The U.S. Constitution


Article Five, clause two of the United States Constitution 
states, "under the Authority of the United States, [the Constitution] 
shall be the supreme law of the land." As a result of the fact that 
the current activist government is pursuing inconsistent policies, 
many believe the Constitution has become irrelevant because no guiding 
principles seem to exist. Thomas Jefferson once said, "The
Constitution belongs to the living and not to the dead." Accordingly, 
it is often referred to as a "living" document because of its regular 
alteration and reexamination; therefore, the Constitution has not 
become irrelevant in defining the goals of American government. This 
will be shown by examining how the Constitution ensures and upholds 
American ideas of rights, defines governmental structures, allows for 
an increase in governmental growth, and permits the Supreme Court to 
shape and define public policy through Constitutional
 Through years of research on court cases, political scientists 
are in agreement that most people favor rights in theory, but their 
support diminishes when the time to put the rights into practice 
arrives. For example, a strong percentage of Americans concur with 
the idea of free speech throughout the United States, but when a court 
case such as Texas vs. Johnson (1989) arises, most backing shifts away 
from complete freedom of speech. In the case, a Texan named Gregory 
Johnson set fire to an American flag during the 1984 Republican
National Convention in Dallas in order to protest nuclear arms 
buildup; the decision was awarded to Johnson in the midst of stern 
opposition (Beth 68). 
 Lockean philosophy concerning the natural rights of man also 
serves amajor role in an American's idea of rights. Many citizens 
feels that it is the task of the state to preserve such birthrights as 
life, liberty, and property. The juristic theory of rights deals with 
the hypothesis that a man's natural rights only amounted to the 
quantity of power he can exercise over any other man. A more general 
and logical definition of a right is a claim upheld by the law, in 
which case the Bill of Rights becomes important (Benn 195).
 Although the Constitution originally did not contain the Bill 
of Rights, the states threatened to delay ratification until the 
amendments were made. The main purpose of implementing the first ten 
amendments to the United States Constitution, was to safeguard 
fundamental individual rights against seizure by the federal 
government and prohibit interference with existing rights. The
Revolutionary War with Britain was still quite clear in the American 
mind during the writing of the Constitution, so the Bill of Rights had 
full support of the public because it protected citizens against 
everything which had angered the colonists about the British (Holder 
 The Constitution is extremely ambiguous concerning individual 
rights and personal freedoms of man. It does, however, prohibit the 
passage of ex post facto laws, which punish people for an act they 
committed before such an act was illegal, disallow bills of attainder, 
which punish offenders without a trial, and prevent suspension of the 
writ of habeas corpus, which requires a detained man to be notified of 
the offense he committed (Gilbert 331). The Constitution also 
prohibits religious qualifications for seeking and holding a 
governmental office, and it secures the right of a trial by jury of 
peers in a criminal case (Gilbert 336). 
 Articles One, Two, and Three of the United States Constitution 
define the three structures of the national government, and include 
each branch's composition and function. 
 Article One deals with the Congress, the legislative structure 
of the federal government. It is the Congress, rather than the 
President, who is bestowed by the Constitution with the lawmaking 
duty. The legislative branch contains two Houses, one being the 
Senate, which is based upon equal representation of the states, and 
the other being the House of Representatives, which is based upon 
state population. The Framers envisioned Congress as the most 
important and most powerful branch of government, although today much 
of the significant legislation is initiated by the President and the 
executive department (Holder 20). 
 In order to be a Representative, one must be twenty-five years 
of age or older, a United States citizen for at least seven years, and 
reside in the state from which he is elected (Holder 21). On the 
other hand, Senators must have attained the age of thirty years, be a 
citizen for at least nine years, and also reside in the state from 
which he is elected. While Representatives serve two year terms,
Senators serve six year terms (Holder 23). 
 The powers belonging to Congress can be classified as either 
economic or military. Economic powers include the authority to levy 
taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, coin money, and establish 
bankruptcy laws (Holder 28). Certain military powers involve declaring 
war, raising and supporting armies, regulating and maintaining navies, 
and supplying militias (Holder 29). Article One also contains, in 
section eight, clause 18, and elastic clause which allows Congress
to "make all laws which shall be necessary and proper..."
 The Constitution also elaborates upon certain acts to which it 
is prohibited. Such acts include no Bill of Attainder or ex post 
facto laws, no suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus, other 
individual rights that man possesses (Holder 32).
 Article Two discusses the executive branch of the government- 
specifically the President of the United States- and specifies his 
powers, duties, responsibilities, and requirements for office (Holder 
35). The President is the Commander in Chief of the United States 
Army and Navy; he has the power to make treaties and fill vacancies 
during a recess of the Senate (Holder 37). He is required to give a 
"state of the union" address each year in order inform Congress
of the present condition of the United States as a whole (Holder 38). 
In order to hold the office of the Presidency, one must be a natural 
born citizen of the United States, over the age of thirty-five, and a 
resident of the United States for fourteen years. The case of his 
removal from office, the powers of the President are handed over to 
the Vice- President and he shall complete the President's term in 
office (Holder 36).
 Article Three deals with the third branch of government- the 
judicial branch. This Article lays the foundation for a Supreme Court 
of the United States, but all lower courts and federal courts, 
including the Supreme Court, is under the jurisdiction of Congress. 
The organization of the federal court system established by Congress 
is hierarchical. The highest court, the Supreme Court, is located in
Washington D.C. and consists of nine justices, there are eleven 
Circuit Courts of Appeals distributed throughout the country, and 
approximately ninety federal District Courts (Holder 40). 
 Judicial power extends to all cases in which law and equity 
arise under the Constitution (Holder 42). The Supreme Court consists 
of eight associate justices and the chief justice, all appointed by 
the president with the consent of the Senate. Members of the Court are 
appointed for life terms and can be removed only by resignation or 
impeachment (Holder 44). 
 Over time, the United States Government has grown steadily in 
size and complexity, and it is continuing such growth daily. In 
recent years, such growth in the state and local levels has led to an 
increased interest in implementation activities- those activities and 
tasks undertaken after a law is passed (Ripley 24). Graphical trends 
show that government spending, employment, and spending as a 
percentage of the Gross National Product have increased at a healthy 
pace since the beginning of our nation's existence, and such trends 
are predicted to continue their rise well into the twenty-first 
century (Ripley 25). Implementation of programs on the federal level 
are rarely directed straight from the national government in 
Washington, D.C. Most require a combination of federal field offices, 
state governments, local governments, and local nongovernmental 
actors. Such actors, through providing services to beneficiaries, have 
become important implementers. For example, many programs created to 
compensate the unemployed are implemented by a network of groups 
including the United States Employment Service, fifty separate state 
employed security agencies, and countless local offices as a result of 
those fifty state agencies. Other employment agencies include the 
national office of the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of 
the United States Department of Labor, ten regional ETA offices, fifty 
state offices, and between five hundred and six hundred local service
delivery areas. As shown, one governmental program can easily 
encompass numerous agencies and office space, and with such programs 
arising daily, this translates into rapid governmental expansion 
(Ripley 26). 
 Due to the fact that programs, whose numbers have grown 
significantly in recent years, need bureaucrats in order to be 
implemented, America's bureaucracy has increased in the same manner as 
its programs have. Two main factors have contributed to the growth of 
bureaucracy in government. First, specific external trends and events 
such as violence and economic difficulties cause complex growth 
because of the programs that are necessary to halt such problems. 
Second, a bureaucrat working for a specific agency has a natural 
tendency to improve the importance of his agency's work; thus, his 
efforts result in expanded bureaucracy (Ripley 43). Although some 
political scientists argue that a growing government will limit 
freedom of the people, many believe that government's increased role 
in the lives of Americans serves to protect civil liberties and civil 
 Throughout United States history the Supreme Court has been 
called upon to interpret the Constitution in one or two possible ways. 
 First, a "strict constitution" of national law, which upholds the 
belief that the states are vested with ultimate governmental 
authority, while the federal government should only have secondary 
authority. Second, a less strict, more federalist position, which
maintains that the Constitution, due to a broad interpretation, hints 
toward implied powers in the central government. The second view was 
especially prominent from 1801 to 1835, under chief justice John 
Marshall (Armstrong and Woodward 210).
 Under Marshall, the case of Marbury vs. Madison (1803) 
involved a contested appointment by the predecessor of then Secretary 
of State James Madison. The Court held that an act of Congress in 
conflict with the Constitution was void and that the Supreme Court 
possessed the power to declare if such a conflict existed. This 
decision set the precedent for what is known today as judicial review, 
and provides the Court with a means of checking the legislature
(Armstrong and Woodward 214).
 It is a common belief that no body of doctrine, such as the 
Constitution, is ever fully developed at the time of its completion. 
With an ever changing society, it is apparent that the Constitution 
must transform along with society through interpretations of 
provisions to the original text. This distinction is put in the hands 
of the Supreme Court justices who are forced to confront 
circumstantial changes and new situations of modern times quite 
frequently. They are expected to reshape the doctrine in compliance 
with the original ideas of the Constitution, or "the intentions of the 
Framers", to ensure that new provisions do not deprive man of the 
right to govern himself (Bork 513).
 Since the birth of the United States, Americans have formed an 
unbreakable habit of evolving economic, political, philosophical, and 
social questions into lawsuits. It is because of this habit that the 
Supreme Court is often the eventual resting place for a societal issue 
(Brennan 517). Such situations are prime examples of how the 
Constitution displays qualities of a "living" document. Despite the 
fact that the original text is over two hundred years old, the 
document, through the interpretation of the Supreme Court, is still 
able to consistently shape public policy at will.
 Although people argue that the Constitution is irrelevant 
today because it doesn't properly define the goals of American 
government, the Constitution has not become irrelevant, and it is 
still the driving force behind our government. American's idea of 
rights are shaped daily by the Bill of Rights and the acts that
Congress is prohibited to amend. Through the use of Lockean 
philosophy concerning the nature of man, the Constitutional rights 
will always pertain to the needs of society, despite the fact that 
such thought is nearly three hundred years old. The Constitution also 
regulates the powers of each governmental structure by allowing a 
system of checks and balances to emerge. The continuing growth of
government in recent years causes more legislation, but ultimately 
preserves civil right and liberties through such growth. The Supreme 
Court is able to mold public policy with every decision it hands down 
on every case it oversees. The relevancy of the Constitution is quite 
clear in the everyday lives of each American, and it establishes 
itself as the "supreme law of the land" on a regular basis.


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