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10th Amendment

Powers not expressly given to federal government by the Constitution are reserved to states or the people. Also known as "reserved powers amendment" or "states' rights amendment"

13th Amendment

Abolished slavery. First of three "Reconstruction Amendments" passed after Civil War (1865-70)

14th Amendment

(1) All persons born in the U.S. are citizens; (2) no person can be deprived of life, liberty or property without DUE PROCESS OF LAW; (3) no state can deprive a person of EQUAL PROTECTION of the laws. Second of three "Reconstruction Amendments" passed after Civil War.

15th Amendment

States cannot deny any person the right to vote because of race. Third of three "Reconstruction Amendments" passed after Civil War. First Voting Rights Amendment (with 19, 24 & 26)

16th Amendment

Power of Congress to tax income

17th Amendment

Established the direct election of senators (instead of being chosen by state legislatures)

19th Amendment

States cannot deny the right to vote based on gender

1st Amendment

Freedom of religion (establishment & free exercise clauses), speech, press, assembly, and petition.

22nd Amendment

Limits the president to two terms.

23rd Amendment

Gives Washington DC electoral college votes as if it were a state (DC still has no representation in Congress)

24th Amendment

Abolishes poll taxes

26th Amendment

States cannot deny the right to vote based on age (18+)

2nd Amendment

Right to arm bears. Supported by National Rifle Association interest group & Republican Party.

4th Amendment

No "unreasonable" searches and seizures. Exclusionary rule (Weeks v. US, Mapp v. Ohio)

5th Amendment

(1) No Self-Incrimination (Miranda)
(2) No Double Jeopardy (defendant cannot be tried again on the same, or similar charges)
(3) No deprivation of life liberty or property without "due process of law" (fair treatment)

6th Amendment

The right to counsel in criminal trials. Gideon v. Wainwright held that states must provide indigent defendants with a free lawyer ("public defender"). Right to jury in criminal trials.

7th Amendment

Right to jury in civil trials.

8th Amendment

Government cannot inflict cruel and unusual punishment. Meaning of "cruel" based on "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society." Categorical bans on death penalty: juveniles, retarded, non-murder crimes...

9th Amendment

Unenumerated Rights Amendment. Citizens have unenumerated rights in addition to those stated in the Constitution. Not been developed by Supreme Court (too open ended)


A nation's basic law, creates political institutions, assigns or divides power in government and often provides certain guarantees to citizens. Can be written or unwritten.

Agents of Socialization

Persons/Institutions that accomplish political socialization. Family (most important); TV/media (growing in importance); friends/peers; school (formal socialization).

American Political Culture

A set of basic, foundational values and beliefs about government that is shared by most citizens. Key elements: democracy, equality before the law, limited government, capitalism & private property


A group who opposed the ratification of the Constitution in 1787. They opposed a strong central government (tyranny) and supported states' rights. "I smell a rat!"

Articles of Confederation

Set up the 1st independent American government (1783-88). Nonbinding "league of friendship" among sovereign states with weak central government to help with common defense & cooperation (like the European Union). Replaced by our current constitution in 1788.

Bandwagon Effect

"Copy-cat" behavior. In elections, it is when people support a candidate everyone else seems to be supporting (poll leaders). Also leads to Primary Frontloading (states want to have the most impact in the primary process)

Block Grants

Grants ($) given to the states by the federal government for a general purpose (like education or road-building). Unlike categorical grants, states have discretion to decide how to spend the money. Example = Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) (States develop and implement welfare programs using federal money).


Assistance given to individual constituents by congressional members, like helping an elderly person figure out how to get Medicare benefits. Major incumbency advantage.

Categorical Grant

A grant ($) given to the states by the federal government for a specific purpose or program. The federal government tells the states exactly how to spend the money (no state discretion unlike block grants). Example = Medicaid. Most common type of federal grant because it gives Congress the most control over the states.

Checks and Balances

A major principle of the American system of government. Helps maintain separation of powers so that no one branch gets too powerful. Explained in Federalist 51. Examples: President vetos laws; Senate confirms appointments & treaties; Congress impeaches president & judges...

Chief Justice John Marshall

In office from 1801-1835 (longest serving CJ). Supported increased power of federal government. Decided McCulloch v. Maryland, Gibbons v. Ogden, and Marbury v. Madison.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Prohibits discrimination based on race or gender in employment or public accommodations (restaurants, hotels). Created EEOC to enforce. Based on Congress's interstate commerce clause power (discrimination impacts interstate commerce). The most important federal civil rights law.

Commerce Clause

Art. 1, Sec. 8 of the Constitution (enumerated power). Congress has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states ["Interstate Commerce Clause"], and with the Indians. Interpreted by the Supreme Court very broadly (Gibbons v. Ogden) until Lopez & Morrison.


Nonbinding union of sovereign states (example = European Union, America under Articles of Confederation).

Congressional Demographics

Rich highly educated white male protestant lawyers & businessmen! Women VERY underrepresented! (<17%)

Connecticut Compromise

Solved big state-little state debate over representation in federal legislature at Philly Convention. Created bicameral legislature with equal representation for states in Senate and proportional representation in House (seats based on population).

Cooperative Federalism

System of federalism where federal & state governments help each other perform governmental duties. Also known as marble-cake federalism. E.g., After hurricanes federal and state agencies work together to provide relief. Can cause confusion and/or conflict among among different levels of government. Best explanation of how federalism works today (instead of dual federalism)

Condition of Aid

A technique of fiscal federalism used by Congress to control states. Requires states to do something in order to get the money (ex. South Dakota v. Dole, raise drinking age 21 to get highway money).

Department of Defense

Cabinet-level agency in charge of the armed forces and military policy. HQ = The Pentagon. (Secretary Panetta)

Department of State

Cabinet-level agency in charge of foreign policy & international affairs. (Secretary Clinton)

Descriptive Representation

The idea that politicians can only represent people like them (ex. only women can represent women, blacks represent blacks, etc.)

Devolution Revolution

The effort to reduce the size & power of the federal government by returning (devolving) power to the states. Associated with economic conservatives, President Reagan & the Tea Party.

Doctrine of Implied Powers

Established by CJ Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland. Congress has the power to make all laws that are "necessary and proper" for carrying out its enumerated powers. So it can create a National Bank to carry out its power to coin money. Major cause of growth of federal power.

Dual Federalism

System of federalism that strictly separates federal power (ex. foreign relations) and state power (ex. protect against crime). Each level of government is dominant within its own sphere. Probably how the Founders thought America would work (enumerated federal powers + reserved state powers). Also known as "layer-cake federalism."

Electoral College

Constitutional system for electing president and vice president. Each state has electors = to number of senators + representatives (DC also has 3 because of 23rd Amendment). Citizens of state vote for candidate. Winner gets all electoral college votes (except Maine & Nebraska which uses proportional system). Winner of majority of electoral college votes becomes president. If no majority then President picked by House from top 3 candidates.

Congress' Enumerated Powers

Power to tax, borrow & coin money, regulate foreign & interstate commerce, establish army, declare war, make all laws necessary & proper for carrying out the enumerated powers (elastic clause)

Exclusionary Rule

Evidence obtained in violation of 4th Amendment is not admissible in criminal trial. (Weeks v. U.S., Mapp v. Ohio)

Exit Poll

A poll of voters exiting the polls (voting locations) to attempt to predict the outcome of the election. May create a bandwagon effect.


A system of government in which power is divided between one central government and several regional governments (dual or cooperative). Used in USA and a few other countries. Most countries have unitary governments.

Federalist Papers

Written in 1788 by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay to support ratification of the Constitution. Fed 10 (factions) & Fed 51 (separation of powers, checks & balances)


Supporters of the new constitution in 1787. Supported a strong central government. Hamilton, Washington, Marshall. Became first political party (vs. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans)

Fiscal Federalism

Federal government using money (grants) to influence & control states.

Formal Amendment Process

Article V; the (very difficult) process of adding or deleting words to the constitution (27 times since 1788); propose by 2/3 vote of Congress or Constitutional Convention (never used); ratify by 3/4 vote of state legislators or state convention (only used once)

Franking Privilege

The right of congresspeople to send job-related mail to their constituents without paying postage. Incumbency advantage.

Gender Gap

Belief / observation that women are more likely to support Democratic / liberal candidates & issues than men. Women are more likely to support spending on welfare & education, and to oppose higher levels of military spending.

General Election

Election in which the winner becomes an elected government official.


The drawing of district boundaries by the state legislature to benefit a party, group, or incumbents. Major types are political & racial.

Gibbons v Ogden

Commerce clause case (1824). Decision greatly enlarged Congress' interstate commerce clause power by broadly defining the meaning of "commerce" to include virtually all types of economic activity. Pair with Lopez & Morrison cases (limiting commerce power).

Grandfather Clause

Jim Crow era state laws that discouraged African Americans from voting by saying that if your grandpa couldn't vote, then neither can you. The newly-freed slaves grandpas couldn't vote, so neither could they. Declared unconstitutional in 1915.

Informal Amendment Process

Changing the meaning of the Constitution without changing the actual words (which requires a formal amendment through Article V process). Examples = Supreme Court opinions, laws, traditions.


Type of policy election where issue is put on ballot (initiated) by citizens. Most direct form of democracy (citizen law-making). Not used at the federal level.


Old as Washington, a belief that America should not seek to become engaged in foreign affairs.

Jacksonian Democracy

First major opening up of American suffrage by Jackson's new Democratic Party in 1830s. Franchise extended to all white men (not just rich white men). Achieved by state legislation not constitutional amendment.

Jim Crow Era

Era in the South after Civil War (1865) until 1950s. African Americans were freed from slavery and could legally vote (Amendments 13, 14, 15) but were still subjected to discriminatory state laws enforcing segregation and kept from voting by laws (ex. poll taxes, literacy tests) and by violence (KKK)

John Locke

Father of political liberalism (limited government to protect life liberty & property; right to revolt if government becomes a tyranny); he greatly influenced Jefferson & the Declaration of Independence.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

One General from each of the 4 armed service branches (army, navy, air force, marines) and, since 1/2012, the National Guard. The JCS are key military advisors to the President.


False and malicious (mean) writings ("libel") or speech ("slander") about a living person. Not protected speech under 1st Amendment but check out NY Times v. Sullivan (very difficult for "public figures" to prove defamation)

Idealism (foreign policy)

Use American power to promote democracy and peace around the world. Associated with Woodrow Wilson & Jimmy Carter. (Compare with realism)

Literacy Test

A method to deny blacks (and poor whites) right to vote during the Jim Crow Era by requiring reading or civics test in order to vote. Could be selectively applied. Prohibited by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


You support my bill, I'll support yours. Trading favors by legislators to help pass their bills.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1824)

(1) CJ Marshall establishes doctrine of implied powers (Congress can create a national bank because it is necessary & proper to carrying out the enumerated power to coin money); (2) Supremacy clause prevents state (Maryland) from taxing the National Bank. Very important case enlarging power of federal government.

Economic Liberalism

Belief in strong government intervention in the economy to promote stability & prosperity (example, Keynesian fiscal policy)


North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Cold War military alliance (USA + Western Europe vs. USSR).

Necessary and Proper Clause

Gives congress the power to do anything that is necessary and proper to carry out an enumerated power. Also known as the "elastic clause." Leads to implied powers doctrine (McCulloch v. Maryland)

New Jersey Plan

Plan at Philadelphia Convention for equal representation in new Congress (1 state 1 vote). Also known as "small state plan." Opposite of the Virginia "big state" Plan. Becomes basis of representation in the Senate.

North American Free Trade Agreement

Free trade agreement among USA, Canada & Mexico. Goal = promote economic prosperity & cooperation. Easier perhaps to achieve at regional level than global level (World Trade Organization).

Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act

1883 reform law that replaced the patronage/spoils system in the federal bureaucracy with a merit-based professional system. "Important" leadership positions in bureaucracy (Secretaries, Commissioners, Directors) & federal judges still appointed by president.

Pocket Veto

If a bill is proposed within 10 days of congress adjourning and the president does not sign it , it will die (un-overrideable veto).

Political Ideology

A more or less consistent set of beliefs about what policies government should pursue.

Political Socialization

The process of acquiring (absorbing) political beliefs.

Poll Tax

Tax on voting. Used to discourage African Americans from voting during the Jim Crow era. Also used to exclude poor whites. Declared unconstitutional by 24th Amendment.


Practice of congressmen of securing ("appropriating") federal money ("pork") for projects that will benefit their constituents. Major incumbent advantage & source of budget increases

Primary Election

One way for a state party to select delegates to send to the National Convention. Can be closed, open or blanket. Now used by most states instead of caucus (cheaper, quicker, more democratic).

Push Poll

A type of poll that attempts to influence opinions secretly using a poll (would you vote for McCain if you knew that he had a black, illegitimate child?)

Random Digit Dialing

Most common method of randomizing poll sample to maximize accuracy.


Major foreign policy ideology. Act in the world only to protect and benefit yourself. (Contrast with idealism)

Redistricting Process

When a state legislature or independent commission draws new House district lines (if gain/loss of seats after reapportionment process based on census every ten years)


Type of policy election where issue is put on ballot by legislature. Frequently used to decide controversial issue (ex. gay marriage). Not used at federal level.


Representative democracy. Sovereignty rests with the people, as opposed to a king or monarch.

Sampling Error

The % margin of error of a survey. Randomized polls accurate to 3%.

Selective Incorporation Doctrine

Judicial doctrine that applies the Bill of Rights (one right at a time) to state and local governments by incorporating them into the concept of liberty in the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause (which is binding on the states)

Separation of Powers

The principle of dividing governmental powers among different branches of government to protect against tyranny (Federalist 51).

Shays' Rebellion

Failed rebellion in 1786 by poor farmers in MA against state government & banks that were taking their farms. Showed how weak the central confederation government was vs. threats to private property and order. Major factor in creation of Constitutional Convention in 1787 (Elite theory)

Stare Decisis

"The decision stands". A rule in deciding cases where judges follow precedent (how similar cases were decided in the past). Helps promote consistency and fairness in the legal process. Lower courts must follow precedent set by higher courts. Supreme Court can reject precedent if absolutely necessary (Example: Brown rejects precedent of Plessy).

Substantive Representation

Theory of representation that says that anyone can represent any group (ex. a rich white guy can represent the interests of poor black people). Compare to Descriptive Representation.

Supremacy Clause

The Federal constitution, laws, and treaties are the supreme law of the land. States cannot interfere with federal power (ex. McCulloch v. Maryland).

Swing State

A state that could go either way in a presidential elections (unlike "safe states"). Target of a lot of attention in elections. Also known as "battleground states" or "purple states" (Ohio, Florida in 2008)

Unitary State

A state ruled by one central government. This is the system used by most countries. Compare with federal state.

United Nations

Replaced the League of Nations after WWII. Global organization to maintain peace and facilitate diplomacy.

US Constitution

"The supreme law of the land." Written in 1787 at Philadelphia Convention to replace Articles of Confederation and create stronger central government. Outlines structure & power of 3 branches of national government. Oldest written constitution still in use (but amended 27 times plus myriad informal amendments).

US v. Morrison (2000)

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) unconstitutional because it exceeded Congress' commerce clause power. With Lopez v. United States, two recent cases checking commerce clause growth of federal power (unchecked since New Deal). Next up: Obamacare.

Virginia Plan

Also known as the Big State Plan. Wanted proportional representation in Congress (based on population).

White Primary

A form of restricting African American's 15th Amendment rights during the Jim Crow Era by only allowing whites to vote in the primary elections; giving African Americans only the opportunity to vote for white racist A or white racist B.

World Trade Organization

Economic organization to promote global wealth.

Measurement Error

An error in collecting polling data. Example = response bias or confusing questions.


Political ideology that believes in as much freedom and as little government as possible (tolerates some government to provide stability & security). Supports free market economy, no government regulation of morality, low taxes.


A policial ideology that opposes capitalism and supports government control of major aspects of the economy (ex. electricity, health care).

Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson's statement of political liberalism (limited government to protect life liberty and pursuit of happiness; right to revolution).

Philadelphia Convention (1787)

12 states send delegates to revise the Articles of Confederation; Delegates soon agree to draft completely new Constitution with stronger federal government. Elite conspiracy?

South Dakota v. Dole (1987)

Congress is allowed to attach "strings" (conditions of aid) to money given to states (raise drinking age to 21 to get highway funds). Major tool of fiscal federalism.

Term Limits

A legal restriction that limits the number of terms a person may serve in a particular elected office. President limited by 22nd Amendment to 2 terms. No term limits on congressmen.

US Term Limits v Thornton

Prohibited state legislatures from imposing term limits of their Representatives and Senators (Court held that the Constitution's Qualifications Clause is the only limit on congressional service)

Speaker of the House

The leader of the majority party and presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Key role in assigning bills to committee and members to committees & setting party's legislative agenda

Economic Conservatism

Belief in limited government intervention in the free market. Supports tax and spending cuts, deregulation & privatization. Reaganomics or "trickle down economics."

Policy Election

An election in which voters vote on a particular policy question (ban gay marriage, legalize marijuana). Often used to resolve a controversial issue. Only used (so far) at the state level. Three types of policy election are: recall, initiative, referendum.

Congressional Caucuses

Association of members created to support a political ideology or regional economic interest (black caucus, women's caucus, blue dog democrats...)

House and Senate Whips

Deputy leadership position. Connects leaders with "rank and file" members, and tries to encourage party unity & discipline

Senate Leaders

The heads of the minority and majority parties in the Senate. Less powerful than the Speaker, they set legislative agenda for their party and help set the daily Senate agenda.

Standing Committees

Permanent committees in House and Senate that handle bills dealing with a particular subject area (Defense, Budget, Education).

House Rules Committee

Powerful House standing committee that reviews all bills coming from other House committees before they go to the full House (gatekeeper function); sets time limit for debate decides whether amendments can be added (open or closed rule).

House Ways and Means Committee

Important House standing committee responsible for initiating all taxation bills.

Appropriations Committees

Decide how to spend money allocated to each spending category by Budget Resolution; 12 subcommittees for major areas of budget (ex. defense, energy, agriculture); major source of earmarking

Budget Committee

House & Senate standing committees that begins budget process in Congress by setting overall budget size and amounts that will be spent on different topics (ex. defense, education)


A group within a standing committee that specializes in a subcategory of the standing committee's responsibility. (Ex. House Committee on Foreign Affairs has subcommittees on Asia, Europe, Africa, etc.)

Conference Committees

A joint committee appointed to resolve differences in the senate and house versions of the same bill

Joint Committees

Congressional committees to discuss & supervise certain topics, with membership drawn from both houses. (ex., Committee on Library, Taxation)

Select Committees

Temporary congressional committees appointed for a specific purpose, such as impeachment investigations or the "Super Committee" on the Budget

Committee Chairperson

Leader of a congressional committee. Usually the longest serving member of the majority party on that committee (seniority rule). A very powerful position - Controls the committee calendar, agenda, and hearings. Can pigeonhole (table) a bill by refusing to schedule debate on it.

Seniority Rule

A congressional custom that gives the chair of a committee or subcommittee to the member of the majority party with the longest continuous service on the committee.


Use of unlimited time for debate in the Senate to kill bills by making (or threatening to make) long speeches. No filibuster in House (House Rules Committee places time limits on all debates). Broken by cloture motion (60 votes)


A procedure used in the senate to limit debate on a bill (end a filibuster); requires 60 votes.


Occurs when a committee ignores a bill and doesn't report it out. Also known as "tabling" or "death by committee." Major cause of bill death.

Marking Up

The process by which a congressional committee debates, amends, and/or rewrites bills.

Reporting Out

Committee action of sending a bill to the senate or house floor for debate, consideration, and final passage.

Open Rule

Rule put on bills by the House Rules Committee that permits a bill to be amended on the House floor (allows "death by amendment")

Closed Rule

Rule put on bills by the House Rules Committee that prohibits any amendments to bills on the House floor.

Treaty Power

The ability of a president to negotiate treaties with foreign nations (requires ratification by 2/3 senate vote). Overshadowed by Executive Agreements.

Appointment Power

The power of the President & Senate to appoint important government officers (federal judges, agency directors, etc.). President nominates candidate, which then must by confirmed by simple majority in the Senate (check on President's power). Subject to senatorial courtesy rule for local appointments (district judges)

Pardon Power

Power of the president to forgive a federal offense without penalty or grant release from a penalty already imposed. Based on kingly power to intervene in judicial process in exceptional cases.


Constitutional power of the president - "supreme commander" of the nation's armed forces. Important to keep military under civilian control, leads to conflict with Congress over war power (War Powers Act)

State of the Union Address

A yearly report by the president to Congress required by Constitution describing the nation's condition and recommending programs and policies (bully pulpit to set legislative agenda )

The Cabinet

Group of important advisors to the President (Heads of Department agencies, VP and other VIPs chosen by president). Created by Washington, example of an informal amendment to the Constitution based on custom / tradition.

Vice President

Back-up president. Only constitutional role = President of Senate & casts tie-breaker vote in Senate. Typically selected to increase odds in election (Biden experience & foreign policy; Palin youth & Tea Party)

Executive Office of the President (EOP)

Ten organizations that advise the President. Includes the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisors, and National Security Council. Top positions must be confirmed by Senate.

White House Office

EOP group that includes the President's most trusted personal advisors (led by White House Chief of Staff); members do not need senate confirmation

Office of Management and Budget

EOP agency that helps the President prepare annual budget proposal and evaluates budget priorities and effectiveness of federal agencies (oversight)

Council of Economic Advisors

EOP agency; three economists who advise president about general economic data, issues and policy proposals. Must be confirmed by senate.

National Security Counsel

Consults with the president on matters of defense and foreign policy.

White House Management Styles

Pyramidal (with Chief of Staff) or Spokes and Hub style (less reliance on Chief of Staff)

Patronage System

AKA Spoils System. Filling government bureaucracy based on connections & political favors not merit (cronyism); ended by Pendleton Act (1883)

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