Civics/Government Basics Presented: September 19, 2019
Douglas V. Gibbs
What is government?
Declaration of Independence: Governments are instituted among men to secure our rights. The Constitution of the United States sets up the framework of our government, determines the distribution of power to the different parts of government, and provides a method for changes to the government, if necessary. The Federal Government consists of three branches; Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. The Legislative Branch is tasked with creating, modifying, and repealing laws. The Executive Branch is tasked with executing the laws, and as the figurehead of the United States while dealing with foreign powers. The Judicial Branch is tasked with applying the black letter of the law to the cases they hear. While it has become common practice for the judiciary to also review laws for validity, be it by determining constitutionality, or if the law is a just law, there are no constitutional authorities allowing the courts to carry out such a task. Judicial Review, as it is called, is technically unconstitutional.
What are rights?
Declaration of Independence: Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. Among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our rights belong to us based on our birth, and it was believed by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution that our rights are “God-given.” The Declaration provides the following characteristics to our rights: We are entitled to them, they are our possession, we are endowed by the Creator with our rights, they are self-evident, and they are unalienable. The Bill of Rights was written as a warning to the federal government to not interfere with our rights. According to the Constitution the government does not exist to guarantee or protect our rights, but to secure our rights in our possession by restraining itself, and others, from interfering with our rights.
How does government work?
In most governmental systems there are three parts. Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. In the United States we have a Federal Government, State Governments, County Governments, and Municipal Governments. Each of them are broken up into those three parts.
· Federal: Legislative – Congress. Executive – President. Judicial – Court System.
· State: Legislative – Assembly and State Senate. Executive – Governor. Judicial – State Courts.
· County: Legislative – County Supervisors. Executive – Sheriff. Judicial – County Courts.
· Municipal: Legislative – City Council. Executive – Mayor and Chief of Police. Judicial – City Attorney and Municipal Courts.
Structure of the legislature.
Most legislatures consist of two houses. This is called a “bicameral congress.” Legislatures work best when there are two houses and the houses are different from each other. In the Roman Empire the Legislature consisted of an Assembly (voice of the common people), and the Senate (voice of the wealthy and powerful). In Britain you have the House of Commons (voice of the commoner), and the House of Lords (voice of the nobles). In the United States, at the founding of our country, the two Houses of Congress were the House of Representatives (voice of the people), and the United States Senate (voice of the States, changed to democratic vote in 1913 with the 17th Amendment). All State legislatures (except Nebraska) are also broken up into two houses. The Assembly (or State House of Representatives) and the State Senate. Prior to 1964 (Reynolds v. Simms) the Assemblies (or State Houses) were the voice of the people, and the State Senate was the voice of the Counties. The State Senate districts, back then, were based on the county lines. In an attempt to turn the United States into a democracy, anti-constitution forces fought to change the system so that the Senate districts are designed to break up the States into equally populated districts, and for the senators to be democratically voted into office. While unconstitutional, today all 50 States follow this model. Prior to Reynolds v. Simms, States like California saw one senator per county. Today, State Senate District 2 (which spans along the Northern California Coast between the Oregon State Line and the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay) consists of seven counties, while Los Angeles County contains fourteen senate districts.
How are laws made?
A bill may be presented by one of the houses. Once it is approved by vote it moves to the other house for approval. If no amendments are made and the vote approves the bill, it then goes to the executive for signature. However, if amendments are made, the bill must return to the other house for approval. The process continues until both houses approve the same exact bill with an agreement on all of the amendments, or the bill dies in the legislature unable to receive enough votes to move forward to the executive. If the executive disagrees with the bill, or believes it to be unjust or outside legality (unconstitutional), he may veto that bill. If vetoed, the bill will either die, or can become law if the legislature has enough votes to override the veto. In the U.S. Congress a two-thirds majority from each house is required to override a veto.
How many members are there in a legislature?
The number varies by State and/or legislature. In the U.S. Congress there are 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives (a State’s number of representatives is based on population), and one hundred members of the Senate (two per State).
What is the Electoral College?
The Electoral College is a unique, American-style, way of electing the President of the country. Electors are chosen to elect the president, and then points are awarded based on a State’s number of representatives in Congress. For example, California has 53 members of the House of Representatives and two members of the U.S. Senate, giving the State 55 Electoral Votes. The Electoral College protects the country from the excesses of democracy, changing the vote from a single popular vote to 51 (50 States plus Washington D.C.) separate and distinct contests. The Electoral College, in the process, reduces the influence heavily populated areas have on the election. Without the Electoral College, the votes from the Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco metropolitan areas would be sufficient to elect the President, and nobody else’s votes would matter. All but two States have a “winner take all” system where all of the electoral votes for the State go to the statewide winner. Nebraska and Maine split up their electoral votes into electoral districts, so it is possible for some of the State’s electoral votes to go to one candidate, and the rest to another. Some States, in an attempt to sabotage the Electoral College, have been proposing legislation that would change the system in their State to all of their electoral votes going to the national popular vote winner.
What is the difference between a Democracy and a Republic?
In a Democracy the laws and rules of society are only determined by democratic vote. In a representative democracy the people vote for representatives to make the laws for them. In a republic the power of the vote is minimized through a series of checks and balances, and any democratic votes are limited. Originally, in the United States, the only federal office democratically voted into power was the House of Representatives. Thomas Jefferson called democracy the “tyranny of the majority where 51% can vote away the rights of the other 49%.” John Adams said that “there was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” James Madison said, “Democracies are short in their lives and violent in their deaths.” The United States was originally established as a republic, and in Article IV. of the U.S. Constitution the document states that the United States shall guarantee to each State a republican form of government.
What powers are different between the two Houses of the U.S. Congress?
At one time the Senators were appointed by the State legislatures. Since 1913 (17th Amendment) the Senators have been democratically voted into office by the populace. Therefore, the two chambers of Congress are essentially equal, save for these differences: Persons nominated by the President of the United States, such as judges, ambassadors, cabinet officers, and other senior primary officers of the U.S. Government must be confirmed by the Senate by a majority vote; Treaties negotiated with foreign countries must be ratified by the Senate with a two-thirds majority vote; in cases of impeachment, the Senate hears the cases with the President of the Senate (Vice President of the United States) carrying out the duties as chief presiding officer, unless the President is being impeached, at which time the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will preside over the hearing. The U.S. House of Representatives alone has the power to establish articles of impeachment, and bills affecting revenue may only originate in the House of Representatives.
Why is government important?
The framers of the U.S. Constitution called government a “necessary evil.” With government, we run the risk of it becoming a tyranny. Without it, we live in chaos with no rules regarding how to live together in a society. As a member of a society with a government, it is our duty to respect the government, obey the laws, and give thoughtful opinions as we participate in the duties of citizenship. With freedom comes responsibility, and that means we must all participate, and work to change the laws or representation in our government should we believe that the laws or representatives are not best for our society. As Americans we agree to do what we can to keep our system of government in good working order, and consistent with the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.
-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary