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2.5.1 System of Government

The United States of America consists of fifty states with limited autonomy in which federal law takes precedence over state law. In general, matters that lie en­tirely within state borders are the exclusive concern of state governments, although this constitutional responsibility has been eroded since the Civil War (1861-1865). These include internal communications; regulations relating to property, indus­try, business, and public utilities; the state criminal code; and working conditions within the state. The District of Columbia falls under the jurisdiction of the US Congress, but has limited home rule.

The various state constitutions differ in some details but generally follow a pat­tern similar to that of the federal Constitution, including a statement of the rights of the people and a plan for organizing the government. On such matters as the op­eration of businesses, banks, public utilities and charitable institutions, state consti­tutions are often more detailed and explicit than the federal Constitution. In recent years, the federal government has assumed broader responsibility in such matters as health, education, welfare, transportation, housing and urban development.

The Federal Government itself consists of three branches that are designed to check and balance each other: the executive branch (headed by the President), the legislative branch (the U.S. Congress), and the judicial branch (headed by the Supreme Court).

The President is elected to a four-year term by the Electoral College, which is chosen through popular votes in the fifty states and the District of Columbia. The various legislators are chosen by popular vote in the 50 states.

Members of Congress are elected for terms of two years in the House of Representatives and six years in the Senate. Justices of the Supreme Court .ire appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate for an unlim­ited term.

The United States Capitol left in Washington, DC, home of the U.S. Congress, the legislative branch of the government of United States.

This tripartite model of government is generally duplicated at the state level. Local governments take various forms.

The federal and state governments are dominated by two major political par­ties, the Republicans and the Democrats, with the Republican Party being more conservative and the Democratic Party being more liberal. Several other, smaller parties exists as well; but they maintain very few national strongholds.

Political parties in the United States do not have formal "leaders" like many other countries, although there are complex hierarchies within the political parties that form various executive committees. The two parties exist on the federal, state, and local levels, although the parties' organization, platform, and ideologies are not necessarily uniform across all levels of government.

The elephant and the donkey, right, respectively the symbols of the Republican and Democratic parties.

The Republicans generally receive more funding and support from business groups, religious Christians, and rural Americans, while the Democratic party re­ceives more support from labour unions and minority ethnic groups. Because feder­al elections in the United States are among the most expensive in the world, access to funds is vital in the political system. Thus corporations, unions, and other organized groups that provide funds and political support to parties and politicians play a very large role in determining political agendas and government decision-making.

Under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all governmental pow­ers not granted to the United States Federal Government by the Constitution are reserved for the states.

The governments of the 13 colonies which formed the original union under the Constitution trace their history back to the royal charters which established them during the era of colonialism. Most other states were organized as federal ter­ritories before forming their own governments and requesting admittance into the union. Notable exceptions are Vermont, Texas and Hawaii, which were sovereign nations before joining the union.

Each U.S. state has a written constitution and a three-branch government modelled on the U.S. federal government, although this particular structure is not mandatory.

The executive branch of every state is headed by an elected governor, and many states have a position of lieutenant governor. The legislative branch is typi­cally a bicameral legislature. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature.) The upper house of state legislatures is usually called the senate and the lower house is usu­ally called the house of representatives. (New York's lower house is called the As­sembly. Connecticut's house and senate together are called the General Assembly, and the bicameral legislature of Massachusetts is called the General Court.) The judicial branch is typically headed by a supreme court which hears appeals from lower state courts. The structure of courts and the methods by which judges are elected or appointed is a determined by legislation or the state constitution. (New York's highest court is called the Court of Appeals.)