The 2008 Presidential election cycle brought us a new leader and new Congressmen. Many new laws and policies have been implemented. The public is asking, “Does the government have the power to control health care, car manufacturers and financial institutions?” Has the government overstepped the powers of limited government in the Constitution?
Any discussion of the limited power of government must begin with a list of the 3 branches of government. Then we can define limited government in light of delegated powers of the Constitution.
Three three usa branches of government are Legislative, Judicial and Executive. The Legislative branch is mentioned first in the Constitution, and is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. House members (known as Congressmen) are elected to two-year terms, and the number of them is related to population. Each state, regardless of population, gets two Senators. Senators serve six-year terms.
The Founders addressed the Legislative branch first in the Constitution because of the power given to the Senate and House. The main job of the Legislative branch is to make law. Some specific powers given to the Legislative branch in Article 1, Section 8, is the power to impose taxes, establish rules of citizenship, oversee presidential impeachment, and the power to declare war. Let’s look at some examples of limited government in Article 1.
Laws to raise revenue (taxes) must originate in the House. They wanted the threat of being voted out of office to make a legislator think carefully before voting to raise taxes on the people. The limited power of government prevents the Senate from proposing tax increases. Members of the Executive branch and the Judicial branch also cannot raise taxes.
The House of Representatives has the power to bring impeachment charges against a badly-behaved President. A safeguard known as the separation of powers requires that an impeachment trial be conducted by the Senate. Again, the House must be VERY sure that impeachment is warranted, lest the public vote them out of office as a punishment. The trial is conducted by Senators, who are elected every six years, and are insulated from the “passions of the people.” Since Congressmen and Senators play different roles in impeachment, power is separated. This example is a definition of limited government power.
The Executive Branch is filled by the President and his cabinet. The Executive Branch is responsible for carrying out, or executing, the laws enacted by the Legislators. Since we have a republican form of government, our President is chosen by electors in the Electoral College, not by popular vote. The purpose of the Electoral College is to prevent “intrigue and cabal” when choosing the Executive. Again, power is separated, and there is a check within the three branches of government.
Last on our list of the 3 branches of government is the Judicial branch. The Judicial branch is mentioned last in the usa branches of government, because it was meant to be the least powerful branch of all. Jefferson worried that establishing a Supreme Court would eventually lead to that court dominating the other branches of the government. Jefferson’s fears are coming true. We often see state and Federal laws being struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Many are worried that this shift of power is unhealthy, and violates the concept of limited government in the constitution.
The President appoints Supreme Court justices to lifetime terms. Senators must confirm the appointees through a hearing process. The only way to unseat a justice is to impeach them under our definition of limited government. This almost never happens. On the other hand, if it were too simple to impeach a justice, the justices may spend more time worrying about making popular decisions than making sound legal rulings.
Answering the question about the government’s proper role in our lives requires an understanding of the usa branches of government. The Framers instituted a structure of limited government in the Constitution because they feared the tyranny of old Europe would sprout up in the New World. Each of the branches of the us government as some power that checks a power held by the other two. Our liberties are protected by these checks and balances. Americans for limited government want their Constitutional liberties preserved.
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