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American Constitutional Law LAW-210. The Constitution and the Federal Government: An Overview. Unit Objectives. At the completion of this unit, students should be able to: Explain the concept of federalism Describe how the concept of separation of powers relates to the U.S. government

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american constitutional law law 210

American Constitutional LawLAW-210

The Constitution and the Federal Government: An Overview

unit objectives
Unit Objectives
  • At the completion of this unit, students should be able to:
    • Explain the concept of federalism
    • Describe how the concept of separation of powers relates to the U.S. government
    • List the provisions of Article I of the U.S. Constitution related to the organization of the U.S. Congress
    • Describe the qualifications and election process for membership in the U.S. Congress
    • List the provisions of Article II of the U.S. Constitution related to the executive branch of government
unit objectives continued
Unit Objectives(Continued)
  • Describe the qualifications for the presidency.
  • Summarize the provisions of Article III related to the federal judiciary
  • Explain the importance of the Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Describe the structure of the federal court system as it exists today
  • Explain the role of each court within the federal ourt system
  • The framers of the Constitution formed a government based on federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances.
federalism continued
  • Definition: A system of political organization with several different levels of government (e.g., city, state, and national) coexisting in the same area, with the lower levels having some independent powers.
  • The powers of each level are either express or implied, and are either concurrent or exclusive:
    • Concurrent – “Running together”; having the same authority; at the same time. For example, courts have concurrent jurisdiction when each one has the power to deal with the same case; concurrent sentences are prison terms that run at the same time; and federal and state governments have concurrent power to govern in many areas.
    • Exclusive – Shutting out all others; sole; one only. For example, if a court has exclusive jurisdiction over a subject, no other court in the area can decide a lawsuit on that subject.
federalism continued1
  • The concept of federalism means that citizens of the United States are subject to both federal and state governments.
  • Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has specific powers. All other powers belong to the states.
    • Example: Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452 (1991)
gregory v ashcroft 501 u s 452 1991
Gregory v. Ashcroft501 U.S. 452 (1991)
  • Casenotes
  • Issue: Federalism
  • Decision:
    • A state has the right to set a minimum retirement age for judges because the federal employment law does not include state employees on a “policy-making level.”
    • Through the character of those who exercise government authority, a state defines itself as a sovereign.
separation of powers and checks and balances
Separation of Powers andChecks and Balances
  • Separation of Powers:
    • The division of the federal government (and state governments) into legislative (lawmaking), judicial (law-interpreting), and executive (law-carrying-on) branches.
    • Each branch acts to prevent the others from becoming too powerful.
  • Checks and Balances:
    • A restraint.
clinton v city of new york 524 u s 417 1998
Clinton v. City of New York524 U.S. 417 (1998)
  • Casenotes
  • Issue: Separation of Powers
  • Decision:
    • The right of the President to exercise a line-item veto interferes with the constitutionally established legislative process.
separation of powers and checks and balances1
Separation of Powers andChecks and Balances
  • The Constitution created a national government consisting of three separate branches: the legislative, the judiciary, and the executive; each branch has separate powers that serve as a check on the power of the other branches.
the lawmaking power checks and balances
The Lawmaking PowerChecks and Balances
  • Legislature makes the laws.
    • President (executive) can veto laws.
    • Courts (judicial) can declare laws unconstitutional.
  • President can veto laws.
    • Legislature (Congress) can override veto.
  • Courts can declare laws unconstitutional.
    • Legislature (Congress) can amend or change the law to make it constitutional.
    • Legislature (Congress) can introduce a constitutional amendment.
    • Presdident (executive) appoints judges subject to Senate approval.
u s term limits inc v thornton 514 u s 779 1952
U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton514 U.S. 779 (1952)
  • Casenotes
  • Issue: Legislative Qualifications (Art. I)
  • Decision:
    • Article I of the Constitution establishes qualifications for U.S. legislators which cannot be changed by state law.
    • Thus, a state law imposing term limits was unconstitutional.
the legislative process
The Legislative Process
  • Any member of Congress can initiate a bill, or proposed law.
  • A bill is debated in a committee in the house where it was introduced.
  • It then goes to the full house for a vote.
  • If it passes both houses this way, it goes to the President for his signature.
  • A President’s signature turns a bill into law.
  • If the President does not sign the bill (veto), Congress can override the veto by passing the bill again, with a two-thirds margin.

If vetoed, it goes back to the Congress, where it must pass both houses by a 2/3 majority.

Once both houses pass the compromise bill, it is sent to the President to be signed.

If signed, the bill becomes law


House ofRepresentatives


Conference Committee

If it passes there, it goes to the other house (House to Senate or Senate to House).

It is assigned to a committee and the process repeats.

If the second House of Congress made any changes, or amendments, to the bill, it must go to a Conference Committee, made up of members of both houses. Here, they work out compromises between the two different versions of the bill. The compromise bill then goes back to both houses for a final vote.

Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs

Education and Labor

Foreign Relations

After it passes committee, the bill goes to the full body of that house for a vote.


Judiciary Committee


Armed Services

A bill, or proposed law, is introduced in the House of Representatives or the Senate and then assigned to a committee for discussion and voting.

Aeronautical and Space Sciences

Armed Services

Judiciary Committee

Ways and Means

Major House Committees

Major Senate Committees

How New Laws Are Made

powers of congress
Powers of Congress
  • To make laws
    • Necessary and Proper Clause
      • U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, Clause 9 – gives Congress the power to pass all laws appropriate to carry out its functions
  • To approve Presidential appointments including federal judges, cabinet members and ambassadors
  • To impeach the President, Vice President, and other national officers, including judges
      • The first step in removal from public office – drawing up articles of impeachment, voting on them, and presenting them to the Senate
executive power
Executive Power
  • Article II defines the powers and responsibilities of the President -- in general the President has responsibility for enforcing the nation’s laws.
    • Appointment -- The President nominates federal judges (including Supreme Court Justices) and heads of most administrative agencies.
    • Legislation -- The President and his advisors can propose bills to Congress, and the President can veto bills from Congress.
    • Foreign Policy -- The President coordinates international efforts, negotiates treaties and is the Commander in Chief of the military, but he may not declare war.
    • Pardons – The President can grant pardons.
youngstown sheet tube v sawyer 343 u s 579 1952
Youngstown Sheet & Tube v. Sawyer343 U.S. 579 (1952)
  • Casenotes
  • Issue: Separation of Powers
  • Decision:
    • Presidential powers are not unlimited
    • The President did not have the inherent power to seize and operate the nation’s steel mills during a strike by steel mill employees – this power belonged to Congress.
the president
The President
  • Under Article II, must be:
    • A natural-born citizen, and
    • At least 35 years old
  • Not directly elected by popular vote, but by an electoral college (number of electors set by Amends. XII and XXIII)
  • Under Amend. XXII, can be elected to only two four-year terms.
judicial power
Judicial Power
  • Article III creates the Supreme Courtand permits Congress to create lower (“inferior”) federal courts.
  • The Judiciary Act of 1789 created a court system consisting of two types of inferior courts:
    • District Courts
    • Circuit Courts
  • Federal courts have two key functions: adjudication and judicial review.
    • Adjudication -- Federal courts hear civil and criminal cases within their jurisdiction.
    • Judicial Review -- Federal courts can declare a statute or governmental action unconstitutional.
constitutional vs legislative courts
Constitutional vs. Legislative Courts
  • Constitutional Courts:
    • Courts created pursuant to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Legislative Courts:
    • Courts that have been set up by legislatures (Congress, state legislatures, etc.) rather than those set up originally by the U.S. Constitution or by state constitutions.
the united states federal courts
The United States Federal Courts

United States Supreme


U.S. Court

Of Appeals

(12 Circuits)

U.S. Court of Appeals for the

Federal Circuit

Appellate Courts

U.S. District


(94 Districts)




U.S. Court of



U.S. Court of



Trial Courts







Federal Courts and Other Entities Outside the

Judicial Branch

Court of Veterans


Military Courts

(Trial and