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CV Gov

commerce power

The constitutional right of Congress to regulate interstate and foreign trade. This has been defined to include not only production, buying, and selling of goods, but also transportation of people or goods across state lines.

concurrent powers

Powers shared by the state and the federal government, such as the power to tax or establish courts.

economic interpretation of the Constitution

Charles Beard's theory that the creators of the Constitution were members of the economic elite, primarily concerned with protecting their own interests, especially property and wealth.

full faith and credit

This requires that the judicial decisions, contracts, marriage licenses, and other records of one state are respected in other states. This applies to civil as opposed to criminal matters.

inherent powers

Powers that any government has even if these powers are not explicitly stated in the Constitution. This is especially true regarding foreign affairs. Example: power to control borders.

national supremacy

The power of the federal government to override state governments, based on the kingpin clause in Article VI of the Constitution. A state may not interfere with any legitimate exercise of federal power.

necessary and proper clause

This authorizes all laws that are "necessary and proper" for carrying out the expressed powers of Congress. It is the basis for implied powers and allows Congress to choose how to execute its powers.

reserved powers

Powers belonging to the states, including any powers that are not expressly delegated to the federal government nor expressly denied to the states. Example: power to control education.

states' rights

An interpretation of the Constitution that emphasizes reserved powers and argues for limitations on the implied powers of the federal government. This opposes the increasing power of the federal government.

McCulloch v. Maryland

This validated implied powers and national supremacy by allowing the federal government to establish a bank under the elastic clause as well as by barring a state from taxing the bank, a federal entity.


When a person is not connected to the government, lacks a sense of political efficacy, and feels that the government does not seem to consider his/her needs or hopes.

at large

The voters of an entire governmental unit electing legislators, as opposed to legislators being elected by individual subdivisions. For example, if a state failed to redistrict after a census, the election for Congress might be statewide with the representatives elected at large rather than in individual congressional districts.

balanced ticket

A party attempting to please the voters by balancing personal backgrounds and qualifications of candidates. This usually refers to choosing a vice-presidential nominee who complements the background or characteristics of the presidential nominee.

bellwether precinct

A small section of voters used to predict a larger area's voting trends. Example: a precinct where the voting behavior is a good predictor of the vote in the state as a whole.


The formation of a political party (or other group) from various political groups or factions. For example, during the New Deal the Democratic Party was made up of the urban poor, minorities, Southerners, and labor unions.

coattail effect

A popular presidential candidate at the top of a party ticket increasing the votes for that party's candidates for lower offices.

dark horse

A candidate who has little or no chance of winning.

responsible party system

The party is expected to present a clear platform and then carry it out. Party members in the legislature may be disciplined if they don't support the party on major issues. Voters hold the party accountable at the ballot box if the party does not follow through on its platform.

Smith v. Allwright

This ruled that segregated primaries are unconstitutional under the Fifteenth Amendment.

Voting Rights Act

Enacted in 1965, this attempts to eliminate voting restrictions on minorities. It suspended the use of literacy tests and allows the use of federal registrars when less than 50% of eligible voters are registered.


The distribution of legislative seats. This takes place every ten years after each census.

discharge rule

When a bill has been pigeonholed (bottled up in committee), this allows the House to force a bill out of a committee by a petition signed by a majority of the House membership. The Senate has similar procedures.

franking privilege

This allows members of Congress to mail to their constituents by substituting their facsimile signature for postage. It does not apply to campaign literature.


Re-drawing legislative district boundary lines to favor a particular party.

pork-barrel legislation

Spending public money on non-critical local projects, resulting in large yearly expenditures.


A provision unlikely to pass on its own merits that is attached to an important bill, usually as an amendment, in order to be written into law.

sunset law

A law that will expire at the end of a specified time period.

Baker v. Carr

Established that federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the apportionment of legislative districts.

Reynolds v. Sims and Wesberry v. Sanders

Established that state legislative districts must be apportioned so they are equal in population. This also applies to congressional districts.

Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act

Created the CBO, limited the president's power to impound funds, and established a timeline for the budgeting process.


An group selected by the president to provide advice, traditionally consisting of heads of the executive departments. Its influence varies, depending on the president's governing style.

executive order

A rule issued by the president or executive agency that has the effect of law. It is used to carry out a law or treaty. It often fills in the details in how a law will be carried out.

executive privilege

The right of the president to refuse to appear before a court or to withhold information from Congress. Presidents assert that this is essential if the executive is to be an independent of government.

imperial presidency

A term used by opposition leaders to discredit an incumbent administration and to describe misuse or abuse of power by the president and his or her administration. This comes from the title of a book by historian Arthur Schlesinger.


The refusal by the president to spend funds appropriated by the legislative branch. Although this was used extensively by President Nixon, 1974 legislation now allows Congress to force the president to spend money it has appropriated.

recess appointment

This enables the president to fill a vacancy in an office requiring Senate approval when the Senate is not in session. The appointment expires at the end of the next congressional session unless the Senate confirms it.

stewardship theory

The view that the president has the power to do anything necessary to safeguard the nation, as long as it is not prohibited by the Constitution. This is based on loose construction.

Taftian or contractual theory

The view that the president is limited to powers specifically authorized by the Constitution or by law. This is based on strict construction.

US v. Nixon

This recognized the validity of the doctrine of executive privilege but said that it does not extend to the ability to withhold information from a pending criminal trial.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer

Repealed Truman's executive order during the Korean War authorizing the seizure of steel mills on the grounds that the president has no constitutional power to seize private property without Congressional authorization. It established that there are limitations to the president's inherent powers even in areas involving national security.

judicial activism

This view holds that judges should interpret the law in such as way as to deal with pressing social needs, especially those needs unmet by Congress and the president. One example would be the ruling by courts in the 1970's to order forced bussing to desegregate public schools.

judicial self-restraint

This view holds that holds that judges should defer to the legislative and executive branches instead of relying on their own personal opinions. In other words, judges should not make policy—that is the role of the legislature; they should instead simply interpret the law.

amicus curiae

A brief submitted by individuals or groups who are not party to a lawsuit and who seek to influence a court's opinion. This literally means friend of the court.

appellate jurisdiction

The authority of a court to review decisions of a lower court.


A court order which compels an individual or government official to perform or refrain from performing a certain act.

justiciable question

A dispute that can be settled through judicial power. This dispute must be an actual case, the petitioner must have direct interest and standing to sue, the case must be ready for adjudication, and the court must have jurisdiction over the subject.

Missouri Plan

A method of selecting state judges that involves appointment and election. A judge is appointed by the governor from a list, serves one year, and then stands for election with no opponent. If the judge gains enough votes, he or she serves for six to twelve years. If not, the governor appoints a new judge.

political question

A doctrine created by the Supreme Court holding that certain constitutional issues are to be decided by the executive or legislative branches instead of the judicial branch.

solicitor general

An official in the Department of Justice who argues cases on behalf of the US before the Supreme Court and approves appeals made on the behalf of the federal government to any appellate court.

Supreme Court Packing Plan

A proposal made by F.D.R. allowing the president can appoint an additional Supreme Court justice for every sitting justice over the age of 70 who had served for at least ten years. Roosevelt claimed this would help the Court keep up with its workload, but Congress defeated the proposal on the grounds that Roosevelt was simply trying to appoint justices sympathetic to the New Deal.

Marbury v. Madison

This Supreme Court Case was the first one to strike down an act of Congress as unconstitutional, establishing the principle of judicial review.

clear and present danger rule

A test, created in Schenck v. United States, that the Supreme Court uses to measure the permissible bounds of free speech. Speech that constitutes a threat to the community may be restricted.

due process of the law

Protection against the arbitrary deprivation of life, liberty, or property ensured by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

eminent domain

The power which governments have to take over private property for public purpose with just compensation.

equal protection of the law

A requirement in the Fourteenth Amendment preventing state laws from arbitrarily discriminating against persons, although not requiring identical treatment.

incorporation doctrine

The legal concept under which the Supreme Court has nationalized the Bill of Rights by applying its provisions to the states under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This began with Gitlow v. New York.

Magna Carta

The Great Charter of freedom which was granted by King John of England in 1215, containing ideas such as trial by jury and the protection of life, liberty, and property. This was the origin of many freedoms in the American political system.

substantive rights

Constitutional guarantees protecting personal liberties, generally listed in the First, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. These are different from procedural rights, which protect the manner in which rights are protected, such as due process and trial by jury.

Gitlow v. New York

Established that freedoms of speech and press are guaranteed at a state level under the Fourteenth Amendment, beginning the incorporation doctrine.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

The Supreme Court ruled in this case that a special admissions program setting aside a specific number of spots for minorities violated the equal protection clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964; in other words, quota systems are unconstitutional. But it is constitutional to consider factors such as race, gender, and ethnicity in admissions and hiring decisions.

Roe v. Wade

Based on the protection of the right to privacy, the Court ruled that the states were forbidden from outlawing or regulating any aspect of abortion performed during the first trimester of pregnancy, could only enact abortion regulations reasonably related to maternal health in the second and third trimesters, and could ban abortion only in the third trimester.

debt limit

A cap on the ability of a government to borrow money. In the national government, this is fixed by Congress and can be changed to meet the needs of the country.


An expenditure for a specific project tucked into a larger bill. This may take the form of an amendment that Congress votes on and approves. Or it may take the form of language added to the Appropriations Committee report or to a conference report that is not voted on.


A system by which payments or receipts are adjusted periodically on the basis of changes in the nation's cost of living. For example, Social Security payments change each year based on a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

progressive tax

The higher your income, the higher percent you pay. This takes a larger percentage from the income of high-income earners than it does from low-income individuals.

property tax

A tax on land, buildings, or personal property (items that, unlike buildings, are portable). In Oregon, local government is largely funded through this revenue source.

public debt

The total amount a government owes. It is the total of all annual deficits minus the (rare) budget surpluses.


This refers to the step in the budgeting process where committees reduce their budgets to fit total government spending under the budget cap set forth in the budget resolution. This is why appropriations are often smaller than authorizations.

regressive tax

This takes a larger percentage from low-income people than from high-income people. This means that it hits lower-income individuals harder. A per capita tax would fall into this category.

Government Accountability Office

This is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the congressional watchdog, it investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. It audits agency operations to determine whether federal funds are being spent efficiently and effectively, it investigates allegations of illegal and improper activities, and it reports on how well government programs and policies are meeting their objectives.

Office of Management and Budget

The agency helps the president prepare the federal budget, advises on fiscal policy, evaluates funding requests from executive-branch agencies, and sets funding priorities.

civil service

A term which applies to most persons employed by the government who are not members of the military. The term generally applies only to those who gain employment through a merit system as opposed to appointment.

government corporation

A government agency that performs a task that could be carried out by a private business and that charges for its services. The US Postal Service is an example.

independent regulatory commission

An agency that controls some aspect of the economy. The SEC and Federal Reserve are examples.

merit system

The selection and promotion of government employees on the basis of ability, knowledge, and skills. Competitive examinations are generally required for hiring.

spoils system

The award of government jobs to political supporters and friends rather than on the basis of ability.


The right to maintain a position or job without the threat of arbitrary dismissal. Government workers who have this cannot be fired for political reasons but only for cause, that is, only for misconduct related to one's job.

Opp Cotton Mills v. Administrator of Wage and Hour Division

Ruled that it is constitutional for Congress to allow an administrative agency to create legally binding rules. The Court recognized that it is impractical for Congress to fill in all the details as to how a law is to be administered; executive agencies may be given the authority to determine those details.

Freedom of Information Act

This requires federal agencies to provide citizens with access to government records (for example, FBI files), with exceptions for national defense materials, confidential personnel and financial data, and certain law enforcement files.

Pendleton Act

Passed in 1883, this introduced the merit system for federal employees.

Hatch Act of 1939

This law prevents political parties from pressuring federal employees to make contributions or actively participate in partisan politics.

environmental impact statement

Required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, all federal agencies must consider the effect that any project or policy will have on the environment. If any agency using federal funds continues a project or policy that threatens environmental damage without first completing this, the act allows legal action to challenge its continuation.

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

This set up a Council on Environmental Quality in the Executive Office. It also established the requirement that federal agencies complete environmental impact statements to consider the effect a policy or project will have on the environment.

Environmental Protection Agency

An independent agency that administers federal programs aimed at controlling pollution and protecting the environment. This agency carries out the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and any specific pollution acts passed by Congress.

Interior Department

An agency of the national government that has major responsibility for management and conservation of most federal lands and resources. Some major divisions of this agency are the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service.

civilian control

The constitutional principle that civilians control the military and make the strategic decisions about the use of the military. This principle is considered essential for a stable democracy. It is maintained through constitutional provisions that make the President commander in chief and grant Congress power to raise and support armies, make military law, declare war, and appropriate money for military expenditures.


A term that describes a condition of easing confrontations and reducing tensions between two or more countries. The classic example is the easing of tensions between the US and China following Nixon's 1972 visit to China.

National Security Council

An agency that advises the president on foreign and domestic matters involving national security. This agency is composed of the president, the vice president, and the secretaries of state and defense, and serves mainly to evaluate and coordinate national security policy and to make recommendations to the president.


Punitive action against a country involving diplomatic, economic, or military measures. One example is the long-standing US prohibition on trade with Cuba.


An international agreement that promotes trade through the reduction of tariffs and other barriers. Its main functions are negotiating reciprocal reductions in trade barriers, developing new trade policies, adjudicating trade disputes, and establishing rules to govern the trade policies of members. It has been replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

most favored-nation status

Countries in this category may trade with the United States on the same terms as America's best trading partners. Also referred to as "normal trade relations" since most countries are granted this treatment. Notable exceptions are Cuba and North Korea.

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