US Supreme Court And US Constitution – US Government

Unit 1 US Supreme Court and US Constitution

In this chapter we discuss US supreme court and US constitution.

Social contract

An agreement between the people and their government signifying their consent to be governed

Social contract theory

The belief that people are free and equal by natural rights, and that this in turn requires that all people give their consent to be governed; espoused by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and influential in the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

What did Thomas Hobbes believe?

Thomas Hobbes believed that life was nasty, short, and brutish which lead man to create government. Hobbes believed that as people “contracted” with government, they did not have the right to break the contract if government failed to preserve and protect people’s liberties.

What did John Locke believe?

John Locke believed that man was born free, equal, and independent and needed government to protect their freedoms. If government failed to do so, people could break the contract (American Revolution).

Democracy/Democratic government

Government in which the people rules. A form of government in which political control is exercised by all people, either through their elected representatives (representative democracy) or directly (direct democracy).

Representative democracy

A type of government in which the people choose representatives to vote and make laws for them

Direct democracy

A form of democracy in which all or most citizens participate directly by either holding office of making policy

Authoritarian regime

A system of rule in which power depends not on popular legitimacy but on the coercive force of the political authorities


A form of government in which the right to participate is conditioned on the possession of wealth, social status, military position, or achievement

Characteristics/Concepts of Democracy

A. Individual Liberty – allows citizens to exercise their rights and choose what they want to do in life.
B. Majority Rule with Minority Rights – abides by the will of the majority (larger) group while at the same time protects the rights (e.g., vote, expression, petition, and assemble) of the minority (smaller) group.
C. Free Elections – allows citizens to vote for whatever candidate best represents their ideals.
D. Competing Political Parties – allows for a balance when establishing policy and what’s best for the nation.

What are the Theories of Elite Influence?

Traditional Theory, Elitist Theory, Pluralist Theory

Theories of Elite Influence

A. Traditional theory – A theory that promotes majority rule without violating minority rights, maintaining the willingness to compromise, and recognizing the worth and dignity of all people.
B. Elitist theory – A theory that a few top leaders make the key decisions without reference to popular desires. Elitism – a theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization. Elite Theory of Democracy maintains that the majority of political power and influence is held by a small number of individuals, groups, and industries. People who support this theory argue that government policies disproportionately favor the elite over everyone else.
C. Pluralist theory – A theory that holds that political resources are divided among different kinds of elites, giving relevant interest the chance to influence the outcome of decisions. Policies are made by conflict and bargaining among organizations that represent affected groups. Pluralism – a theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each one pressing its own preferred policies. Pluralist Theory of Democracy holds that people with common interests form organized groups to promote their causes and influence the political agenda. This theory maintains that no single group, industry, or government agency dominates politics. It also asserts that a healthy competition exists in the development of the policy agenda and in the selection of the policy makers.

Functions of Government

A. Maintain social order – Governments make and enforce laws allowing people to live in an orderly, civilized manner: planning for the future, obtaining an education, raising families, and living orderly lives.
B. Provide public services/education – Governments provide services that people need but cannot provide for themselves: clean water, safe sewage disposal, and unspoiled food.
C. Provide national security – Governments protect people from outside attack and make treaties with other nations. Governments also provide economic security by making trade agreements with other countries.
D. Make economic decisions – Governments stimulate economic growth/ stability and distribute public services/ benefits among citizens. People are protected from a national economic collapse and are fairly certain of present and future personal benefits.

Declaration of Independence

Its purpose (justify the revolution and put forth the founding principles of the new nation) and structure (statement of purpose/basic human rights; extensive list of specific complaints; colonists’ determination to separate from G. Britain). It establishes the basis/foundation of American government – Natural rights, social contract, principle of consent of the governed.

The Articles of Confederation

Original system of government in the US after the American Revolution. It created a weak national government (unicameral Congress, no executive or legislative branch) that had no real power and authority as it was subordinate to the states.

The US Constitution

A document that provides the framework and guidelines for government in the US.

The Preamble

A statement of goals outlining government’s pledge to the people

The Articles

The middle section of the Constitution that outlines the structure, powers, and responsibilities of government. Article IV (4) – federalism; defines the relations between the states and the federal government. Highlights the ‘privileges and immunities’ clause, ‘commerce’ clause, and ‘full faith and credit’ clause. Article VI (6) – the supremacy clause; it states the US Constitution, its government are supreme law of the land

The Amendments

Changes and additions to the constitution

The Bill of Rights

The first 10 amendments; its purpose is to protect rights and liberties of individuals

1st Amendment

Freedoms of speech, press, religion, peaceful assemble, and petition

15th Amendment

Right to vote extended to all male citizens, specifically African Americans

17th Amendment

Changed how US senators are elected directly by the voters rather that appointed by state legislatures

19th Amendment

Right to vote extended to women

26th Amendment

Voting age changed from 21 to 18

The Virginia Plan

A plan that envisioned a much stronger national government structured around three branches rather that reform the previous form of government. The plan is favored by the more populous states as representation is based on population. Edmund Randolph proposed: A strong executive branch; A national judiciary branch; A strong 2 house (bicameral) legislature.

The New Jersey Plan

A plan of government proposed by William Patterson as a substitute for the Virginia Plan in an effort to provide greater protection for the interests of small states. It recommended that the Articles of Confederation should be amended, not replaced, with a unicameral Congress, in which each state would have an equal vote. The plan in favored by the smaller populous states. William Paterson proposed: A weak executive branch of more than one person elected by Congress; A national judiciary with limited powers; A one house legislature (unicameral), with one vote per state. This plan favored the small states.

The Connecticut Compromise (The Great Compromise)

The agreement that prevented the collapse of the Constitutional Convention because of friction between large and small states. It reconciled their interests by awarding states representation in the Senate on a basis of equality and in the House of Representatives in proportion to each state’s population. Provided a bicameral (2 chamber) legislature: House of Representatives-state representation based on population; Senate with two representatives from each state regards of population. Enslaved peoples counted as three-fifths of a person for tax purposes (northern states) and for representation within the lower house which was based on population (southern states). Slave trade banned 1808; No export taxes levied; & the federal government has power over trade with other nations

Constitutional principles

Majority rule, Minority rights, Separation of powers, Checks and balances, Limited government, Judicial review, Federalism, Consent of the governed, and Rule of law

Majority rule

In democracy, choosing among alternatives requires that the majority’s desire be respected. A principle of democracy that asserts that the greater number of citizens in any political unit should select officials and determine policies.

Minority rights

In democracy, it guarantees rights to those who do not belong to majorities and allows that they might join majorities through persuasion and reasoned argument.

Separation of powers

The division of power between the three branches of government.

Checks and balances

The system by which the branches exercises some authority over the other branches of government.

Limited government

The principle that states the government’s power is not absolute thus protecting the rights and liberties of the people.

Judicial review

The power of the Supreme Court to review and declare the actions of government unconstitutional if they violate the Constitution in any way.


The division of power between the levels of government (national government and the states)

Consent of the governed

John Locke’s ideas that the government gets its right to govern from the people. Thomas Jefferson included this principle in the Declaration of Independence.

Rule of law

The principle in which the law applies to government officials as much as to ordinary citizens.


Favored the need for a strong central government; supporters of the US Constitution.


Favored the need for a Bill of Rights to protect the liberties of the people; opposed the US Constitution because it originally lacked a Bill of Rights.

The Three (3) Branches of Government are outlined in Articles I, II, & III

No other government agency or institution is mentioned within the Constitution. (Legislative, Executive, Judicial)

The Legislative Branch (The Congress)

Makes and passes laws; power to approve appointments, create post offices, declare war, and impeach members of government. Denied power of Congress – cannot suspend writ of habeas corpus, cannot pass bills of attainder or ex post facto laws.

The Executive Branch (The President)

Enforces the laws; power to veto and appoint federal officials

The Judicial Branch (Supreme Court)

Interprets the laws; power of judicial review


A power of Congress; it is a formal accusation against a public official by the lower house of a legislative body. Impeachment is merely an accusation and not a conviction. Power is outlined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 5 (House of Representatives) and in Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 7 – 8 (Senate). House brings the formal charge of impeachment against government official and the Senate serves as the jury and needs a 2/3s majority vote to impeach. The impeachment of the president is presided over by the chief justice of the US Supreme Court.

Unitary system

A government that gives all key powers to the national or central government. A centralized system in which all powers of the government belongs to a single, central agency.

Federal system

A government that divides the powers of government between the national government and state or provincial governments. A system in which sovereignty is shared so that in some matters the national government is supreme and others, the state, regional, or provincial governments are supreme.


A loose union of independent states. A group of states or nations united for a common purpose. The states are supreme over the national government.

Dual federalism

An interpretation of the Constitution which holds that states are as supreme within their sphere of power as is the federal government within its sphere of power. The Constitution provides two layers of government in the nation—the national and state governments. The Supreme Court no longer supports this interpretation.

Enumerated Powers (Article I, Section 8)

The expressed powers of Congress that are itemized and numbered 1-18 in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. Also know as expressed powers or delegated powers.

Denied Powers (Article 1, Section 9)

Limitations on the powers of Congress and the national government. The national government is a government of delegated powers.

Reserved Powers

Those powers that the Constitution does not grant to the national government and does not, at the same time, deny to the states.

10th Amendment

An amendment to the Constitution which defines the powers of the states, stipulating that the states (or the people) retain all powers not specifically delegated to the national government by the Constitution.

Concurrent Powers

Powers that both the national government and the states have

Elastic/Necessary and proper clause

The clause in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution that gives Congress the right to make all laws, “necessary and proper” to carry out the powers expressed in the other clauses in Article I.

Supremacy Clause

Article VI of the US Constitution, which makes the Constitution, national laws, and treaties supreme over state laws when the national government is acting within its constitutional limits.

Full faith and credit clause

A clause in Article IV (4), Section 1 of the US Constitution requiring each state to recognize the official documents and civil judgments rendered by the courts of other states. It requires that each state to recognize the official documents and civil judgments rendered by the courts of other states

The privileges and immunities clause

A clause in Article IV (4), Section 2 of the US Constitution according citizens of each state most of the privileges of citizens of other states.

Commerce Clause (Art. I, section 8, clause 3)

A clause in the US Constitution (Article I, Section 3, Clause 3), that gives Congress the power to regulate all business activities that cross state lines or affect more that one state or other nations.

Cooperative federalism

The intertwined relationship between the national, state, and local governments that began with the New Deal. It’s characterized by the need for a stronger, more influential national government

Fiscal Federalism

Federal money spent on programs run in part through state and local governments

Block grants

Grants given by the federal government to state and local authorities for general purpose. Block grants however have few strings attached and allow greater discretion to a state to decide how to spend the money. It is no surprise then that states prefer block grants to categorical grants.

Categorical grants

Grants given by the federal government to state and local authorities for a specific purpose defined in a federal law. The federal government often encourages states to assist with federal policy priorities through grants. Categorical grants often come with strings attached. One of the most common requirements is that the state must follow specific federal regulations to receive the money.


Requirements imposed against state and local governments to perform. The requirements may have nothing to do with the receipt of federal funds and may originate from court orders. Rules imposed by the federal government on the states as conditions for obtaining federal grants or requirements that the states pay the costs of certain nationally defined programs.


The purported right of a state to declare void a federal law.

Devolution Revolution

New trend towards MORE state and local control. Republicans advocate this strategy

Unfunded mandate (1995)

National government passes laws requiring states to act, but does not allocate money.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

TANF block-grant gave states more control, but set national guidelines.

US v. Lopez (1995)

Struck down federal handgun law that has prohibited possession of guns within 1000 feet of schools. Ruled that Congress had abused the ‘commerce’ clause.

Printz v. US (1997)

Struck down Brady Bill regarding background checks for the purchase of firearms.

Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents (2000)

Since the Constitution doesn’t include age discrimination, states can create their own policies.

Progressive Federalism

A movement that gives state officials significant leeway in acting on issues normally considered national in scope, such as the environment and consumer protection.

Redistribute policy – Medicare/Medicaid

Government programs that provide and subsidize medical care for the poor and elderly.

Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Was Marbury entitled to his appointment to the federal bench? Was his lawsuit the correct way to get it? And, was the Supreme Court the place for Marbury to get the relief he requested? Established judicial review; midnight judges; John Marshall; power of the Supreme Court.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

The case presented two questions: Did Congress have the authority to establish the Bank of the United States? Did the Maryland law unconstitutionally interfere with congressional powers? Established national supremacy; established implied powers; use of elastic clause; state unable to tax federal institution; John Marshall; “the power to tax involves the power to destroy”.

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)

Did the State of New York exercise authority in a realm reserved exclusively to Congress, namely, the regulation of interstate commerce? Established a broad interpretation of the Commerce Clause; determined Congress’ power encompassed virtually every form of commercial activity. The Commerce Clause has been the constitutional basis for much of Congress’ regulation of the economy.

Barron v. Baltimore (1833)

Does the federal government have the power to enforce the Bill of Rights at the state level? The Supreme Court ruled that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment did not apply to the actions of states. This decision limited the Bill of Rights to the actions of Congress alone.

Due process

Clause contained in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; over the years, it has been construed to guarantee to individuals a variety of rights.

Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)

The Supreme Court articulated the idea of concurrent powers and dual federalism in which separate but equally powerful levels of government is preferable and the national government should not exceed its enumerated powers. The Taney Court held that Mr. Scott was not a US citizen and therefore not entitled to sue in federal court. The case was dismissed and Scott remained a slave. Taney further wrote that Congress had no power to abolish slavery in the territories and slaves were private property protected by the Constitution.