Article Five, clause two of the United States Constitutionstates, “under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land. ” As a result of the fact thatthe current activist government is pursuing inconsistent policies,many believe the Constitution has become irrelevant because no guidingprinciples seem to exist. Thomas Jefferson once said, “TheConstitution belongs to the living and not to the dead. ” Accordingly,it is often referred to as a “living” document because of its regularalteration and reexamination; therefore, the Constitution has notbecome irrelevant in defining the goals of American government.
Thiswill be shown by examining how the Constitution ensures and upholdsAmerican ideas of rights, defines governmental structures, allows foran increase in governmental growth, and permits the Supreme Court toshape and define public policy through Constitutionalinterpretation. Through years of research on court cases, political scientistsare in agreement that most people favor rights in theory, but theirsupport diminishes when the time to put the rights into practicearrives. For example, a strong percentage of Americans concur withthe idea of free speech throughout the United States, but when a courtcase such as Texas vs. Johnson (1989) arises, most backing shifts awayfrom complete freedom of speech. In the case, a Texan named GregoryJohnson set fire to an American flag during the 1984 RepublicanNational Convention in Dallas in order to protest nuclear armsbuildup; the decision was awarded to Johnson in the midst of sternopposition (Beth 68). Lockean philosophy concerning the natural rights of man alsoserves amajor role in an American’s idea of rights.Order now
Many citizensfeels that it is the task of the state to preserve such birthrights aslife, liberty, and property. The juristic theory of rights deals withthe hypothesis that a man’s natural rights only amounted to thequantity of power he can exercise over any other man. A more generaland logical definition of a right is a claim upheld by the law, inwhich case the Bill of Rights becomes important (Benn 195). Although the Constitution originally did not contain the Billof Rights, the states threatened to delay ratification until theamendments were made. The main purpose of implementing the first tenamendments to the United States Constitution, was to safeguardfundamental individual rights against seizure by the federalgovernment and prohibit interference with existing rights. TheRevolutionary War with Britain was still quite clear in the Americanmind during the writing of the Constitution, so the Bill of Rights hadfull support of the public because it protected citizens againsteverything which had angered the colonists about the British (Holder52).
The Constitution is extremely ambiguous concerning individualrights and personal freedoms of man. It does, however, prohibit thepassage of ex post facto laws, which punish people for an act theycommitted before such an act was illegal, disallow bills of attainder,which punish offenders without a trial, and prevent suspension of thewrit of habeas corpus, which requires a detained man to be notified ofthe offense he committed (Gilbert 331). The Constitution alsoprohibits religious qualifications for seeking and holding agovernmental office, and it secures the right of a trial by jury ofpeers in a criminal case (Gilbert 336). Articles One, Two, and Three of the United States Constitutiondefine the three structures of the national government, and includeeach branch’s composition and function.
Article One deals with the Congress, the legislative structureof the federal government. It is the Congress, rather than thePresident, who is bestowed by the Constitution with the lawmakingduty. The legislative branch contains two Houses, one being theSenate, which is based upon equal representation of the states, andthe other being the House of Representatives, which is based uponstate population. The Framers envisioned Congress as the mostimportant and most powerful branch of government, although today muchof the significant legislation is initiated by the President and theexecutive department (Holder 20). In order to be a Representative, one must be twenty-five yearsof age or older, a United States citizen for at least seven years, andreside in the state from which he is elected (Holder 21).
On theother hand, Senators must have attained the age of thirty years, be acitizen for at least nine years, and also reside in the state fromwhich 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 eithereconomic or military. Economic powers include the authority to levytaxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, coin money, and establishbankruptcy laws (Holder 28). Certain military powers involve declaringwar, raising and supporting armies, regulating and maintaining navies,and supplying militias (Holder 29).
Article One also contains, insection eight, clause 18, and elastic clause which allows Congressto “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper. . . “The Constitution also elaborates upon certain acts to which itis prohibited. Such acts include no Bill of Attainder or ex postfacto laws, no suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, otherindividual rights that man possesses (Holder 32). Article Two discusses the executive branch of the government-specifically the President of the United States- and specifies hispowers, duties, responsibilities, and requirements for office (Holder35).
The President is the Commander in Chief of the United StatesArmy and Navy; he has the power to make treaties and fill vacanciesduring a recess of the Senate (Holder 37). He is required to give a”state of the union” address each year in order inform Congressof 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 naturalborn citizen of the United States, over the age of thirty-five, and aresident of the United States for fourteen years. The case of hisremoval from office, the powers of the President are handed over tothe Vice- President and he shall complete the President’s term inoffice (Holder 36). Article Three deals with the third branch of government- thejudicial branch. This Article lays the foundation for a Supreme Courtof 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 Congressis hierarchical. The highest court, the Supreme Court, is located inWashington D. C. and consists of nine justices, there are elevenCircuit Courts of Appeals distributed throughout the country, andapproximately ninety federal District Courts (Holder 40).
Judicial power extends to all cases in which law and equityarise under the Constitution (Holder 42). The Supreme Court consistsof eight associate justices and the chief justice, all appointed bythe president with the consent of the Senate. Members of the Court areappointed for life terms and can be removed only by resignation orimpeachment (Holder 44). Over time, the United States Government has grown steadily insize and complexity, and it is continuing such growth daily.
Inrecent years, such growth in the state and local levels has led to anincreased interest in implementation activities- those activities andtasks undertaken after a law is passed (Ripley 24). Graphical trendsshow that government spending, employment, and spending as apercentage of the Gross National Product have increased at a healthypace since the beginning of our nation’s existence, and such trendsare predicted to continue their rise well into the twenty-firstcentury (Ripley 25). Implementation of programs on the federal levelare rarely directed straight from the national government inWashington, D. C.
Most require a combination of federal field offices,state governments, local governments, and local nongovernmentalactors. Such actors, through providing services to beneficiaries, havebecome important implementers. For example, many programs created tocompensate the unemployed are implemented by a network of groupsincluding the United States Employment Service, fifty separate stateemployed security agencies, and countless local offices as a result ofthose fifty state agencies. Other employment agencies include thenational office of the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) ofthe United States Department of Labor, ten regional ETA offices, fiftystate offices, and between five hundred and six hundred local servicedelivery areas. As shown, one governmental program can easilyencompass numerous agencies and office space, and with such programsarising daily, this translates into rapid governmental expansion(Ripley 26).
Due to the fact that programs, whose numbers have grownsignificantly in recent years, need bureaucrats in order to beimplemented, America’s bureaucracy has increased in the same manner asits programs have. Two main factors have contributed to the growth ofbureaucracy in government. First, specific external trends and eventssuch as violence and economic difficulties cause complex growthbecause of the programs that are necessary to halt such problems. Second, a bureaucrat working for a specific agency has a naturaltendency to improve the importance of his agency’s work; thus, hisefforts result in expanded bureaucracy (Ripley 43).
Although somepolitical scientists argue that a growing government will limitfreedom of the people, many believe that government’s increased rolein the lives of Americans serves to protect civil liberties and civilrights. Throughout United States history the Supreme Court has beencalled upon to interpret the Constitution in one or two possible ways. First, a “strict constitution” of national law, which upholds thebelief that the states are vested with ultimate governmentalauthority, while the federal government should only have secondaryauthority. Second, a less strict, more federalist position, whichmaintains that the Constitution, due to a broad interpretation, hintstoward implied powers in the central government. The second view wasespecially prominent from 1801 to 1835, under chief justice JohnMarshall (Armstrong and Woodward 210).
Under Marshall, the case of Marbury vs. Madison (1803)involved a contested appointment by the predecessor of then Secretaryof State James Madison. The Court held that an act of Congress inconflict with the Constitution was void and that the Supreme Courtpossessed the power to declare if such a conflict existed. Thisdecision 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 theConstitution, is ever fully developed at the time of its completion. With an ever changing society, it is apparent that the Constitutionmust transform along with society through interpretations ofprovisions to the original text.
This distinction is put in the handsof the Supreme Court justices who are forced to confrontcircumeztial changes and new situations of modern times quitefrequently. They are expected to reshape the doctrine in compliancewith the original ideas of the Constitution, or “the intentions of theFramers”, to ensure that new provisions do not deprive man of theright to govern himself (Bork 513). Since the birth of the United States, Americans have formed anunbreakable habit of evolving economic, political, philosophical, andsocial questions into lawsuits. It is because of this habit that theSupreme Court is often the eventual resting place for a societal issue(Brennan 517).
Such situations are prime examples of how theConstitution displays qualities of a “living” document. Despite thefact that the original text is over two hundred years old, thedocument, through the interpretation of the Supreme Court, is stillable to consistently shape public policy at will. Although people argue that the Constitution is irrelevanttoday because it doesn’t properly define the goals of Americangovernment, the Constitution has not become irrelevant, and it isstill the driving force behind our government. American’s idea ofrights are shaped daily by the Bill of Rights and the acts thatCongress is prohibited to amend. Through the use of Lockeanphilosophy concerning the nature of man, the Constitutional rightswill always pertain to the needs of society, despite the fact thatsuch thought is nearly three hundred years old. The Constitution alsoregulates the powers of each governmental structure by allowing asystem of checks and balances to emerge.
The continuing growth ofgovernment in recent years causes more legislation, but ultimatelypreserves civil right and liberties through such growth. The SupremeCourt is able to mold public policy with every decision it hands downon every case it oversees. The relevancy of the Constitution is quiteclear in the everyday lives of each American, and it establishesitself as the “supreme law of the land” on a regular basis.