Glossary of Government Terms
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Glossary of Government Terms acquittal: when an accused person is found to be “not guilty” Anti-federalists: a group that opposed the ratification of the Constitution. Most believed that it gave too much power to the federal government. Others wanted it to include a bill of rights. amendment: a change in or addition to a legal document, motion, law or constitution appellate jurisdiction: the authority of a court to review the decisions of inferior (lower) courts appointment: when the President selects an individual to fill a government post in the executive bureaucracy or the federal court system. bail: money prisoner must pay before they are temporarily released before their trial. This money acts as a guarantee that the prisoner will appear for their trial. bicameral legislature: a legislature which is divided into two houses. bill: a proposed law. bill of attainder: a bill designed to punish a specific group or person; NOTE: this is a denied power, meaning it is prohibited by the Constitution Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which deal mostly with civil rights. bureaucracy: a collective term for all of the workers who run the agencies that do the everyday business of the government. cabinet: the group of officials who head government departments and advise the President. caucus: a meeting of a group of people belonging to the same political party or faction, usually to decide upon policies and candidates. checks and balances: the system set up by the U.S. Constitution in which each branch of the federal government has the power to limit the actions of the other branches. Chief Diplomat: the President’s role as the top representative of the U.S. government when dealing with foreign countries; he has the power to negotiate treaties, make executive agreements with foreign nations, and extend diplomatic recognition to foreign countries. Chief Executive: the President’s role as “manager” or administrator of the executive branch Chief Guardian of the Economy: the President’s role as the top manager of the U.S. economy. He is responsible for controlling the economy by requesting taxation and spending measures
from Congress, and by overseeing the Federal Reserve, Commerce Department, and Treasury Department. Chief Justice: the head of the Supreme Court Chief Legislator: the President’s role as lawmaker; powers include the rights to recommend laws, veto bills, and appeal directly to the American people in order to pressure Congress to vote a certain way. NOTE: the President cannot actually make laws. Chief of Party: the President’s informal role as the leader of his political party Chief of State: the President’s role as the ceremonial head of the U.S. government citizen: a person who by birth or naturalization owes loyalty to, and receives the protection of, a nation’s government civil liberties: certain rights guaranteed to all citizens of a nation civil rights: rights guaranteed to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution and laws of the nation civil service: government jobs for which appointments and promotions are now based on merit rather than on political patronage cloture: when all Senators present vote by a 2/3 majority to end debate (usually a filibuster) on a bill coalition: an alliance of political groups Commander-in-Chief: the President’s role as top military leader; the President may issue orders and participate in the planning of military activities; NOTE: the President’s war powers are limited by the War Powers Resolution commerce clause: Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate trade. committee chair: the congressperson who heads a committee; selection is based on seniority. committee system: method under which members of the legislative branch form into smaller groups to facilitate such business as considering proposed legislation and holding investigations. compromise: the resolution of a conflict in which concessions are made by all parties to achieve a common goal concurring opinion: the written explanation of a judge’s or justice’s opinion in cases in which the judge/justice votes with the majority, but for a different reason.
concurrent powers: powers shared by the national and state governments. confederation: an alliance of independent states conference committee: a temporary joint committee of both houses of a legislature, created to reconcile differences between the two houses’ versions of a bill. Congress: the legislative, or lawmaking, branch of the United States government, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. consent of the governed: principle that says people are the source of the powers of government constituent: a voter from a politician’s district constitution: a plan of government; the body of fundamental law, setting out the basic principles, structures, processes, and functions of a government and placing limits on its actions Constitution: the supreme law of the United States, adopted at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and subsequently ratified by the states court packing: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 plan to add justices to the Supreme Court in order to prevent the court from ruling against New Deal legislation delegated powers: powers given by the Constitution to the national government and denied to state governments democracy: system of government in which supreme authority rests with the people, either directly or indirectly through elected representatives. denied powers: powers that are strictly forbidden by the Constitution (Examples include ex post facto laws, titles of nobility, and bills of attainder) direct democracy: system of government in which the people participate directly in decision making through the voting process dissenting opinion: a written explanation of the ruling of the minority of judges division of powers: basic principle of federalism; the constitutional provis9ions by which governmental powers are divided between the national and state governments double jeopardy: when someone is re-tried for a crime after already being found innocent due process of law: constitutional guarantee that government will not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property by any unfair, arbitrary, or unreasonable action.
elastic clause: Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution, which is the basis for the implied powers of Congress; says Congress may do anything “necessary and proper” in order to carry out its delegated duties; established by the case McCulloch v. Maryland elector: a representative of a state who casts a vote in the electoral college electoral college: an assembly elected by the voters that meets every four years to formally elect the President of the United States electoral system: the method of indirectly electing Presidents in the electoral college; states are assigned slates of electors which are equal to their total number of congressmen (roughly based on population); elections in most states are “all or nothing” meaning that the winner of each state generally receives 100% of the state’s electoral vote regardless of the percentage of the popular vote that they win. electoral vote: the number of votes that a presidential candidate receives in the electoral college electorate: all of the people who are entitled to vote in a given election eminent domain: the right of the government to take private property for public use exclusionary rule: a judge’s ability to exclude evidence from a trial on the basis of a legal technicality; Example: evidence obtained in an illegal search executive agreement: an informal agreement made between the President and the leaders of another nation (this can be done without Senate approval, but is not binding in the same way as a treaty) executive branch: part of the government which carries out and enforces the laws ex post facto laws: laws which apply retroactively; laws which allow someone to be prosecuted for an offense that was not illegal at the time that it was committed expressed powers: see “delegated powers” federalism: a system of government in which authority is divided between national and state governments; the belief in or advocacy of such a system. Federalist Papers: a set of essays published in 1787 and written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison; these essays supported the ratification of the U.S. Constitution Federalist Party: the first political party in the U.S.; the party emerged out of people who originally supported the ratification of the Constitution, and later supported a relatively strong central government and a loose interpretation of the Constitution. federation: a union of organizations, states, or provinces
filibuster: a delay tactic that is used in the Senate by a minority, in which Senators talk a bill to death in an attempt to pressure the Senate leadership to withdraw the bill from consideration government: that complex of offices, personnel, and processes by which a state is ruled, and by which its public policies are made and enforced grand jury: a group that decides whether or not there is enough evidence against an accused person to proceed with a trial Great Compromise: a compromise at the Constitutional Convention which creates a bicameral legislature with equal representation in one house, and representation based on population in the second house. habeas corpus: when a prisoner is brought before the court and legally charged; literally “bring forth the body” House of Representatives: part of Congress composed of 435 members, directly elected for two-year terms, and in which representation is based on a state’s population impeach: to formally charge a government official of wrongdoing or misbehavior; the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment with a simple majority impeachment trial: the Senate’s power to remove a government official with a 2/3 majority, after they are impeached by House implied powers: those delegated powers of the national government implied by (inferred from) the delegated powers; those powers “necessary and proper” to carry out the delegated powers indictment: when an accused person is formally charged with a crime injunction: a court order interstate commerce: trade between the states investigating committee: a temporary congressional committee created to investigate a specific issue joint resolution: a legislative measure which must be passed by both houses and approved by the chief executive to become effective; similar to a bill, with the force of law, and often used for unusual or temporary purposes judicial branch: part of the government that interprets and judges the laws judicial review: power of the Supreme Court to determine the constitutionally of acts of the legislative and executive branches; this was established by the case Marbury v. Madison
judiciary: judicial branch of a government; its system of courts jurisdiction: power of a court to hear (to try and decide a case); jurisdictions can be geographic (ex. east coast) or thematic (ex. Supreme Court has jurisdiction over cases dealing with disputes between citizens of different states) jury: a group of people who hear evidence in a legal cases and give a decision based on that evidence law: rule recognized by a nation, state, or community as binding on its members legal precedent: a decision in an earlier case that has an influences a later ruling (Ex. Plessy v. Fergusson set the precedent of “separate but equal” which supported later decisions) legislative branch: the branch of government that makes the laws legislature: group of people with the power of making laws legislation: laws, bills, resolutions… any action taken by a legislature legislator: a person who makes laws (a member of a legislature) limited government: basic principle of the American system of government; the belief that government is not all-powerful, and may only do those things the people have given it the power to do lobby: to try to persuade an elected official to act or vote in a certain way lobbyist: someone who tries to persuade a government official to take a specific action; most professional lobbyists are paid by special interest groups Locke, John: British Enlightenment thinker whose ideas form part of the foundation of American government today; he contributed ideas about the social contract, popular sovereignty (consent of the governed) separation of powers, etc. logrolling: when one congressperson tries to gain passage of their pet projects by agreeing to vote for other congressmen’s projects loose constructionist: someone who believes in a very broad interpretation of the Constitution majority: at least one more than half (over 50% of the votes in an election) majority leader: Congressman from the majority party who is elected to be the party’s leader in their respective house majority opinion: a written explanation of the ruling of the majority on a court
Marshall Court: the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall; this court consistently made rulings that strengthened the power of the federal government and the judicial branch in particular by employing a loose interpretation of the Constitution Mayflower Compact: a document signed in 1620 in which the Puritans commit to construct a government based on the model of Locke’s social contract minority: less than half minority leader: Congressman from the minority party who is elected to be the party’s leader in their respective house monarchy: government headed by a single ruler (who usually gains their position through birth), usually a king or queen Montesquieu, Baron de: a French Enlightenment thinker who argued in favor of separation of powers in which government was divided into three branches, each with specific powers and responsibilities municipal government: the government of a city, town, or village natural rights: rights that all people are entitled to from birth; examples might include life, liberty, and property original jurisdiction: the court in which a case is heard first hand; for example the federal courts have original jurisdiction over cases in which the United States’ government is a party override: Congress’ ability to pass a law over a presidential veto with a 2/3 majority in both houses. pardon: grant of a release from punishment or legal consequences of a crime by a President or governor pigeonhole: when the chairman of a standing committee decides to put a bill aside indefinitely; this usually means that the bill dies pocket veto: a bill dies by pocket veto if a president refuses to sign it and Congress adjourns within ten working days political action committee (PAC): a committee financed by a special interest group which provides funding for a candidate’s political campaign political party: organized group that seeks to control government through the winning of elections and the holding of public office
popular sovereignty: basic principle of the American system of government that the people are the only source of any and all governmental power; advocated by many people including John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine popular vote: votes cast by the people for the electors representing candidates in presidential elections pork barrel legislation: bills (usually public works bills) that fund congressmen’s pet projects for their own districts; pork is not usually in the best interest of the nation as a whole precedent: see “legal precedent” President Pro Tempore: the top officer in the Senate; this person is the member of the majority party with the most seniority probable cause: the level of proof necessary for law enforcement officers to conduct a “reasonable” search and seizure quorum: the minimum numbers of legislators that must be present in order for a legislature to be officially in session ratification: formal approval, final consent to the effectiveness of a constitution, constitutional amendment, or treaty reasonable suspicion: the level of proof necessary for school personnel to conduct a “reasonable” search and seizure; the doctrine of “reasonable suspicion” is a precedent set in the case New Jersey v. T.L.O; NOTE: reasonable suspicion is more flexible than probable cause because it requires only “suspicion” rather than actual evidence of a crime regulatory agencies: parts of the federal bureaucracy charged with overseeing different aspects of the nation’s economy or government representative government: system of government in which voters elect representatives to make laws for them republic: nation in which voters choose representatives to govern for them reserved powers: powers held by the states in the American political system revenue: income rules committee: a committee in the House of Representatives which sets the rules, deadlines, and procedures for debate of a certain bill segregation: legal separation of people of different races
self-incrimination: when giving witness’s testimony in court would implicate that same witness in a crime Senate: upper house of U.S. Congress in which each state has two members seniority system: system whereby members of who have been in Congress the longest, receive powerful positions such as the committee chairs and Senate Pro Tempore separate but equal: legal precedent established in the case Plessy v. Fergusson (1896) in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregation did not violate the 14th amendment’s equal rights clause as long as separate facilities were equal separation of church and state: principle set forth in the first amendment that the government shall take no actions to establish or interfere with the practice of religion separation of powers: the principle that gives the powers of making, enforcing, and interpreting laws to separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government; originally imagined by Baron de Monstesquieu social contract: the idea that people agreed to give up some of their rights and powers to a government that would provide for their safety and well-being (put forth by John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers) sovereignty: absolute power of a state within its own territory Speaker of the House: highest office in the House of Representatives; the speaker is voted on by members of the majority party special interest group: groups which employ lobbyists, provide relevant information, and help finance political campaigns in order to persuade elected officials to vote or act in a certain way standing committee: regular congressional committees whose members specialize in a certain topic whose main duty is to investigate and hold hearings on bills before they reach the house floor; NOTE: bills must be approved by standing committees before they can proceed to the floors of each house states’ rights: idea that individual states had the right to limit the power of the federal government (through nullification, secession, or other means of resistance) strict constructionist: someone who takes a literal interpretation of the Constitution holding that the federal government has only the powers explicitly delegated to it in the Constitution supremacy clause: Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution, which makes that document and federal laws and treaties the “supreme law of the land” Supreme Court: the highest federal court and the final interpreter of the Constitution
three-fifths compromise: compromise reached at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 whereby three-fifths of a state’s slave population would be figured into the state’s total population treaty: a formal agreement concluded between two or more countries (it is negotiated by the executive branch and must be approved by 2/3 of the Senate) two-party system: political system in which the candidates of only two major parties have a reasonable chance of winning elections unconstitutional: not permitted by the constitution of a nation; (the Supreme Court’s ability to rule laws and policies “unconstitutional” is called judicial review) unicameral legislature: a body of lawmakers consisting of only one house unwritten constitution: a collection of customs and traditions which are now a part of our government although they are not codified in the Constitution or by other laws; examples include political parties, the cabinet, judicial review, etc. veto: chief executive’s (President’s) power to reject a bill passed by the legislature War Powers Act: law passed by Congress in 1973 requiring the President to seek congressional approval if troops are sent in to action for longer than 60 days (in reality 90 because the President can seek a 30-day extension) writ of habeas corpus: a judicial order demanding that a prisoner be formally charged with a crime or released writ of mandamus: a judicial order commanding a government official to act in a certain way whip: assistants to the majority and minority leaders, whose responsibilities include counting heads and making sure that party members vote