US Constitution

The US Constitution: Overview

  • The US Constitution, adopted in 1787 and effective from 1789, is a written and codified document that serves as the supreme law of the United States.
  • The Constitution outlines the structure, procedures, powers, and duties of the U.S. government & separation of powers among three branches - the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branch.
  • It fundamentally shaped the country’s political system, giving birth to a federal system of government.

Body of the US Constitution

  • The Constitution consists of a preamble, seven main parts called ‘articles’, and twenty-seven amendments.
  • Article I establishes the legislative branch, with a bicameral Congress consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
  • Article II creates the executive branch, led by the President, and outlines the powers and responsibilities of the office.
  • Article III lays the foundation for the judicial branch, creating the Supreme Court and allowing Congress to establish lower federal courts.

Amendments to the US Constitution

  • The U.S. Constitution has undergone 27 amendments; the first 10 are collectively known as the Bill of Rights.
  • The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.
  • The Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.
  • The 19th amendment guaranteed women’s suffrage - the right of women to vote.

Checks and Balances

  • The concept of ‘checks and balances’ is a significant principle in the US Constitution - This system enforces the separation of powers among the branches and prevents any single branch from becoming too powerful.
  • For example, the President can veto legislation passed by Congress, but Congress can override a veto with a 2/3 majority in both chambers. The Supreme Court can strike down laws deemed unconstitutional, and the President appoints Supreme Court justices.
  • Critics argue this system of checks and balances often leads to legislative gridlock, while proponents see it as a necessary safeguard.

The Constitution and Federalism

  • The concept of ‘federalism’ is central to the constitution: half-federal, half-national setup, where the states and the national government shares authorities.
  • The Tenth Amendment defines the balance of powers between the federal government and the states. The amendment says the federal government has only those powers specifically granted by the Constitution, and the reserved powers are given to the states.
  • This delicate balance has been a matter of constant debate, conflict, and negotiation since the Constitution’s inception.