The American constitution plays a big role in the way current and past political processes play out. This is often not the case in all developed nations, as can be evidenced in Britain where the constitution does not play a big role in the way the political landscape is shaped (Darlington 2). The United States (US) constitution has been a very stable document, as can be evidenced in the past 200 years where only 17 amendments have been made (Darlington 2). For purposes of this study, it is important to understand the fact that the American constitution separates the power of the government into the executive, legislature and the judiciary. These organs of the state work in synchrony and each can check each other’s powers. In analysing the power of the constitution when defining the American political landscape, this study will evaluate the role of the constitution in establishing checks and balances in government from an analysis of the senate, office of the president, and the Supreme Court.
Since 1786, when the American constitution was enacted, the constitution has been able to stipulate the functions of the above state organs and in turn, these state organs have over the years changed the political landscape of the country. This study will further explore this observation in detail.
The president as stipulated in the American constitution has power over the executive, and in a wider sense, he/she is the Chief Executive Officer of the Country. Though America’s founding fathers designed the constitution to avoid an imperialist presidency (which often resembles a monarchical system such as that exhibited in Britain), recent developments in world politics have greatly shifted the powers of the president in a huge way. The senate for example, has ceded a lot of its “checking” powers to the presidency; even though it was meant to be the least political organ of the state (Congress 14811). Factoring in recent political trends in America (after the Second World War), it is clearly evident that there is a disconnect existing in the manner the constitution outlines the office of the president and the manner in which the presidency is informally handled today. This trend has been identified by some researchers as symptoms of the ever-growing political, economic and social influence America has on the world stage (which gives immense powers to the American president) (Grant 76).
In a more general sense, the American president is arguably perceived as the custodian of the most powerful office on earth. This is the reason why the American presidency has been a highly contested political position which is often under scrutiny by the entire world. This observation can be traced to the power the American constitution gives the presidency. As will be evidenced in subsequent sections of this study, the powerful nature of the presidency has often interfered with the working of other state bodies, such as the senate.
In fact, many observers today note that the presidency has increasingly become imperialistic in nature. Such sentiments are held by Darlington who notes that: “The balance of power between the Congress and the President has shifted significantly in favour of the President. This is evident in the domestic sphere through practices like ‘impoundment’ (when money is taken from the purpose intended by Congress and allocated to another purpose favoured by the President) and in the international sphere through refusal to invoke the War Powers Resolution in spite of major military invasions. Different terms for this accretion of power by the Presidency are “the unitary executive” and “the imperial presidency” (p. 39).
Despite the fact that the American constitution gives immense powers to the office of the president, it is still important to note that the same constitution still gives a lot of power to the senate. Currently, it is arguably one of the most powerful upper-house in any legislative body in the world (Darlington 32).
Considering the immense powers of the senate, American politics has been keenly designed to consider who sits at the senate because important policies of the country are normally determined through the intervention of the senate. For example, budgetary allocation and government spending are approved by the senate and therefore, American politics has been tailored to consider this exception (Bardes 457). This is the reason why successive presidents have endeavoured to have a strong influence on the senate. For example, in the past Bush administration, the president had to seek the consent of the senate to send American troops to Iraq. It is therefore clear that despite the fact that the constitution makes the president the chief executive officer of the country, and indeed the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the presidency has to still get the approval of the senate in carrying out important decisions affecting the country. This comes out of the regulative role that the constitution gives the senate in checking the executive as its most important function.
The American constitution recognizes the American Supreme Court as the highest court of the land. It also gives it immense powers over other organs of the state (but more so, the executive) (Watts 283). Among the function of the Supreme Court (as outlined by the American constitution) include the role of arbitration (in cases involving states), interpreting the constitution, and other similar roles (Luedtke 480). However, it is important to note that America’s Supreme Court has a very political nature when compared to other Supreme Courts in other nations. For instance, the scope of abortion in America is often determined by the Supreme Court, but the scope of such a matter in other countries would be determined by the legislature (Darlington 32). The political nature of the Supreme Court can be attributed to the powers the constitution gives the state body. In comprehending the political nature of the Supreme Court, it is important to understand that the president often nominates members who sit in the Supreme Court and each of these names is supposed to be approved by the senate. From this point of view, it is equally easy to understand why the president often has immense concern over who sits at the senate, because if Supreme Court appointees are nominated by his/her office, they cannot be approved by the senate if members sitting in it are against him (Steven 2).
This scenario therefore becomes a political issue as opposed to a matter of credibility. The power the American constitution vests on the Supreme Court therefore illustrates the political nature of the court because the state organ has the power to even nullify executive decisions made by the office of the president. Moreover, it can amend the constitution in easier ways than those evidenced in formal amendment processes (Luedtke 480). These are some of the reasons, why subsequent presidents have always wanted to have their appointees sitting in the Supreme Court, because in such a manner, they can have control of the state organ.
This study identifies the fact that the American constitution significantly defines the way American politics plays out today.
Its articulation of the powers of the president, the senate and the Supreme Court practically explains why appointments in such offices are highly contested and virtually, very political in nature. These powers define the extreme political nature of the American governance system.
Bardes, Barbara. American Government and Politics Today. London: Cengage Learning, 2008.
Print Congress. Congressional Record, Volumes 109-122; Volumes 1963-1966. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2010.
Darlington, Roger. A Short Guide to the American Political System. 6 November.
2010. 4 February. 2011.
The American Political Process. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print Luedtke, Luther.
Making America: The Society & Culture of the United States. New York: UNC Press Books, 1992. Print Steven, Denis. Supreme Court Appointment Process: Roles of the President, Judiciary Committee, and Senate. New York: Nova Publishers, 2005. Print Watts, Duncan.
Dictionary of American Government and Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Print