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unit 2: local, state and national government

Terms in this set (26)

The federal government has three basic types of powers: inherent, enumerated, and implied. Each type of power relies on a slightly different source of authority.

The inherent powers of the federal government are those that, by definition, a sovereign government must have. They include the rights to acquire territory, recognize foreign nations, and suppress domestic rebellions.

The federal government's enumerated powers, also known as its expressed powers, are the powers explicitly assigned to Congress by the Constitution. The enumerated powers come primarily from Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution. They include important powers such as the authority to coin money, regulate foreign commerce, and declare war.

The framers understood that it would be impractical to list all of the powers of the federal government in the Constitution. They therefore added a clause to the end of Article I, Section 8, that authorizes Congress "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper" for the execution of its enumerated powers. We refer to this as the necessary and proper clause, but it has also been called the elastic clause because of its use to justify expanding the federal government's authority.

The 1819 US Supreme Court case McCulloch v. Maryland provides a good example of the elastic clause's application and how state and federal laws can conflict. In this case, the Supreme Court decided whether Congress had the authority to create a national bank. Maryland had questioned the legitimacy and power of the federal government's national bank, the Second Bank of the United States.

The court reasoned that the elastic clause permits the federal government to take actions not expressly authorized by the Constitution as long as they are necessary to carry out its enumerated powers. Therefore, even though the Constitution is silent on the issue of a national bank, Congress's enumerated power over fiscal matters implies the power to create such a bank.

The Supreme Court's opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland provided the basis for the federal government to use a wide range of powers not mentioned in the Constitution, which are known as implied powers. Implied powers must be reasonably related to the exercise of one of the enumerated powers of the federal government.

In addition to justifying Congress's use of implied powers, the court's decision in McCulloch also legitimized the superiority of federal law over state law. If federal law and state law conflict, federal law takes precedence.

But the Founding Fathers didn't want the federal government to have complete authority in all areas. The Constitution gives the federal government exclusive control of only certain activities, such as declaring and waging war, signing treaties with foreign countries, coining and printing money, and regulating commerce between the states.

In other areas, however, the states and the federal government share power. Powers that belong to both the state and federal governments are known as concurrent powers. They include the authority to levy and collect taxes, to maintain a court system, to promote health and welfare, and to borrow money.

Still other powers belong solely to the states. These powers are protected by the Tenth Amendment, which reads, "The powers not enumerated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

This text establishes that the states have the powers not given to the federal government and not specifically denied to the states in the Constitution. These powers, which are not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, are known as the reserved powers. They include responsibilities such as conducting elections, regulating trade within a state, and drafting state constitutions.

Occasionally, certain events will test the relationship between the state and national governments, often creating tension. One important example occurred during the 1950s, when the federal government ruled that public schools must be desegregated. Nine black students had been admitted to Central High School, an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. The governor of Arkansas, however, decided to prevent the black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, from attending school and sent the Arkansas National Guard to the school. For the next few weeks, the students were unable to attend classes. President Eisenhower responded by sending federal troops to the school, and the school was integrated.
Like the federal Constitution, state constitutions outline the basic principles, structures, and powers of state governments. Each state constitution includes a bill of rights enumerating, or listing, the rights guaranteed to the state's citizens.

The earliest state constitutions were written at a time when memories of oppressive royal governors were still fresh in people's minds. State legislatures, which controlled the process of writing the constitution in most states, were reluctant to grant much power to the governor. For this reason, the majority of early state constitutions gave the legislative branch most of the power.

As state constitutions changed over time, states wrestled with the proper distribution of government authority. Today, some states still have a legislature that dominates the government, while other states have an executive branch that is equally or even more influential than the legislative branch. Some states disperse executive power among numerous elected officials, but others concentrate power in the hands of a governor. A minority of states even allow citizens to vote directly on issues of public policy through initiative and referendum processes.

Although no state constitution is exactly like another, all have certain features in common. State constitutions contain the same five basic elements:
-fundamental principles
-citizens' rights
-governmental structure, powers, and processes
-amendment procedures
-miscellaneous provisions

The US Constitution and state constitutions all rest on the fundamental principles of popular sovereignty and limited government. Article IV, Section 4, of the US Constitution guarantees every state in the Union "a republican form of government." All state constitutions require regular elections. Some state constitutions list the right to self-government as a basic right.

Like the US Constitution, state constitutions separate the powers of government into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. State constitutions establish a system of checks and balances in which each branch of the government may block or influence the actions of the other branches.

State constitutions limit the power of the government by guaranteeing their citizens certain liberties. Many state constitutions include rights not guaranteed on the national level, such as the right to education, to privacy, and to unionize labor.

The authors of state constitutions understood that political documents needed flexibility. Thus, every state constitution describes the procedures for amending, or changing, the constitution. State constitutional amendments may be proposed by the state legislature, a constitutional convention, or, in some states, by the people.

Compared with the US Constitution, state constitutions are relatively easy to amend or even revise. In fact, most states have completely rewritten their constitutions at least once. Partly because they are relatively easy to amend, state constitutions are often cluttered with unnecessary details. For instance, California's constitution contains a clause regulating the length of wrestling matches in the state. Many such provisions are long out of date, such as the section in Oregon's constitution prohibiting the legislature from raising or spending money for constructing the state capitol until the year 1865.

Because of such needless details, the average state constitution is much longer than the US Constitution, which is concise but effective. In fact, some state constitutions are nearly 40 times longer than the US Constitution!
A state's governor is usually the most powerful and visible official in the state government. Like the president of the United States, the governor is the chief executive of state government. In contrast to the president, however, most governors share executive authority with several other elected officials.

Gubernatorial powers differ from state to state. Due to resentment against colonial-era royal governors, many early state constitutions gave the governor little power compared to the legislature.

In some states, the legislature, not the people, originally elected the governor. Over time, however, it became clear that governors needed more power and independence, if only to curb the excesses of the legislatures.

Though many states did not impose a limit on how many terms a governor can serve, state governments did limit the number of years of each term. Early in US history, governors usually served for two-year or even one-year terms. Now most state governors serve for four years between elections.

Longer terms have contributed to the growth of gubernatorial power. Some states, however, have recently begun instituting term limits for governors.

Like the president of the United States, state governors have many roles. As the chief executive of a state, a governor oversees the implementation of laws passed by the state legislature.

Many states give their governors a line-item veto. The line-item veto, which is unconstitutional at the federal level, allows governors to veto individual sections of a bill instead of the whole bill. The line-item veto can be a valuable tool for eliminating unnecessary legislative action.

Governors can also issue executive orders, which have the force of law. Executive orders often take the form of regulations and directives intended to clarify how policies should be implemented.

Governors usually have a variety of other powers, such as the authority to pardon criminals, command the state's National Guard, and appoint various state officials.

In contrast to the US Constitution, which invests all executive authority in a single president, state constitutions generally divide executive power among several officials. Governors have overarching responsibility for implementing state laws, while other state officials have more specific responsibilities.

The vast majority of states have a lieutenant governor. The role of the lieutenant governor is similar to that of the vice president of the United States. Typically, the lieutenant governor has few responsibilities other than to succeed to the governorship in case of a vacancy.

Nearly all states have a secretary of state who is the state's chief record keeper. The secretary of state also monitors and certifies elections. Usually, the voters elect the secretary of state, but in some states the governor or legislature appoints someone to the position.

The office of attorney general exists in every state, usually as an elected position. Like the attorney general for the federal government, the state attorney general serves as the chief lawyer and law enforcement official of the state government. Attorneys general represent their states in court and advise other state officials on legal matters.
At any level, the judicial branch exists to settle disputes. State courts, not federal courts, handle the vast majority of disputes. State courts settle criminal, family, and business disputes according to state laws. If state law conflicts with federal law, federal law supersedes.

States organize their courts similarly to the federal court system. State judicial systems have layers of jurisdiction, or authority, with municipal, county, appeals, and state supreme courts.

In larger urban areas, municipal courts handle a wide range of judicial disputes, including traffic, small claims, and family disputes. These courts have juries or judges or both.

County courts or circuit courts hear appeals from municipal courts. In rural areas without municipal courts, county courts hold the first level of jurisdiction. County courts use juries or judges or both.

Appeals courts hear the appeals from lower courts. Generally, those convicted in lower courts can appeal at least once to a higher court to ensure that lower courts have correctly applied laws and procedures. Appeals courts use a panel of judges without juries.

A state supreme court sits as the highest court within a state. It holds the authority to interpret the state constitution and to declare laws unconstitutional. The decisions of a state supreme court are almost always final, but sometimes a case may be appealed and make its way to the US Supreme Court.

One difference between the federal and state court systems is that citizens of some states can elect judges, as opposed to the federal level where officials appoint judges. Popular election of judges prevails especially in states where government power is dispersed among many elected officials rather than concentrated in the hands of a few.

The terms, qualifications, and salaries of judges vary from state to state. Most judges establish themselves as accomplished lawyers before they reach the bench.

Many states have a system that oversees judicial conduct and can remove judges in cases of incapacity or misbehavior. In some states, voters can even recall judges.
Citizens may also participate in state and local government through direct democracy. In direct democracy, the people vote directly on questions of policy.

Direct democracy does not exist at the national level. The federal government is run entirely according to representative democracy: voters elect representatives to decide questions of policy for the public.

Although the federal government does not practice it, direct democracy has existed in America since the first days of British settlement. In New England, colonists held annual town meetings in which all the residents of a town would gather to vote on laws, budgets, and other town matters. Today, many small towns and special districts continue to hold such annual meetings.

Town meetings are practical only on a small scale. More commonly, local governments allow citizens to vote on proposed laws during elections.

Citizens can participate in three major forms of direct democracy.

Initiatives, used by about half the states, allow citizens to place a new proposal on a ballot for all voters to decide on. With a direct initiative, voters can place a proposal on a ballot without legislature or governor oversight. An indirect initiative requires a legislature to consider the proposal and pass a bill for citizens to vote on. If the voters approve it, the initiative becomes law, just as if the state legislature had passed it.

The referendum process plays out similarly to the initiative process, except that the proposed measure originates with the state legislature instead of as a petition. In the referendum process, the legislature first passes a statute. In the next election, the state holds a referendum on the statute, and the voters decide whether or not to approve it.

The right of the people to recall public officials is the third major type of direct democracy. The recall process begins with a petition, calling for the removal of an elected public official. If the petition is successful, then the recall proposal appears on the ballot to be approved or rejected by the voters.

Local business leaders, news media, and interest groups also play an important role in influencing local government. These groups can even carry more sway than local government leaders. For instance, in some small communities, a single powerful business leader, such as a factory owner who employs most of a town, can significantly influence public decision making.

Local media can affect the local government's agenda. Newspapers and other media can highlight certain specific issues and not others, drawing the public's interest to such issues.

Special interest groups also shape discourse on public policy. They often pop up when a certain issue arises and then disappear once the local public and government have passed or rejected the measure. For instance, a special interest group may raise ample funding to defeat a measure for building a highway through a small town. Once the local government approves or rejects the measure, the interest group will often disband.