President, Congress, Supreme Court

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America Government, A-Level
Revision: President, Congress,
Supreme Court
The Presidency

Leaving office – 4 scenarios.
1. Loses election
 2. Served two terms.
 3. Impeachment
 4. Incapacity

The Presidency – Presidential
Power

Aaron Wildawsky:

Foreign policy: The president dominates
and is able to get their way.

Domestic policy: The president is checked
and hampered by competing institutions.
The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Foreign Policy

Presidential dominance built into the Constitution
but:

War powers

Presidential dominance has increased beyond the
constitutional design:

Rise to superpower status raises the stakes.

Supreme Court legitimates presidential dominance.

Congress opts out.
The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Domestic Policy

The Constitution makes the president little
more than chief bureaucrat.

Today the president has become chief
legislator – prepares the budget and brings a
programme of legislation to Congress.

Presidents can also issue Executive Orders.

And they have the veto
The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Domestic Policy

The power to persuade (Neustadt).

In order to succeed a president has to
persuade other institutions and actors to
cooperate because the presidency does
not possess the authority to command
them to do so.
The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Domestic Policy

Leadership skills (Greenstein):

Understanding Congress and knowing
how to cut a deal and who with.

`Going public’ to win public support to
pressure Congress.

Prioritization.
The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Domestic Policy

The political environment:

Who controls Congress?

Public opinion ratings.

Honeymoon period or lame-duck?
The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Domestic Policy

An `imperilled presidency’?
End of the Cold War.
 Decentralization of power in Congress.
 Divided government.
 Increased partisan polarization.
 A more hostile media.

The Presidency – Presidential
Power, Domestic Policy

But:
The War Powers Act is a dead letter.
 The `War on Terror’.
 Divided government has not prevented
legislation passing.
 The president is still in the strongest
position to use (manipulate) the media.

The Presidency: The Veto
When presented with legislation passed
by both houses of Congress, the
president is constitutionally required to
act on it in one of four ways:
 1.Sign it into law within 10-days.
 2. Issue a regular veto
 3. Let the bill become law without his
signature.
 4. Issue a "pocket" veto.

The Presidency: The Veto

A powerful weapon – only 0.7% have
been overturned.

But a negative weapon – can’t be used to
enact what the president wants.

Veto power is a negotiating tool, an actual
veto is a sign of miscalculation.
The Presidency: The Veto

Veto power is a negotiating tool, an actual
veto is a sign of miscalculation.

Most vetoes have been of trivial bills
rather than major ones.

Only 2% of bills have ever been vetoed
but rate varies enormously – Gerald Ford
vs George W. Bush.
Congress: Powers of the House
and Senate
435 members elected from districts of equal
size.
 Elected every two years.
 Intended to be the most powerful branch.
 Size and diversity means more formal rules
than Senate and stronger party leadership.
 Most important figure is the Speaker –
leader of the majority party. He/she controls
the legislative agenda and shapes
membership of committees.

Congress: Powers of the House
and Senate
100 members, 2/state.
Elected every 6 years (1/3 every 2 years).
Represents the states and meant to act as a
brake on the popular passions represented
in the House.
 Small numbers mean fewer rules and weaker
party structures – a more individualised
chamber.
 One unique rule – the filibuster, can only be
halted if 60 senators support a motion of
cloture.



Congress: The Role of Parties

Party Weakness:
Separation of powers – `no’ votes do not
bring down governments.
 Members of Congress do not seek
promotion to the executive branch.
 Committee autonomy.
 Autonomy of legislators during the
election process (primaries).
 Constituency orientation of legislators.

Congress: The Role of Parties

Party strength:

Role and strength of party has grown in past
20 years:

Key cause – partisan polarization caused by:

1. Partisan realignment of the South.
2. Resulting changed behaviour of members
in Congress.

Congress: The Role of Parties
Increased partisan unity and polarisation
means:
 Most legislators vote with the rest of
their party the large majority of the time.
 Stronger party leadership.
 Increased power of the Speaker.
 Congress displays `conditional party
government’.

Congress: Voting Behaviour

The need to get re-elected.

But – different systems = different responses,
historically.


UK – tow the party line
US – meet constituent needs, regardless of party
line.

Partisan polarization changes this, serving
constituents and voting with party are usually the
same thing.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court: Judicial
Activism

What is judicial activism?

Black's Law Dictionary: a "philosophy of
judicial decision-making whereby judges
allow their personal views about public
policy, among other factors, to guide their
decisions”

Not very useful – describes all justices.
The Supreme Court: Judicial
Activism

What is judicial activism:

The opposite of judicial restraint – a Court
which chooses to hear politically
controversial cases and makes broad,
constitutionally significant rulings .

The kind of rulings that might be involved
are things like overturning existing laws as
unconstitutional, overturning precedents and
ruling against a generally preferred
interpretation of the constitution.
The Supreme Court: Judicial
Activism

Associated with the Warren Court (Brown
vs Board of Education, 1954) and therefore
with liberalism/modernism.

But: Bush vs Gore (2000); Citizens United
(2010).
The Supreme Court: Cases
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