Is the US Constitution a help or hindrance to the functioning of the US government?

  • Created by: Q_
  • Created on: 23-04-19 10:55


  • It has embraced the rise of black civil rights, feminism and gay rights.
  • It avoids too much power being concentrated in any one institution: no president can act as a dictator and must work with Congress to get things done. Equally, Congress must respect the president's views.
  • Power is healthily diluted by being shared; it encourages compromise and cooperation, especially if different parties control Congress and the White House (divided government). 
  • The Bill of Rights safeguards the basic rights and freedoms of American citizens, such as free speech (First Amendment), the right to a fair trial and freedom from racial discrimination. 
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  • Gridlock occurs when there is little cooperation and compromise between a divided government, resulting in little action with hardly anything being acheived. This inability to reach an agreement led to a temporary government shutdown over the budget in October 2013. 
  • Gridlock has increased in recent times as the parties have become more polarised and partisan. 
  • The Constitution contains an indirect method for selecting the president using electors. This sometimes means, as in 2000 and 2016 (HC), that the candidate who wins the popular vote can lose the Electoral College
  • The requirement for biennial elections to the House of Representatives results in constant campaigning and leaves congressmen too little time to focus on making and debating laws. 
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  • Some of the Constitution's wording is vague and subjective. There is debate about the true meaning of the clauses in the Constitution, and it is the Supreme Court that often has the final say (strict and loose constructionists).
  • In addition, some powers are overlapping. For example, the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces but only Congress has the power to declare war or make peace. 
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How well does the US Constitution protect citizens

Most of the constitutional protections for individual freedoms are found in the 1791 Bill of Rights. These rights are said to be inalienable and entrenched. 

  • Freedom of political expression (First Amendment) 
  • Right to bear arms (Second Amendment )
  • Right to trial by jury (Seventh Amendment) 
  • Equal protection clause - everyone should be protected equally by the law (Fourteenth Amendment) 
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How well does the US Constitution protect citizens

Critics would say that there are serious problems with the current constitutional protection of citizens' rights. 

  • Rights are protected unequally. Gun owners have constitutional rights but women and the disabled do not.
  • At various times the Constitution has failed properly to protect the rights of certain minorities. For example, racial segregation was permitted until the 1950s. 
  • The real guarnator of civil rights is Congress, which has passed laws to expand their provision. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court judgements including abortion (Roe v. Wade 1973) and gay rights (Obergefell v. Hodges 2015) are an example of this. 
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  • The legislature and the executive can appear weak as they are often blocked by the other institution, especially in times of a divided government. (The executive and legislative branches of government).
  • The method of selecting the president via an electoral college can lead to the 'wrong result' (2016 election). (The electoral process and direct democracy).
  • The process of informal amendments means that the Supreme Court can potentially have a major say over laws and is frequently drawn into party politics - they become politicised. (The judicial branch of government: the Supreme Court).
  • The civil rights guaranteed in the Constitution do not necessarily result in full or immediate equality. (Civil rights). 
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