The UK and US constitutions are similar in the fact that they both have checks and balances. This is as a result of the separation of powers (or lack of) that both systems have. In the UK, the executive and the legislative branches are fused. The Prime Minister heads the executive and their government proposes and passes legislation based on a Commons majority. There are also committees that check the work of the government and hold it accountable.In the US, all three branches are completely separate and cannot interfere with each other’s area of control. The only exception is the Vice-President, who acts as the President of the Senate, and can pass a tie-breaking vote.In theory, the American President has much more power than the British Prime Minister – he/she is the commander-in-chief and has the power to issue executive orders which have the full force of law. However, because of the constitutional system of ‘checks and balances’, the power of the US President is seriously reduced and they will often find it really difficult to push legislation through Congress.
In contrast, a British Prime Minister usually heads a government with a majority of seats in the House of Commons and the ability to pass almost any legislation that he/she wishes and there aren’t many checks and balances stopping them from doing so.In the US, as a consequence of the separation of powers, all legislation is introduced by a member of Congress, so even the signature legislation attributed to President Obama on healthcare reform was actually introduced by a Congressman. In total contrast, almost all legislation in Britain is introduced by the Government with only a very small number of Bills – usually on social issues with minimal implications for the public purse – introduced by individual Members of Parliament (they are called Private Members’ Bills). This is due to the checks and balances that these constitutions have.In the UK, due to there being no written constitution, there are statutes rather than official checks and balances like there are in the US.Analyse the amendment processes in the UK and US Constitutions (12)In the UK the amendment process is quite simple. The current government can simply repeal any current law or bill created by previous governments and create any new law or bill provided they get a majority voting yes in the House of Commons, which they will do if they have a majority government. The amendment process for creating a new bill is this; first there is simply a reading of the bill’s title. This is called the first reading and no debate takes place. There is a vote on the basic principle of the bill. Then comes the second reading which is where the main principles of the bill are debated and voted on. Then there is the committee stage where detailed examination of the bill takes place by a Public Bill Committee.
Every clause of the bill is scrutinised and decided upon. The report stage comes next, where MPs can consider further amendments to the bill after the committee stage. Finally there is the third reading where the entire bill is voted upon in its final entity. If the bill has started in the Commons, it will then go to the House of Lords for its first reading there and the same procedure then occurs.However, in the US the procedure is totally different. Article V (where the amendment procedure is talked about) provides two methods for amending the US Constitution. The first method authorizes Congress, “”whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary”” to propose Constitutional amendments. If accepted, the proposed amendment is then sent to the state legislatures for ratification. Three-quarters of the state legislatures need to approve the amendment for it to become part of the US Constitution. The second method requires Congress, “”on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states””, to “”call a convention for proposing amendments””Each time the amendment process has been initiated since 1789, the first method has been used. All 33 amendments submitted to the states for ratification originated in the Congress. The second method has yet to be successfully invoked.The structural differences between the US and UK Constitutions are that the constitutions are completely different in the way that amendments are made. This is due to the cultural differences at the time as the US feared a tyrannical government would be able to create undemocratic laws so to stop that from happening they made the amendment process very difficult which is why there have only been 27 amendments to the US Constitution since its creation.
Evaluate the extent of federalism in the US today (30)
It can be said that the US is no longer a federal system. This is because although it’s stated in the Constitution, the states still don’t have enough freedom and powers of their own. An example of this is that income tax is levied by both the federal government and some state governments when it should be levied by only the state governments and then a proportion be given to the central government.Also, Federalism in the US has declined due to the fact that when crises occur such as war or terrorist attacks (9/11), the central government takes more power for itself. The problems that have caused the crises tend to be too big for individual states to solve on their own so the central government takes more power in order to solve these problems.However, it can also be said that the US is definitely still a federal system. The federal system in the US is guaranteed by the codified Constitution, which defines the powers that belong to the central government and those that belong to the states. For example, the Constitution grants the states the right to equal representation in the Senate, jurisdictional integrity, the right to a republican form of government, and protection from invasion and domestic conflict, while granting the central government the power to “levy and collect taxes, to pay debts, and to provide for the common defence and general welfare”.
The fundamental principle of a multi-level government where power is jointly exercised remains enshrined in law through the Constitution. The relations between national and state governments are regulated under this legal framework, which cannot be altered except through the complicated process of constitutional amendment. That is one of the reasons why federalism is still very much alive in the US today. The tenth amendment states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” which means that any power not explicitly stated in the Constitution is given to the states, not the central government.Another reason why it can be said that the US is still a federal system is that the states still have so much power. Three-quarters of the states still need to approve an amendment for it to be ratified which is a massive power as they have a pretty big say in how their country is going to be governed. The Senate and the House of Representatives which make up Congress give all their power to the states as the Senate is made up of 2 representatives from each state and the House of Representatives is made up of at least one person from each state, depending on the population of that state.There is also a certain barrier on how much power the states should really get. After all, they are still part of a larger nation and so if they were to receive even more powers than they already have, they would start to become more like lots of little separate nations.
All of the powers that are necessary for the central government to have (such as the powers to declare war or make treaties), are given by the Constitution and that’s how it should stay.In conclusion, I think that although federalism in the US has definitely declined over the years, it is still very much a big part of the country as the states still have a lot of powers given to themselves, which means that the central government doesn’t have control over them and they still have a pretty big say in how their country is run due to three-quarters of the state legislatures still needing to approve amendments to the Constitution.