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Safeguarding Against Tyranny

How have the following affected the

system of Checks and Balances?
Political Parties in theory should weaken
Constitution divides power, parties try to
bring people together
1. Only 2 parties dominate
2. There is a wide range of interests, not
only from party to party, but within parties
3. Difficult to maintain control
1. Government is usually divided (i.e., the
president is of one party and the Congress
is controlled by the other)
Changes in Voting Methods and
the Checks and Balances
1. Senators are chosen by the people (no
longer the state legislatures)
2. Representatives are also chosen by the
3. The president is elected by electors,
chosen by the people (though not
reflecting the popular vote)
4. In theory, 2 branches are chosen by the
How does this affect checks?
In theory, it should weaken the checks
since the people could control power in 2
of the three branches
In reality, they are not weakened due to
split ticket voting and the fact that the
electoral college can elect a president that
does not receive a majority of the popular
How has the growth of the federal
bureaucracy affected the Checks?
Numerous agencies have been given
legislative, executive, and judicial powers
For example: Congress formed the IRS and
gave them authority to carry out the general
will of Congress.
They write tax code, enforce the tax code,
and settle disputes over the tax code.
They independently wield incredible power
The Effect on the Checks?
It has weakened the checks and balances
by concentrating power in various
How has technology affected the
In the world today, all branches have
access to instant information;
Fax machines, the internet, satellite
communication and observation, computers,
and nuclear/chemical weapons
There are 2 views
1. All branches can access information
technology, actually strengthens checks
since everyone has access to
2. The President has taken advantage of
staging press events to sway public
opinion (e.g., landing on an aircraft
carrier, surprise visit to Iraq). This
weakens the power of the other two.
How has the emergence of the
U.S. as a world power affected the
Areas of responsibility:
U.S. is the leader of the free world
U.S. now has national interests worldwide
U.S. is the only remaining superpower in the
U.S. is expected to act in any crisis
The Effect?
These responsibilities need to be
addressed in a strong and efficient
manner, often quickly.
This concentrates power (and action) in
the executive branch (what some call an
imperial presidency)
This weakens the checks, giving the
executive branch more power
Federalist #51***
Madison says that experience has
taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary
These multiple measures guard against
1. Separation of power
2. Checks and balances
3. Federalism
How did the Supreme Court get its
Constitution has very few details regarding
the powers of the court
This changes with Marbury v. Madison.
This case greatly strengthened the Supreme
The Constitution did not have a lot of specifics
about the judicial branch.
This case gave the court great power over the other two
branches in regards to Constitutionality of their actions
How can the Constitution be
2/3 of each house of Congress to propose
and of the state legislatures to ratify, or
2/3 of the state legislatures call for a
convention and of the state legislatures
This second method has never been used
How can the Constitution be
Judicial interpretation (Supreme Court)
Laws passed by Congress that elaborate on
provisions of the Constitution
Presidential practice (e.g., executive privilege)
Custom and usage (e.g., political parties-
which are not mentioned in the Constitution
but are an important part of our government
In Federalism
There is a constitutional division of power
between the national and state governments
Each have powers in their own sphere
independent of the other (layer-cake
federalism) or shared powers (marble cake
The Devolution Revolution
Giving power back to the states
Greater federal control over the years until
Favored by Reagan, both Bushes, and the
Republican Party in general
Republican majority in Congress in 1994
Contract with America and devolution of
power back to the states
1994 Congress
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995
Restricted future unfunded mandates
Use of block grants to replace categorical
grants (more detail to come)
1996 welfare reform bill (Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act) that ended welfare as a
federal entitlement (more details to come)
Repeal of the 55 mph speed limit
Supreme Court Actions that
support devolution
Struck down Gun Free School Zones Act
in 1995; US v. Lopez
Congress linked gun control laws to the
interstate commerce clause of the
Constitution (it was misapplied according to
the courts)
Supreme Court Actions that
support devolution
Struck down part of the Violence Against
Women Act in US v. Morrison (2000)
Court ruled that Congress overextended itself
in applying the Interstate commerce clause to
rape victims
The previous ruling had allowed rape victims
to sue their attackers in federal court
Supreme Court ruled that it was the
responsibility of the states to care for women
victimized by violence
Supreme Court Actions that
support devolution
Struck down the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act in 1993
This act had restricted the power of the states
to regulate religion
The Supreme Court ruling allowed the states
greater authority in regulating religion
Supreme Court Actions that
support devolution
Struck down the Brady Act in 1997
This act had required local law enforcement
agencies to do background checks on gun
Federalism and Federal Grants
As the federal government has grown more
powerful, it has used state and local
governments to administer programs that are
federally funded
It has funded these programs through a series of
federal grants
Dollar amounts of these have consistently
risen in the last several decades, though
there has been a variation in grants as a
percentage of federal expenditures
Politics of American Federalism
Great Society ( sweeping social program
of LBJ to address poverty and racial
Programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Civil
Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of
1965, Civil Rights Act of 1968, Economic
Opportunity Act of 1964 (anti-poverty
program), the Job Corp, Head Start,
VISTA (domestic Peace Corp), etc.