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Unit 8 Government

8. Before reading the text match a word on the left with a definition on the right.

1. constitution a) a branch of government that carries out the laws

of a nation

2. executive b) a branch of government concerned with the

interpretation of law

3. legislature c) a change to the Constitution

4. judiciary d) a plan of government, the Supreme Law of the

country

5. amendment e) a branch of government responsible for making

the laws

  1. will f) accusation or discredit

  2. violation g) verdict of guilty

  3. charge h) fixed desire or intention

  4. conviction i) investigate and decide (a case) judicially,

subject (a person) to trial

  1. try j) breaking (of an agreement, law, etc.)

  1. Test your general knowledge in the quiz below.

1.The USA is a ... .

  1. federal republic

  2. federal union of republics

  3. federal state of union

  1. The basic document of the Constitution ... .

  1. has been changed 26 times

  2. has remained unchanged

  3. has not remained unchanged

  1. The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were ratified in ... .

  1. Washington

  2. New York

  3. Philadelphia

  1. The federal government in the USA deals with the problems of ... .

  1. the nation

  2. one state

  3. one region

  1. The state government is governed by the ... .

  1. President

  2. Governor

  3. Prime Minister

8.2.Before you read, try to answer these questions:

  1. What official document tells the rules for the US government?

  2. Who elects members of Congress and the President?

  3. What is the Bill of Rights?

  4. What branches does the Constitution divide the powers of the government into?

  5. The US Congress has two parts. What do we call them?

  6. What is the FBI?

8.3. Now read the text and see if you were right.

System of Government

The United States is a federal union of 50 states, with the District of Columbia as the seat of the national government. The Constitution outlines the structure of the national government and specifies its powers and activities. Other governmental activities are the responsibility of the individual states, which have their own constitutions and laws. Within each state are counties, townships, cities and villages, each of which has its own elective government.

All government in the United States is «of, by and for the people». Members of Congress, the President, state officials and those who govern counties and cities are elected by popular vote. The President names the heads of federal departments while judges are either elected directly by the people or appointed by elected officials.

The supreme law of the land is the US Constitution. It means that when state constitutions or laws passed by state legislatures or the national Congress are found to conflict with the federal Constitution they have no force. Decisions handed down by the Supreme Court over the course of two centuries have confirmed and strengthened this doctrine of constitutional supremacy.

Final authority is vested in the American people, who can change the fundamental law, if they wish, by amending the Constitution or - in theory, at least - drafting a new one. The people do not exercise their authority directly, however. They delegate the day-to-day business of government to public officials, both elected and appointed.

The power of public officials is limited. Their actions must conform to the Constitution and to the laws made in accord with the Constitution. Elected officials must stand for re-election at periodic intervals, when their records are subject to intensive public scrutiny. Appointed officials serve at the pleasure of the person or authority who appointed them, and may be removed when their performance is unsatisfactory. The exception to this practice is the life-time appointment by the president of justices of the Supreme Court and other federal judges, so that they may be free of political obligations or influence.

Most commonly, the American people express their will through the ballot box. Voters mark unsigned ballots in private booths, so that no one else can find out for whom a citizen is voting. Public officials may be removed from office for failing to perform their duties properly, as well as for serious violations of law. The Constitution does make provision for the removal of a public official from office by the process of impeachment.

Impeachment is a charge of misconduct brought against a government official by a legislative body; it does not, as is commonly thought, refer to conviction on such charges. As set forth in the Constitution, the House of Representatives must bring charges of misconduct by voting a bill of impeachment. The accused official is then tried in the Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding at the trial.

State officials are similarly subject to impeachment by the legislatures of their respective states.

The American Constitution is the world’s oldest written constitution in force, one that has served as the model for a number of other constitutions around the world. The Constitution provides the federal government with the authority to achieve the goals set forth in the preamble: to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for all citizens. The Constitution’s first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, enumerate certain «unalienable» rights that belong to every person, among them freedom of religion, of speech and of press. The Constitution owes its staying to its simplicity and flexibility.

When the Constitution was written in 1787, there were only 13 states. Because the drafters of the Constitution saw that the future might bring a need for changes, they provided a method of adding amendments. Over the years 26 amendments have been added, but the basic document has not been changed. The pattern of government planned so long ago for 13 states today meets the needs of 50 states and more than 57 times as many people. The basic principles of the Constitution also remain the same now as in 1787:

  • the three main branches of government are separate and distinct from one another. The powers given to each are delicately balanced by the powers of the other two. Each branch serves as a check on potential excesses of the others;

  • the Constitution, together with laws passed according to its provisions, and treaties entered into by the president and approved by the Senate, stands above all other laws, executive acts and regulations;

  • all persons are equal before the law and are equally entitled to its protection. All states are equal, and none can receive special treatment from the federal government. Within the limits of the Constitution, each state must recognize and respect the laws of the others. State governments, like the federal government, must be democratic in form, with final authority resting with the people;

  • the people have the right to change their form of national government by legal means defined in the Constitution itself.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution, called the Bill of Rights, assure individual rights and freedoms. Added in 1791, they remain intact today. The first guarantees freedom of worship, speech and press, the right of peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government to correct wrongs. The second guarantees the right of citizens to bear arms. The third provides that troops may not be quartered in private homes without the owner’s consent. The fourth guards against unreasonable searches, arrests and seizures of property. The next four amendments deal with the system of justice: The fifth forbids trial for a major crime except after indictment by a grand jury. It prohibits repeated trials for the same offense; forbids punishment without due process of law and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to testify against himself. The sixth guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by an unbiased jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and provides that witnesses shall be compelled to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused. The seventh assures trial by jury in civil cases involving anything valued at more than 20 US dollars. The eighth forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel or unusual punishment. The last two of the 10 amendments contain very broad statements of constitutional authority. The ninth declares that the listing of individual rights is not meant to be comprehensive; that the people have other rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. The 10th provides that powers not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states or the people.

The Constitution divides the powers of the government into three branches - the Executive, headed by the President; the Legislative, which includes both houses of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives); and the Judicial, which is headed by the Supreme Court. The Constitution limits the role of each branch to prevent any one branch from gaining undue power.

The idea of separating powers among the various branches of government to avoid the tyranny of concentrated power falls under the category of checks and balances. But there is another virtue in the separation of powers, namely, an increase in governmental efficiency and effectiveness. By being limited to specialized functions the different branches of government develop both an expertise and a sense of pride in their roles, which would not be the case if they were joined together or overlapped to any considerable degree.

For example, the Constitution gives Congress authority to make laws necessary for the common defense and good of the nation. As the country has grown, laws have been adopted to provide for social welfare, public works, economic control and protection of the rights of labor. But if any law passed by the Congress and signed by the President is contested on grounds that it conflicts with the Constitution, it may - or may not - be held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and thus nullified.

The whole system of American government is based on the principles established in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The people believe that the government should provide a framework of law and order in which they are left free to run their own lives.

The state governments follow much the same pattern as the federal government. Each has a governor as the chief executive, with power divided among the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.

State governments manage such affairs as maintaining order, educating children and young adults, and building highways.

The federal government deals with national problems and international relations and with regional problems that involve more than one state.

Laws affecting the daily lives of citizens are enforced by police in the cities and towns. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - the famous FBI - track down criminals who cross state borders or who break federal laws. Before an accused person can be put on trial for a serious crime in a federal court - or in the courts of many states - the case must be presented to a grand jury of private citizens who decide whether there is enough evidence of probable guilt to warrant a trial.

The summary of the observations made above about government, society, liberty and tyranny is expressed in the famous quotation from «The Federalist Papers» that reads: «no happiness without liberty, no liberty without self-government, no self-government without constitutionalism, no constitutionalism without morality - and none of these great goods without stability and order.»

8.4. Answer the following questions:

  1. What does the US Constitution outline and specify?

  2. How do you understand the words «of, by and for the people»?

  3. What may public officials be removed from office for?

  4. How old is the US Constitution?

  5. The first 10 amendments to the Constitution guarantee some rights and freedoms. Name some.

  6. Name three branches of the federal government power.

  7. What limits the role of each branch?

  8. How many branches are there in the state government? What are they?

  9. What does the federal government deal with?

  10. What do state governments deal with?

  11. Who decides whether there is enough evidence of probable guilt to warrant a trial?

  12. If you are charged with breaking the law what right do you have in the US?

  1. Read the sentences below. Are they true or false?

  1. The US Constitution is the central instrument of the US government and the supreme law of the land.

  2. The US Constitution is the world’s oldest written constitution in force.

  3. The US Constitution was originally designed to provide a framework for governing more than 240 million people in fifty states.

  4. The people of the USA have no right to change their form of national government by legal means defined in the Constitution.

  5. According to the Constitution all persons are equal before the law and are equally entitled to its protection. All states are equal and none can receive special treatment from the federal government.

  6. The three main branches are not separate and distinct from each other; they depend on each other.

  7. The powers given to each branch are delicately balanced by those of the other two. Each branch serves as a check on potential excesses of the others.

  8. Twenty six amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights.

  9. A way of restricting governmental power and preventing its abuse is called checks and balances.

  10. The power of public officials is unlimited.

8.6. Complete the sentences below.

1. Changes to the Constitution are called...

  1. If a law conflicts with the Constitution it may be held unconstitutional by ...

  2. The first ten amendments to the Constitution are called ...

  3. The Bill of Rights guarantees ... of religion.

  4. The President is elected by ...

  5. Each state government has a ... as the chief executive.

  1. Use your knowledge and decide which word or phrase in each group of five does not belong and why.

  1. a) changes

  1. laws

  2. amendments

  3. bills

  4. customs

  1. a) powers of states

  1. checks and balances

  2. Bill of Rights

  3. Acts of Parliament

  4. federal responsibility

  1. a) the federal Constitution

  1. the written Constitution

  2. the unwritten Constitution

  3. the state Constitution

  4. the US Constitution

  1. Complete the following puzzle. Use words from Unit 1. The definitions are below. The first letter of each word is given to you.

1.

G

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

2.

C

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

3.

F

_

_

4.

F

_

_

_

_

_

_

5.

C

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

6.

P

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

7.

J

_

_

_

8.

A

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

_

  1. The head of the state government.

  2. The Senate + the House of Representatives.

  3. Its agents track down criminals who cross state borders.

  4. The most important right people have in the US.

  5. The supreme law of the country.

  6. The head of the federal government.

  7. People who decide whether there is enough evidence of probable guilt to warrant a trial.

  8. A change to the Constitution.

  1. Complete the following dialogue.

1........................................................................................................................

  1. Independence was gained in 1776, so the USA is about 220 years old.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. Under the Constitution, the federal government is divided into three branches.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. The legislative power is vested in Congress.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. It is made up of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. Federal District Courts, 11 Federal Courts and the Supreme Court.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. George Washington.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. In the district of Columbia.

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. 1787

1. ......................................................................................................................

  1. Yes. It is the highest building in Washington. There is a special law against building structures higher than the Capitol.

1. ......................................................................................................................

2. They are known as the Bill of Rights.

  1. Discuss the chart below.

Compare the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights with those outlined in the Constitution of your country.

THE BILL OF RIGHTS

THE FIRST 10 AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION AND THEIR PURPOSE

PROTECTIONS AFFORDED FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

Amendment 1:

Freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; the right to petition the government

PROTECTIONS AGAINST ARBITRARY MILITARY ACTION

Amendment 2:

Amendment 3:

Right to bear arms and maintain state militias

(National Guard)

Troops may not be quartered in homes in peacetime.

PROTECTIONS AGAINST ARBITRARY POLICE AND COURT ACTION

Amendment 4:

Amendment 5:

Amendment 6:

Amendment 7:

Amendment 8:

No unreasonable searches or seizures.

Grand jury indictment required to prosecute a person for a serious crime. No «double jeopardy» - being tried twice for the same offense. Forcing a person to testify against himself or herself prohibited. No loss of life, liberty or property without due process.

Right to speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel, and right to cross-examine witnesses.

Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds 20 dollars

No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments

PROTECTIONS OF STATES’ RIGHTS AND UNNAMED RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE

Amendment 9:

Amendment 10:

Unlisted rights are not necessarily denied

Powers not delegated to the United States or denied to states are reserved to the states or to the people.

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, but its application was broadened significantly by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1868. A key phrase in the 14th Amendment - «nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law» - has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as forbidding the states from violating most of the rights and freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.

8.11. Talking point.

Talk about your rules as students. Which rules are important? Talk about your rights. Try to write a student constitution.

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