Federal government of the United States
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|Jurisdiction||United States of America|
|Leader||President of the United States|
|Headquarters||The White House|
The government of the United States of America is the federal government of the republic of fifty states that constitute the United States, as well as one capital district, and several other territories. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the President, and the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of Congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court.
The full name of the republic is the "United States of America". No other name appears in the Constitution, and this is the name that appears on money, in treaties, and in legal cases to which it is a party (e.g., Charles T. Schenck v. United States). The terms "Government of the United States of America" or "United States Government" are often used in official documents to represent the federal government as distinct from the states collectively. In casual conversation or writing, the term "Federal Government" is often used, and the term "National Government" is sometimes used. The terms "Federal" and "National" in government agency or program names generally indicate affiliation with the federal government (e.g., Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, etc.). Because the seat of government is in Washington, D.C., "Washington" is commonly used as a metonym for the federal government.
- 1 History
- 2 Legislative branch
- 3 Executive branch
- 4 Judicial branch
- 5 Elections and voting
- 6 State, tribal and local governments
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 External links
The outline of the government of the United States is laid out in the Constitution. The government was formed in 1789, making the United States one of the world's first, if not the first, modern national constitutional republics.
The United States government is based on the principle of federalism, in which power is shared between the federal government and state governments. The details of American federalism, including what powers the federal government should have and how those powers can be exercised, have been debated ever since the adoption of the Constitution. Some make the case for expansive federal powers while others argue for a more limited role for the central government in relation to individuals, the states or other recognized entities.
Since the American Civil War, the powers of the federal government have generally expanded greatly, although there have been periods since that time of legislative branch dominance (e.g., the decades immediately following the Civil War) or when states' rights proponents have succeeded in limiting federal power through legislative action, executive prerogative or by constitutional interpretation by the courts.
One of the theoretical pillars of the United States Constitution is the idea of "checks and balances" among the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of American government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. For example, while the legislative (Congress) has the power to create law, the executive (President) can veto any legislation—an act which, in turn, can be overridden by Congress. The President nominates judges to the nation's highest judiciary authority (Supreme Court), but those nominees must be approved by Congress. The Supreme Court, in its turn, has the power to invalidate as "unconstitutional" any law passed by the Congress. These and other examples are examined in more detail in the text below.
Powers of Congress
The Constitution grants numerous powers to Congress. Enumerated in Article I, Section 8, these include the powers to levy and collect taxes; to coin money and regulate its value; provide for punishment for counterfeiting; establish post offices and roads, issue patents, create federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court, combat piracies and felonies, declare war, raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, make rules for the regulation of land and naval forces, provide for, arm and discipline the militia, exercise exclusive legislation in the District of Columbia, and to make laws necessary to properly execute powers. Over the two centuries since the United States was formed, many disputes have arisen over the limits on the powers of the federal government. These disputes have often been the subject of lawsuits that have ultimately been decided by the United States Supreme Court.
Makeup of Congress
House of Representatives
The House currently consists of 435 voting members, each of whom represents a congressional district. The number of representatives each state has in the House is based on each state's population as determined in the most recent United States Census. All 435 representatives serve a two-year term. Each state receives a minimum of one representative in the House. In order to be elected as a representative, an individual must be at least 25 years of age, must have been a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and must live in the state that he or she represents. There is no limit on the number of terms a representative may serve. In addition to the 435 voting members, there are six non-voting members, consisting of five delegates and one resident commissioner. There is one delegate each from the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico.
In contrast, the Senate is made up of two senators from each state, regardless of population. There are currently 100 senators (two from each of the 50 states), who each serve six-year terms. Approximately one third of the Senate stands for election every two years.
The House and Senate each have particular exclusive powers. For example, the Senate must approve (give "advice and consent" to) many important Presidential appointments, including cabinet officers, federal judges (including nominees to the Supreme Court), department secretaries (heads of federal executive branch departments), U.S. military and naval officers, and ambassadors to foreign countries. All legislative bills for raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives. The approval of both chambers is required to pass any legislation, which then may only become law by being signed by the President (or, if the President vetoes the bill, both houses of Congress then re-pass the bill, but by a two-thirds majority of each chamber, in which case the bill becomes law without the President's signature). The powers of Congress are limited to those enumerated in the Constitution; all other powers are reserved to the states and the people. The Constitution also includes the "Necessary and Proper Clause", which grants Congress the power to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers." Members of the House and Senate are elected by first-past-the-post voting in every state except Louisiana, California and Washington, which have runoffs.
Impeachment of federal officers
Congress has the power to remove the President, federal judges, and other federal officers from office. The House of Representatives and Senate have separate roles in this process. The House must first vote to "impeach" the official. Then, a trial is held in the Senate to decide whether the official should be removed from office. Although two presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), neither of them was removed following trial in the Senate.
Article I, Section 2, paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives each chamber the power to "determine the rules of its proceedings." From this provision were created congressional committees, which do the work of drafting legislation and conducting congressional investigations into national matters. The 108th Congress (2003–2005) had 19 standing committees in the House and 17 in the Senate, plus four joint permanent committees with members from both houses overseeing the Library of Congress, printing, taxation and the economy. In addition, each house may name special, or select, committees to study specific problems. Today, much of the congressional workload is borne by subcommittees, of which there are some 150.
Powers of Congress
Congressional oversight is intended to prevent waste and fraud, protect civil liberties and individual rights, ensure executive compliance with the law, gather information for making laws and educating the public, and evaluate executive performance.
It applies to cabinet departments, executive agencies, regulatory commissions and the presidency.
Congress's oversight function takes many forms:
- Committee inquiries and hearings
- Formal consultations with and reports from the President
- Senate advice and consent for presidential nominations and for treaties
- House impeachment proceedings and subsequent Senate trials
- House and Senate proceedings under the 25th Amendment in the event that the President becomes disabled or the office of the Vice President falls vacant.
- Informal meetings between legislators and executive officials
- Congressional membership: each state is allocated a number of seats based on its representation (or ostensible representation, in the case of D.C.) in the House of Representatives. Each state is allocated two Senators regardless of its population. As of January 2010, the District of Columbia elects a non-voting representative to the House of Representatives along with American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The executive power in the federal government is vested in the President of the United States, although power is often delegated to the Cabinet members and other officials. The President and Vice President are elected as running mates by the Electoral College, for which each state, as well as the District of Columbia, is allocated a number of seats based on its representation (or ostensible representation, in the case of D.C.) in both houses of Congress. The President is limited to a maximum of two four-year terms. If the President has already served two years or more of a term to which some other person was elected, he may only serve one more additional four-year term.
The executive branch consists of the President and those to whom the President's powers are delegated. The President is both the head of state and government, as well as the military commander-in-chief and chief diplomat. The President, according to the Constitution, must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed", and "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution". The President presides over the executive branch of the federal government, an organization numbering about 5 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel and 600,000 postal service employees. The forty-fourth and current president is Barack Obama.
The President may sign legislation passed by Congress into law or may veto it, preventing it from becoming law unless two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to override the veto. The President may unilaterally sign treaties with foreign nations. However, ratification of international treaties requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. The President may be impeached by a majority in the House and removed from office by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". The President may not dissolve Congress or call special elections but does have the power to pardon, or release, criminals convicted of offenses against the federal government (except in cases of impeachment), enact executive orders, and (with the consent of the Senate) appoint Supreme Court justices and federal judges.
The Vice President is the second-highest executive official in rank of the government. As first in the U.S. presidential line of succession, the Vice President becomes President upon the death, resignation, or removal of the President, which has happened nine times in U.S. history. Under the Constitution, the Vice President is President of the Senate. By virtue of this role, he or she is the head of the Senate. In that capacity, the Vice President is allowed to vote in the Senate, but only when necessary to break a tie vote. Pursuant to the Twelfth Amendment, the Vice President presides over the joint session of Congress when it convenes to count the vote of the Electoral College. While the Vice President's only constitutionally prescribed functions, aside from presidential succession, relate to his or her role as President of the Senate, the office is now commonly viewed as a member of the executive branch of the federal government. The U.S. Constitution does not expressly assign the office to any one branch, causing scholars to dispute whether it belongs to the executive branch, the legislative branch, or both.
Cabinet, executive departments and agencies
The day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the hands of the various federal executive departments, created by Congress to deal with specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the 15 departments, chosen by the President and approved with the "advice and consent" of the U.S. Senate, form a council of advisers generally known as the President's "Cabinet". In addition to departments, a number of staff organizations are grouped into the Executive Office of the President. These include the White House staff, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The employees in these United States government agencies are called federal civil servants.
There are also independent agencies such as the United States Postal Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Agency for International Development. In addition, there are government-owned corporations such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.
The Judiciary explains and applies the laws. This branch does this by hearing and eventually making decisions on various legal cases.
Overview of the federal judiciary
Article III section I of the Constitution establishes the Supreme Court of the United States and authorizes the United States Congress to establish inferior (i.e., lower) courts as their need shall arise. Section I also establishes a lifetime tenure for all federal judges and states that their compensation may not be diminished during their time in office. Article II section II establishes that all federal judges are to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 subdivided the nation jurisdictionally into judicial districts and created federal courts for each district. The three tiered structure of this act established the basic structure of the national judiciary: the Supreme Court, 13 courts of appeals, 94 district courts, and two courts of special jurisdiction. Congress retains the power to re-organize or even abolish federal courts lower than the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court adjudicates "cases and controversies"—matters pertaining to the federal government, disputes between states, and interpretation of the United States Constitution, and, in general, can declare legislation or executive action made at any level of the government as unconstitutional, nullifying the law and creating precedent for future law and decisions. The United States Constitution does not grant the judicial branch the power of judicial review (the power to declare a law Unconstitutional). The power of judicial review was asserted by Chief Justice Marshall in the landmark Supreme Court Case Marbury v. Madison (1803). There have been instances in the past where such declarations have been ignored by the other two branches. Below the U.S. Supreme Court are the United States Courts of Appeals, and below them in turn are the United States District Courts, which are the general trial courts for federal law, and for certain controversies between litigants who are not deemed citizens of the same state ("diversity jurisdiction").
There are three levels of federal courts with general jurisdiction, meaning that these courts handle criminal cases and civil lawsuits between individuals. Other courts, such as the bankruptcy courts and the Tax Court, are specialized courts handling only certain kinds of cases ("subject matter jurisdiction"). The Bankruptcy Courts are "under" the supervision of the district courts, and, as such, are not considered part of the "Article III" judiciary and also as such their judges do not have lifetime tenure, nor are they Constitutionally exempt from diminution of their remuneration. Also the Tax Court is not an Article III court (but is, instead an "Article I Court").
The district courts are the trial courts wherein cases that are considered under the Judicial Code (Title 28, United States Code) consistent with the jurisdictional precepts of "federal question jurisdiction" and "diversity jurisdiction" and "pendent jurisdiction" can be filed and decided. The district courts can also hear cases under "removal jurisdiction", wherein a case brought in State court meets the requirements for diversity jurisdiction, and one party litigant chooses to "remove" the case from state court to federal court.
|40x40px||Wikiversity has learning materials about School:Political science|
|40x40px||Wikiversity has learning materials about Topic:American government|
- USA.gov, the official U.S. Government portal.
- United States Government, a research information guide from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.
- Government Information: Directories and Manuals, web resources provided by GovPubs at the University of Colorado–Boulder Libraries.
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