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The U.S. System of Government. American Legal System Elective CELOP/Boston University Fall 2011 Joseph Pettigrew. The U.S. System of Government. The Constitution Three Branches of Government Checks and Balances Political Parties How a President is Elected

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The u s system of government

The U.S. System of Government

American Legal System Elective

CELOP/Boston University

Fall 2011

Joseph Pettigrew

The u s system of government1

The U.S. System of Government

The Constitution

Three Branches of Government

Checks and Balances

Political Parties

How a President is Elected

A Few Current Issues in American Politics

The u s constitution

The U.S. Constitution

Establishes basic system of government

Adopted in1787

Oldest constitution still in use

Can be amended

Has been 27 times

1st 10 amendments – “Bill of Rights”

The u s constitution1

The U.S. Constitution

Bill of Rights (1791)

1st – Freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly

2nd – Right to bear arms (guns)

6th – Trial by jury


13th – Abolished slavery (1865)

19th – Right to vote for women (1920)

The u s constitution2

The U.S. Constitution

The Federal Government

Executive (President)

Legislative (Congress)

Judicial (Supreme Court)

Executive branch

Executive Branch

President – Barack Obama

Elected for 4-year term

May be reelected once

At least 35 years old

Born in the U.S.

Elected by majority vote of Electoral College (not popular vote)

Executive branch1

Executive Branch

Vice-President – Joseph Biden

Elected with president

Vote for president is vote for VP

Not from same state as president

Presides over US Senate, breaks a tie vote

9 VPs have become president on death or resignation of president

Executive branch2

Executive Branch

Succession on death, resignation, or impeachment of president

Vice President

Speaker of the House of Representatives

President Pro Tempore of Senate

Secretary of State

Other cabinet members

Executive branch3

Executive Branch

Cabinet – Departments (Ministries), e.g.,

Department of State = Foreign Affairs

Department of Defense

Department of Treasury

Department of Transportation

Department of Justice

Executive branch4

Executive Branch

Head of Cabinet Department – Secretary

Secretary of State (Hilary Clinton)

Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta)

Exception – Justice Department

Attorney General (Eric Holder)

Legislative branch

Legislative Branch




Headed by Vice President (mostly ceremonial except in close votes)

Usually President Pro Tempore (a senator)

Legislative branch1

Legislative Branch


House of Representatives

Representative, Congressman,


Headed by

Speaker (John Boehner)

Leader of majority party (Republican)

Legislative branch2

Legislative Branch


Two from each state

Elected by entire population of the state

6-year term

May be reelected

1/3 elected every two years

Legislative branch3

Legislative Branch


“Upper Chamber” or “Upper House”

Equal in power to “Lower Chamber”

Confirm/reject president’s choice for Supreme Court

Ratify treaties

Legislative branch4

Legislative Branch


Number according to population of state

Census every 10 years

Elected by district

2-year term

May be reelected

All up for reelection every 2 years

Legislative branch5

Legislative Branch

Representatives – total 435

Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska – 1

Massachusetts – 10 ( 9)

New York – 29

Texas – 32

California – 53

Legislative branch6

Legislative Branch

House & Senate

Compromise by “founders”

Protects small states from being overwhelmed by large states

Legislative branch7

Legislative Branch

Duties of the Congress

Creates laws

Confirms president’s choices for cabinet

Investigates possible wrongdoing by Executive branch

Can impeach president for “high crimes and misdemeanors”

Bill to law

Bill to Law

Identical versions of a bill must pass both House & Senate

If differences – joint conference committee agrees on single version

Goes back to House & Senate for final passage

Bill to law1

Bill to Law

Goes to President, who can

Sign bill for it to become law

Veto (reject)

Goes back to Congress

2/3 vote in both houses will “override” veto

Bill becomes law without signature

Not sign, allow bill to become law after 10 days

Judicial branch

Judicial Branch

Supreme Court

Nine members, called Justices

Nominated by president

Confirmed by Senate (majority vote)

Life term

Only removed by impeachment

Judicial branch1

Judicial Branch

Duties of Supreme Court

Final court of appeal

Can decide to hear or not hear any case

Can determine “constitutionality” of any law

Law found to be


is voided

Judicial branch2

Judicial Branch

Famous Supreme Court Cases

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Integrated public schools

Miranda Ruling (1966)

Suspects arrested by police must be told their rights (e.g., “the right to remain silent”)

Judicial branch3

Judicial Branch

Famous Supreme Court Cases

Roe v. Wade (1973)

Legalized abortion

Bush v. Gore (2000)

Ended vote counting in Florida after 2000 election

Gave presidency to G. Bush

Judicial branch4

Judicial Branch

Recent appointments (Obama)

Sonia Sotomayor

Was judge on US Court of Appeals for Second Circuit

1st Hispanic

3rd woman on court

Judicial branch5

Judicial Branch

Recent appointments (Obama)

Elena Kagan

Was dean of Harvard Law School

Solicitor General

4th woman on court

Checks balances

Checks & Balances

Check = limit

Each branch has some control over the other two

To prevent one from becoming too powerful

Checks balances1

Checks & Balances

Congress controls legislation

President can veto a bill

Congress can override it by 2/3 vote

Checks balances2

Checks & Balances

President chooses Supreme Court Justices

Must be approved by Senate

Justices have lifetime appointments

Checks balances3

Checks & Balances

Supreme Court can decide a law passed by Legislative Branch or an action by the Executive Branch is “unconstitutional”

Invalidates the law

Political parties

Political Parties

  • Not specifically mentioned in Constitution

  • Republicans

  • Democrats

  • Greens, Socialists, Communists, …

Republican party gop

George Bush Sr/Jr,

John McCain,

Ronald Reagan

Limited government

Low taxes


Strong military

Traditional on social issues

Traditional support

Business community

Conservative protestants

Voters in suburbs & rural areas

Republican Party (GOP)

Democratic party

Barack Obama,

Bill & Hilary Clinton,

Al Gore, Ted Kennedy

Government is a force for good

Economic fairness

Social justice for minorities

Progressive on social issues

Traditional support

Labor unions


Liberal Christians


Voters in cities

Democratic Party

Presidential election
Presidential Election

  • Every 4 years (next 2012)

  • The 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November

  • System of primaries within the two major parties

  • Winner of primaries is party’s candidate

  • The winner is determined by the Electoral College – notthe popular vote

Presidential election1
Presidential Election


  • Republicans vs. Republicans

  • Democrats vs. Democrats

  • Winners face each other in general election

Presidential election2
Presidential Election

2008 Democratic Primary

Obama vs. Clinton

Electoral college
Electoral College

  • Each state has a number of electoral votes

  • Equal to number of representatives it sends to US Congress

    • (# of House seats + 2 Senate seats)

    • Minimum: 3

Electoral votes in 2008
Electoral Votes in 2008

2 senators + # of representatives:

  • Vermont = 3

  • Massachusetts = 12

  • Florida = 27

  • Texas = 34

  • California = 55

Electoral college1
Electoral College

  • “Winner Take All” system

  • The candidate who wins the most votes in a state wins all of that state’s electoral votes

  • Total votes = 538 (3 votes for DC)

  • Number needed to win = 270

Red blue states
Red & Blue States

  • Comes from maps used on television on election night

  • Red = state won by Republican

    (Bush 2000 & 2004, McCain 2008)

  • Blue = state won by Democrat

    (Gore 2000, Kerry 2004, Obama 2008)

Red blue states1
Red & Blue States

Usually Red (Republican):

  • The South (Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, etc.)

  • The West, except for the west coast (Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho)

Red blue states2
Red & Blue States

Usually Blue (Democratic):

  • The Northeast (Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island)

  • The Upper Midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois)

  • The West Coast (California, Oregon, Washington State)

Swing states
Swing States

Can go Republican one election and Democratic the next, e.g.:

  • Pennsylvania

  • Ohio

  • Florida

  • Missouri

    Result: time, money, & advertising concentrated in swing states

Results of 2000 election
Results of 2000 Election

Bush: 50,456,002


271 electoral votes



266 electoral votes

Nader: 2,882,955


0 electoral votes

Results of 2004 election
Results of 2004 Election

Bush: 62,028,285 total votes


286 electoral votes

Kerry: 59,028,109 total votes


251 electoral votes

Other maps 2004
Other Maps 2004

By county:Republican / Democrat

Other maps 20041
Other Maps 2004

% Republican / Democrat

Other maps 20042
Other Maps 2004

Size = number of electoral votes

2008 election
2008 Election

Barack Obama & John McCain

Barack obama
Barack Obama

  • Born 1961 in Hawaii

  • Mother from Kansas

  • Father born in Kenya

  • Parents met at Univ. of Hawaii

  • Divorced; father eventually returned to Kenya; died 1982

  • Mother died 1995

Barack obama1
Barack Obama

  • Spent time in Indonesia as a child

  • Raised mostly by grandparents

  • Community organizer in Chicago

  • Graduated Harvard Law School

  • Senator from Illinois 2004 - 2008

John mccain
John McCain

  • Born 1936 in US Canal Zone (now Panama)

  • Father US navy officer

  • Graduated from US Naval Academy

  • US Navy pilot during Vietnam War

  • Shot down, taken prisoner

John mccain1

  • Spent 5½ years in prisoner of war camp

  • US senator from Arizona since 1986

  • Ran against Bush in 2000 for nomination

  • Considered a “maverick” by some Republicans

2008 election1
2008 Election

McCain: 58,3434,671 total votes


173 electoral votes

Obama: 66,882,230 total votes


365 electoral votes

2004 2008 elections
2004 & 2008 Elections

Blue = Democrat Red =Republican

2004 2008

2010 congressional election
2010 Congressional Election

  • Republicans gained control of House; Democrats barely held on to Senate

 193 Democrats

  242 Republicans (+ 63)

  51 Democrats + 2 Independents

  47 Republicans (+ 6)

2012 presidential race battleground states
2012 Presidential RaceBattleground States

Political social trends
Political & Social Trends

  • By 2050 “majority minority” population

  • Younger voters more liberal on social issues

Current hot issues
Current “Hot” Issues

  • Same-sex marriage

    • Several states have allowed it; several others have banned it

    • Republican “base” strongly against

    • Less divisive for younger voters

Current hot issues1
Current “Hot” Issues

  • Health care

    • 2010 Democratic-controlled Congress passed new health care law

    • Requires all to purchase health insurance

    • Republicans opposed to “socialized medicine”

Current hot issues2
Current “Hot” Issues

  • The Economy

    • How to deal with recession

    • How much to regulate business

    • Growing deficit

    • Raising the debt limit

Current hot issues3
Current “Hot” Issues

  • Immigration

    • Over 33 million legal & illegal immigrants in US

    • How many more to allow in

    • How to deal with illegal immigrants