supreme Court to shape and define public policy through Constitutional interpretation.
Through years of research on court cases, political scientists are in agreement that most people favor rights in theory, but their support diminishes when the time to put the rights into practice arrives. For example, a strong percentage of Americans concur with the idea of free speech throughout the United States, but when a court case such as Texas vs. Johnson (1989) arises, most backing shifts away from complete freedom of speech. In the case, a Texan named Gregory Johnson set fire to an American flag during the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas in order to protest nuclear arms buildup; the decision was awarded to Johnson in the midst of stern opposition (Beth 68). Lockean philosophy concerning the natural rights of man also serves amajor role in an American's idea of rights. Many citizens feels that it is the task of the state to preserve such birthrights as life, liberty, and property. The juristic theory of rights deals with the hypothesis that a man's natural rights only amounted to the quantity of power he can exercise over any other man. A more general and logical definition of a right is a claim upheld by the law, in which case the Bill of Rights becomes important (Benn 195).
Although the Constitution originally did not contain the Bill of Rights, the states threatened to delay ratification until the amendments were made.
The main purpose of implementing the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, was to safeguard fundamental individual rights against seizure by the federal government and prohibit interference with existing rights. The Revolutionary War with Britain was still quite clear in the American mind during the writing of the Constitution, so the Bill of Rights had full support of the public because it protected citizens against
everything which had angered the colonists about the British (Holder 52).
The Constitution is extremely ambiguous concerning individual rights and personal freedoms of man. It does, however, prohibit the passage of ex post facto laws, which punish people for an act they committed before such an act was illegal, disallow bills of attainder, which punish offenders without a trial, and prevent suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which requires a detained man to be notified of the offense he committed (Gilbert 331). The Constitution also prohibits religious qualifications for seeking and holding a governmental office, and it secures the right of a trial by jury of peers in a criminal case (Gilbert 336). Articles One, Two, and Three of the United States Constitution define the three structures of the national government, and include each branch's composition and function. Article One deals with the Congress, the legislative structure of the federal government. It is the Congress, rather than the President, who is bestowed by the Constitution with the lawmaking duty. The legislative branch contains two Houses, one being the Senate, which is based upon equal representation of the states, and the other being the House of Representatives, which is based upon state population. The Framers envisioned Congress as the most important and most powerful branch of government, although today much of the significant legislation is initiated by the President and the executive department (Holder 20). In order to be a Representative, one must be twenty-five years of age or older, a United States citizen for at least seven years, and reside in the state from which he is elected (Holder 21). On the other hand, Senators must have attained the age of thirty years, be a citizen for at least nine years, and also reside in the state from which he is elected. While Representatives serve two year terms, Senators serve six year terms (Holder 23). The powers belonging to Congress can be classified as either economic or military. Economic powers include the authority to levy taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, coin money, and establish bankruptcy laws (Holder 28).
Certain military powers involve declaring war, raising and supporting armies, regulating and maintaining navies, and supplying militias (Holder 29). Article One also contains, in
section eight, clause 18, and elastic clause which allows Congress to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper..." The Constitution also elaborates upon certain acts to which it is prohibited. Such acts include no Bill of Attainder or ex post facto laws, no suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, other
individual rights that man possesses (Holder 32).
Article Two discusses the executive branch of the government- specifically the President of the United States- and specifies his powers, duties, responsibilities, and requirements for office (Holder 35). The President is the Commander in Chief of the United States Army and Navy; he has the power to make treaties and fill vacancies
during a recess of the Senate (Holder 37). He is required to give a "state of the union" address each year in order inform Congress of the present condition of the United States as a whole (Holder 38). In order to hold the office of the Presidency, one must be a natural born citizen of the United States, over the age of thirty-five, and a resident of the United States for fourteen years. The case of his removal from office, the powers of the President are handed over to the Vice- President and he shall complete the President's term in office (Holder 36).
Article Three deals with the third branch of government- the judicial branch. This Article lays the foundation for a Supreme Court of the United States, but all lower courts and federal courts, including the Supreme Court, is under the jurisdiction of Congress. The organization of the federal court system established by Congress is hierarchical. The highest court, the Supreme Court, is located in Washington D.C. and consists of nine justices, there are eleven Circuit Courts of Appeals distributed throughout the country, and approximately ninety federal District Courts (Holder 40). Judicial power extends to all cases in which law and equity arise under the Constitution (Holder 42). The Supreme Court consists of eight associate justices and the chief justice, all appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate. Members of the Court are appointed for life terms and can be removed only by resignation or
impeachment (Holder 44). Over time, the United States Government has grown steadily in size and complexity, and it is continuing such growth daily.
In recent years, such growth in the state and local levels has led to an increased interest in implementation activities- those activities and tasks undertaken after a law is passed (Ripley 24). Graphical trends show that government spending, employment, and spending as a percentage of the Gross National Product have increased at a healthy pace since the beginning of our nation's existence, and such trends are predicted to continue their rise well into the twenty-first century (Ripley 25). Implementation of programs on the federal level are rarely directed straight from the national government in Washington, D.C. Most require a combination of federal field offices, state governments, local governments, and local nongovernmental actors. Such actors, through providing services to beneficiaries, have become important implementers. For example, many programs created to compensate the unemployed are implemented by a network of groups including the United States Employment Service, fifty separate state employed security agencies, and countless local offices as a result of those fifty state agencies. Other employment agencies include the national office of the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the United States Department of Labor, ten regional ETA offices, fifty state offices, and between five hundred and six hundred local service
delivery areas. As shown, one governmental program can easily encompass numerous agencies and office space, and with such programs arising daily, this translates into rapid governmental expansion (Ripley 26). Due to the fact that programs, whose numbers have grown significantly in recent years, need bureaucrats in order to be implemented, America's bureaucracy has increased in the same manner as its programs have. Two main factors have contributed to the growth of bureaucracy in government. First, specific external trends and events such as violence and economic difficulties cause complex growth because of the programs that are necessary to halt such problems. Second, a bureaucrat working for a specific agency has a natural tendency to improve the importance of his agency's work; thus, his efforts result in expanded bureaucracy (Ripley 43). Although some political scientists argue that a growing government will limit freedom of the people, many believe that government's increased role in the lives of Americans serves to protect civil liberties and civil rights. Throughout United States history the Supreme Court has been called upon to interpret the Constitution in one or two possible ways.
First, a "strict constitution" of national law, which upholds the belief that the states are vested with ultimate governmental authority, while the federal government should only have secondary authority. Second, a less strict, more federalist position, which maintains that the Constitution, due to a broad interpretation, hints toward implied powers in the central government. The second view was especially prominent from 1801 to 1835, under chief justice John Marshall (Armstrong and Woodward 210). Under Marshall, the case of Marbury vs. Madison (1803)involved a contested appointment by the predecessor of then Secretary of State James Madison. The Court held that an act of Congress in conflict with the Constitution was void and that the Supreme Court possessed the power to declare if such a conflict existed. This decision set the precedent for what is known today as judicial review, and provides the Court with a means of checking the legislature (Armstrong and Woodward 214). It is a common belief that no body of doctrine, such as the Constitution, is ever fully developed at the time of its completion. With an ever changing society, it is apparent that the Constitution must transform along with society through interpretations of provisions to the original text. This distinction is put in the hands of the Supreme Court justices who are forced to confront circumstantial changes and new situations of modern times quite frequently. They are expected to reshape the doctrine in compliance with the original ideas of the Constitution, or "the intentions of the Framers", to ensure that new provisions do not deprive man of the right to govern himself (Bork 513).
Since the birth of the United States, Americans have formed an unbreakable habit of evolving economic, political, philosophical, and social questions into lawsuits. It is because of this habit that the Supreme Court is often the eventual resting place for a societal issue (Brennan 517). Such situations are prime examples of how the Constitution displays qualities of a "living" document. Despite the fact that the original text is over two hundred years old, the document, through the interpretation of the Supreme Court, is still able to consistently shape public policy at will.
Although people argue that the Constitution is irrelevant today because it doesn't properly define the goals of American government, the Constitution has not become irrelevant, and it is still the driving force behind our government. American's idea of rights are shaped daily by the Bill of Rights and the acts that Congress is prohibited to amend.
Through the use of Lockean philosophy concerning the nature of man, the Constitutional rights will always pertain to the needs of society, despite the fact that such thought is nearly three hundred years old. The Constitution also regulates the powers of each governmental structure by allowing a system of checks and balances to emerge. The continuing growth of government in recent years causes more legislation, but ultimately preserves civil right and liberties through such growth. The Supreme Court is able to mold public policy with every decision it hands down on every case it oversees. The relevancy of the Constitution is quite clear in the everyday lives of each American, and it establishes itself as the "supreme law of the land" on a regular basis.