Powers of the Federal Government Essay

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VIII. The "State Action" Requirement

In the provisions of the Constitution that protect individual rights, primarily the application of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights, the acts that are prohibited require governmental involvement in some form and thus the Courts have fashioned a concept identified as state action. State action is distinguished from private action and the protection of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment only applies when the government is involved in some fashion. Without government involvement there can be no state action and thus the rights are not afforded protection. This involvement by the Government might be minimal or only tangential but it must be demonstrated conclusively in order for the Courts to consider the aggrieved party's complaint.

IX. Congressional Power to Enforce Constitutional Rights

The Constitution in the form of the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Enabling Clause is granted the power and authority to legislate in order to prevent any act that might violate a constitutional right and to fashion a remedy for any such violation. These clauses are found in the text of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The purpose of the Thirteenth Amendment is to prohibit discrimination in regard to blacks, and in a minor regard, toward whites as well. The Fourteenth Amendment has been used widely by the Courts to protect the Constitutional Rights of individuals through the application of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment addresses the issue of discrimination in the area of voting rights. This Amendment in conjunction with the provisions of the Enabling Clause provides Congress with considerable remedial powers regarding voting rights violations. Congress has also been afforded additional enforcement powers in regard to discrimination as the result of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, interpretations of the Commerce Clause by the Courts, and the taxing and spending powers contained in the body of the Constitution.

X. Safeguards in the Administration of Criminal Justice

The federal government's involvement in the administration of the country's criminal justice system has increased in recent years as federal legislation in regard to criminal conduct has become more extensive and the rights of the criminally accused has expanded. The Supreme Court has extended the rights guaranteed the accused in the Constitution to the individual states through the Fourteenth Amendment. These rights include the prohibition against the use of involuntary confessions, the privilege against self-incrimination, and the use of evidence obtained through illegal search and seizure. The language regarding involuntary confessions and self-incrimination are found in the Fifth Amendment while the language regarding illegal search and seizure is found in the Fourth Amendment. The Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury in all serious cases and this right has been extended to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Each state retains the right to determine the precise procedure involved but the right to trial by jury is guaranteed in each state. The large measure of enforcement in the area of criminal justice remains in the hands of the state governments subject to the protections that have been guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. In most criminal cases, there is no involvement by the federal government, however, the federal criminal code has increased substantially particularly in the area of drug enforcement and, as a result, considerable overlapping has occurred between the state and federal courts in this area. The Federal government is involved in criminal justice administration through the issuance of Executive Orders and the establishment of an extensive system of administrative agencies and commissions. As the court of last resort, the Supreme Court may only review cases involving federal questions.

The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution is the essential defining document for all power and authority for the various governments operating within the borders of the United States. It defines the powers on the federal government and establishes the basic rule of law operating throughout all the states. It provides a framework for establishing a consistent and predictable operation of government. In doing so the Constitution must be rigid enough to accomplish these goals yet still be open to interpretation as conditions in society change. In this regard, the U.S. Constitution has demonstrated remarkable resilience having been amended only 27 times since its enactment and only 17 times since the original ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were enacted shortly after the original ratification of the Constitution.

The first three Articles to the Constitution set forth the form of the federal government. Article I establishes the framework of the legislative branch of the government and divides said branch into two separate Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. This article also set forth the various responsibilities of each branch and how the differing bodies interact in regard to the passage of legislation.

Article II of the Constitution sets for the power and authority of the Executive branch of the government and establishes the position of the President of the United States. The article demonstrates the resilience of the Constitution in that the power and authority of this branch of the government has expanded far more broadly than any other branch in response to changes in society. The Article, however, does set forth the powers of the Executive in broad enough terms to justify this expansion.

The federal judicial system is established and administered through the provisions of Article III. This Article sets forth the procedure for the appointment of federal judges, the basis for judicial review, and the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary. The powers of the federal judiciary, like those of the executive branch, have expanded as the nation has grown older demonstrating again the wisdom of the original drafters of the Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution, through the enactment of Article IV, also establishes the general form of government throughout the various states. In Article IV, the Constitution sets up the federal form of government that has been in operation since the enactment of the Constitution and also establishes the procedures through which the various states cooperate in an effort to maintain a consistent form of government.

A wide body of case law has arisen over the years since the U.S. Constitution was first enacted. In the initial years, the large majority of the cases that were decided by the federal judiciary involved the application and interpretation of the powers and authority of the government and, therefore, the first four Articles were of particular importance, however, as the government and country grew and became more democratic, the application of the amendments more commonly known as the Bill of Rights became more of an issue. The federal judiciary and Constitutional Law took a more prominent position.

Following the Civil War and the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, Constitutional Law in the United States began to occupy center stage in the expansion of the powers of the federal government. Issues that had seen little presence in the federal Courts such as Equal Protection and Due Process began to dominate litigation in the federal Courts and integrate the authority of the federal government into areas that were long the exclusive province of the state governments.

Prior to the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment, the interpretation of the Commerce Clause dominated much of the Constitutional case law. It was the Commerce Clause that provided the U.S. Supreme Court with the legal framework to expand its power and authority in the case of Marbury v. Madison and the body of case law involving an interpretation of this Clause has grown ever since. The Commerce Clause has been used as the basis for the U.S. Government to involve itself in a variety of activities including interstate commerce, international trade and regulation, discrimination, and land use. The Commerce Clause remains an essential source of expanding federal government involvement and the basis for considerable litigation finding its way to the federal courts.

The area of Constitutional Law has expanded greatly in the past fifty years. The reasons for this expansion are complicated but are consistent with the increased application of the Fourteenth Amendment and the increased involvement of the federal government in the enactment of federal criminal codes. The result of this trend is to expand the number of cases that are subject to federal review and present the federal courts with the necessary federal question needed to invoke the jurisdiction of the Courts. The increased mobility of American society also increases the likelihood that the diversity needed to create federal jurisdiction occurs.

The expectation in the coming years is that the area of Constitutional Law will continue to expand. The fact there is still considerable controversy over the difference between state's rights and the role of the federal government indicates that the interpretation and application of the U.S. Constitution will remain an important segment of the American legal system. A working knowledge…[continue]

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