American Government
Chapter 3-3
Some changes to the Constitution do not
involve the written word
1) The passage of basic legislation by
2) actions take by the President
3) key decisions of the Supreme Court
4) the activities of political parties
5) custom
Congress has passed a number of laws to
spell out several brief provisions of the
Substance has been added to provisions that
were intentionally left vague
Example: Article III Section 1 says the
Constitution provides for “one supreme court,
and … such inferior Courts as the Congress
may from time to time ordain and establish.”
Article II creates only the offices of President
and Vice President. All other departments
and offices have been created by Congress.
XXVth Amendment says that if the office of
President is vacant the Vice President
automatically succeeds to the office. Who
becomes President if both offices are vacant?
Congress has the power to decide that
(show succession on Internet)
Congress can declare war but the President is
Several Presidents have made war without a
Congressional declaration of war
Executive Agreement—Pact made by the
President directly with the head of a foreign
state (no Congressional approval required)
Treaty—A formal agreement between two or
more sovereign states (Senate must approve)
Federal courts, mainly the Supreme Court,
interpret and apply the Constitution in many
cases that they hear.
“The Supreme Court is a constitutional
convention in continuous session” –President
Woodrow Wilson
Most Framers were opposed to political
Political parties have turned the Electoral
College into a “rubber stamp” for each State’s
popular vote in presidential elections
Both houses of Congress are organized and
conduct business by party
Government in the USA is in many ways
government through party
Unwritten custom may be as strong as written law.
By custom, not because the Constitution says so, the
heads of the executive departments make up the
CABINET, an advisory body to the President.
On the 8 occasions when the President died in office,
most recently when LBJ took over for JFK (1963), the
Vice President took over.
Until 1967, the Constitution said only that the powers
and duties of the presidency—not the office itself—
should be transferred to the Vice President
“No third-term tradition”—This began in 1796.
Presidents would not seek a 3rd term. FDR broke
tradition in 1940 & 1944 by seeking a 3rd & 4th term
XXIInd Amendment made 2 terms the maximum.