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The Federal System of Government

Info: 3760 words (15 pages) Essay
Published: 26th Aug 2021

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): US Law


A federal system of government is one that divides the powers of government between the national (federal) government and state and local governments. The Constitution of the United States established the federal system, also known as federalism. Under federalism, each level of government has sovereignty in some areas and shares powers in other areas. For example: both the federal and state governments have the power to tax. Only the federal government can declare war.

What is a federal system government?

Federalism and the federal system define the basic structure of American government. There were many disagreements at the Constitutional Convention. Many delegates feared a national government that was too strong and many delegates feared that states’ rights would merely continue the weak form of government under the Articles. The Constitution created a federal system of government (federalism) as a compromise. Under federalism, power is shared and divided between national and state governments. Both levels have their own agencies and officials and directly affect the people. The Founding Fathers really had no other choice except federalism. The weak union created under the Articles would not work yet people did not want to give all the power to a national government. Federalism was the middle ground–compromise–a way to distribute authority between the states and the national government

What are the advantages of a federal system of government?

The powers are limited.

I learnt that the “individual” was the top-most focus of the American society. Every policy devised at the official level would firstly think how it would benefit or affect the individual living inside the American state. In our society, there is greater emphasis on family, society and the country but a lot of attention in the US is paid to individual liberty. The state tries to ensure all forms of liberty for the individual. This includes the freedom of religion. Every individual is free to practice whatever religion he or she prefers. However, there is no state religion in the US. The government does not have a religion or does it pursue any policy, including the foreign policy, on the basis of religion. There are no religious parties in the US.

Another important area of individual liberty enshrined in the US Constitution is the freedom of speech and cultural expression. While everyone is allowed to independently articulate their views, people are expected to refrain from making hate speeches.

There is also freedom of information. The government of the United States cannot put any curbs on the media. Interestingly, there is no Ministry of Information in the United States. The media is largely independent and free from official control. All media outlets are under private ownership which keeps ascertaining public opinion about their interest in different issues through opinion polls and surveys. The US media rarely discusses the country’s foreign policy. A lot of attention is paid to domestic issues by the media because not many people in the US take a keen interest in foreign affairs. Newspapers and TV channels keep the interest of their readers and viewers supreme and they avoid printing and broadcasting such material which fails to attract public attention.

The government structure in the US is not centralized. The country is divided into independent federal, state and local governments. There are fifty states in the US but all of them have different constitutions, separate laws and state flags. Several laws, including those pertaining to death penalty, gay and lesbian marriages or age of eligibility to use alcoholic drinks, differ from one state to the other. For example, death penalty is legal in New York but it is illegal in Florida. In the same way, punishment for one offense could also be different from one state to the next state.

Unlike Pakistan, the President of the United States does not appoint the governors of American states nor does he influence them. They are elected by the voters inside the states and enjoy full independence in terms of pursing state policies. The states in the US are so much powerful that they can even negotiate international trade deals with other countries provided that they do not clash with the interests of the US federation.

The American states are empowered to impose taxes on the citizens. Mr. Elias informed us that 90% of state budget in the US comes from public taxes while the government accounts for only 10% of the budget.

Another classic example of decentralized American federal system are the local governments. The local governments are also autonomous and powerful to impose taxes. The county police chief is elected. He is so powerful that even the President of the US cannot pressurize him. Thus, he is expected to perform well if he is interested to seek a new term for the same office. There is no national education policy in the US. Every county and state has its own education policy. Every county is divided into a school district. The federal government’s contribution to the total education budget of the states is barely 6% while the remaining budget is paid by the states themselves.

The US federal government has four mandates which can not be take away from it under the US constitution.

  1. Defense
  2. Foreign Policy
  3. Management of dollar
  4. Inter-state commerce

The US has a bicameral presidential system comprising of the House of Representatives, the lower house with 435 members, and the US Senate, the upper house with 100 seats. Presently, the Democratic Party of President Barrack Obama has 255 seats in the lower house while the Republicans have 178 seats. Two other seats are currently vacant. Representation in the House of Representatives is given to the states on the basis of population. At the moment, California, the most populated state of the US, has 53 seats. The Senate provides equal representation to all states.

Courts of the United States

“Court of the United Sates” includes the Supreme Court of the United States, courts of appeals, district courts, Court of International Trade, and any court created by Act of Congress the judges of which are entitled to hole Office during good behavior. 28 U.S.C.A. ~ 451. Also, the senate sitting as a court of impeachment.

Supreme court

An appellate court existing in most of the states. In the federal court system, and in most states, it is the highest appellate court or court of last resort. In others (such as New York) the supreme court is a court of general original jurisdiction, possessing also (in New York) some appellate jurisdiction, but not the court of last resort.

Supreme court of errors. Formerly, the court of last resort in Connecticut, now called “Supreme Court”.

The “Judicial power of the United States”, whatever it may be, is vested in the Supreme Court and in such other courts as Congress may establish. But the composition of the Court, including the number of its members, is left for congressional decision; and, while federal judges cannot be removed except by impeachment, there is nothing to prevent Congress from creating additional judgeships whenever it chooses. Furthermore, although the judicial power “extends” to a variety of cases described in Article III, section 2, the second paragraph of that section significantly qualifies what the first seems to have granted, and gives Congress power to control the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction over appeals from lower courts.

By the way its famous section 25 gave the Supreme Court power to reverse or affirm state court decisions which had denied claims based on the federal Constitution, treaties or laws. This meant that such cases could be reached by the Supreme Court through its appellate jurisdiction.

But suppose a state court had denied such a claim under the federal Constitution and the Supreme Court of the United States reversed on the ground that the state court’s interpretation of the Constitution was in error. And suppose further that the state court obstinately continued to insist upon its own interpretation. Was there anything in the Constitution to guarantee that the Supreme Court’s opinion would prevail, that the Supreme Court’s authority was superior to state courts? Or suppose, to carry the matter a step further, that the state court had a federal law invalid as conflicting with the national Constitution and the Supreme Court agreed with this holding, thus asserting its authority to overthrow an act of Congress. Does the Constitution make it clear that the Court has his final authority of “judicial review” over national legislative enactments?

The answer to both questions is a fairly solid “no”. As for state decisions it has been argued that the “supreme law of the land” clause and the clause extending the judicial power to cases arising under the Constitution do make it clear that the Supreme Court was intended to be preeminent on questions of constitutional interpretation. If the Constitution is supreme and the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the Constitution, then it follows that the court’s word on such matters is paramount over all others.

The fact that the Constitution is supreme does not settle the question of who decides what the Constitution means and as for judicial review of congressional acts, the support in the language of the Constitution was even more suppositious. Arguments for the authority derived solely from that language seem inevitably to beg the question.

Supreme Court of the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court comprises the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. Under that authority, and by virtue of the act of June 25, 1948 ( 62 Stat. 869; 28 U.S.C.A. 1), the number of Associate Justices is eight. Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article III, section 1, of the Constitution further provides that “the Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office” (unless appointed during a Senate recess). The term “good behavior” is well understood to mean justices may serve for the remainder of their lives, although they can voluntarily resign or retire.

Supreme Judicial Court. Highest appellate court in Maine and Massachusetts.

Courts of Appeals, U.S.

Intermediate appellate courts created by Congress in 1891 and known until 1948 as United States Circuit Courts of Appeals, sitting in eleven numbered circuits, the District of Columbia, and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Normally cases are heard by divisions of three judges sitting together, but on certain matters all the judges of a circuit may hear a case. Courts of Appeals have appellate jurisdiction over most cases decided by United States District Courts and review and enforce orders of many federal administrative bodies. The decisions of the courts of appeals are final except as they are subject to discretionary review on appeal by the Supreme Court.

Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Federal court, established in 1982, with appellate jurisdiction over actions arising under the laws relating to patents, plant variety protection, copyrights, trademarks, contract and property claims against the United States, appeals from the United States Claims Court, Patent and Trademark Office, the United States Court of International Trade, the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Court of Veterans Appeals. As well as appeals under the Plant Variety Protection Act, the Contract Disputes Act, decisions by the United States International Trade Commission relating to unfair import practices, and decisions by the Secretary of Commerce relating to import tariffs 28 U.S.C.A. ~ 1295.

District courts.

Each state is comprised of one or more federal judicial districts, and in each district there is a district court. 28 USCA ~ et seq. The United States district courts are the trial courts with general Federal jurisdiction over cases involving federal laws or offenses and actions between citizens of different states. Each state has at least one district court, though many have several judicial districts (e.g. northern, southern, middle districts) or divisions. There is also a United States district court in the District of Columbia. (A territory situated on the Potomac river, and being the seat of government of the United States. Legally it is neither a state nor a territory, but is made subject, by the Constitution, to the exclusive jurisdiction of congress. )

In addition, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has a United States district court with jurisdiction corresponding to that of district court in the various States. Only one judge is usually required to hear and decide a case in a district court, but in some kinds of cases it is required that three judges be called together to comprise the court (28 USCA ~2284). In districts with more than one judge, the judge senior in commission who has not reached his seventieth birthday acts as the chief judge.

Also, name for interior state courts of record having general jurisdiction.

District judge. The judge of a United State district court; also, in some states, the judge of a district court of the state.

District parishes. Ecclesiastical divisions of parishes in England, for all purposes of worshop, and for the celebration of marriages, christenings, churchings, and burials, formed at the instance of the queen’s commissioners for bulding new churches.

Court of International Trade.

This federal court was originally established as the Board of United States General Appraisers in 1890, and in turn was superseded by the United States Customs Court in 1926.

In 1956 the Customs Court was established as an Article III court. The Customs Court Act of 1980 constituted the court as the United States Court of International Trade and revised its jurisdiction. As so reconstituted, the court has jurisdiction over any civil action against the United States arising from federal laws governing import transactions and also jurisdiction to review determinations as to the eligibility of workers, firms and communities for adjustment assistance under the Trade Act of 1974. Civil actions commenced by the United States to recover customs duties, to recover on a customs bond, of for certain civil penalties alleging fraud of negligence are also within its exclusive jurisdiction.

The court is composed of a chief judge and eight judges, not more than five of whom may belong to any one political party.

The 14th amendment

The due process clause, which appears in both the Fifth Amendment as a limit on the nation and the 14th Amendment as a limit on the states, had usually been interpreted as having only a procedural meaning. That is, it did not prevent government from depriving a person of life, liberty or property, but simply guaranteed that certain standard procedures would be observed before a person was so deprived.

Even though was an ambiguity of Constitution language, an ancient Supreme Court judge, Mr. Campbell, has argument that the 14 Amendment had revolutionized the American system by bringing the right of man, including of course the right to occupational freedom, under national judicial protection.

The term “due process” has the same meaning in both the Fifth and the Fourteenth Amendments, and it follows that the prohibitions announced against state action were usually presumptively applicable to national laws as well, if Congress might venture to enact them.

During most of its history the Supreme Court had paid little attention to the subject of “civil rights”. The Bill of Rights, it will be remembered, had been held inapplicable to the states in 1833. That meant that free expression (Amendment I) and the personal procedural rights connected with arrest and trial ( Amendments IV- VIII) could be abridged by the states without raising a federal constitution question.

In 1884 it was held in Hurtado v. California that the due process clause did not require the states to conform to the Bill of Rights in their criminal procedures, and as late as 1922 the Court denied that the amendment restricted the states in dealing with freedom of expression. According to the states, they were for some time relatively unconfined by the constitutional doctrine in the civil rights field. On the other hand the national government had so far had little occasion to encroach on civil rights except in wartime, for police regulation (règlement de police) that raised questions of this kind was left almost exclusively to the states.

Schenck v. United States involved a federal law, and the question of wether the free speech guarantees applied to the states by the way of the Fourteenth Amendment was still comparatively untouched. However, the Court in 1925, confronted by a New York law punishing “criminal anarchy”, declared “we may and do assume” that freedom and press “are protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the States.”

Procedural rules were sometimes interpreted rather generously in other areas as well. The right against “unreasonable searches and seizures” (Amendment IV) did not avail, for example, to prevent federal officers from searching the premises of an arrested person even though they bore no warrant to conduct the search and there had been ample time to get one before making the arrest. Evidence obtained by wiretapping was not admissible in federal tribunals because wiretapping was forbidden by federal statute, but the Court steadily refused to hold that wiretapping violated the Fourth Amendment, and it allowed the admission of evidence obtained by various hidden listening devices like radio transmitters.

In the field of deportation and denaturalization, the Court established the important principle that the man threatened by deportation or denaturalization was entitled to some procedural rights under the due process clause. By the 1930s the Court had clearly accepted the idea that some procedural rights protected against national action by Amendments IV-VIII, were also protected against state action by the Fourteenth Amendment.

I want to introduce a field which was a big issue for the Supreme Court during the postwar period. America’s primary racial minority, the Negroes, lagged so patently and woefully behind the rest of the nation in their privileges: this problem seemed the greatest because it involved the most glaring injustice. The XIV and XV amendments were passed originally to secure Negro rights, though the other former amendment had been diverted to other uses. Consequently the Supreme Court justices were conscious of United State’s position as a symbol of the free world and of the new importance of the “non-White” nations in the world arena.

There were two kinds of race discrimination that mattered more than any of the rest: denial of the voting right and denial of adequate education.

Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938)[1], was a United States Supreme Court decision holding that states that provide a school to white students must provide in-state education to blacks as well. States can satisfy this requirement by allowing blacks and whites to attend the same school or creating a second school for blacks.

The Law School at the University of Missouri refused admission to Lloyd Gaines because he was an African-American. At the time there was no Law School specifically for African-Americans within the state. Gaines cited that this refusal violated his Fourteenth Amendment right. The state of Missouri had offered to pay for Gaines’ tuition at an adjacent state’s law school, which he turned down.

In the 19-th century the Court had diminished the possible effect of the Fourteenth Amendment by denying that Congress could reach private persons under the enforcement clause, and by upholding state-required segregation of races.

The Equal Protection Clause, part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, provides that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. This means that the amendment has no bearing on private discriminatory behavior and that Congress (XIV Amendment prevented states from denying basic civil rights and gave Congress the power to enforce its guarantees of liberty and equality) extends only to states and to state officials acting under state law.

The Missouri case that note was finally sounded loud and clear. In accordance with the casual standards acceptable in the past, Missouri had never bothered to establish a Negro law school, although it did maintain one limited to whites. Now a Negro student, duly qualified except for his color, sought entrance to this University of Missouri law school and was of course denied. The state came out with the fact that there were too few Negro applicants to warrant the setting-up of a special school; and that, pending the day when the number of such applicants would be substantial; Missouri had done its constitutional duty by offering to pay this Negro’s tuition at a university in another state.

But these evasions, though once serviceable enough, did not impress a Court now coming alive to the problem of civil rights on many fronts.

We can say that the Missouri decision signaled a new judicial mood toward Negro rights. It was followed in the next twenty years by the development of an elaborate jurisprudence of equality extending into a large variety of fields.

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