Fairness and Equity: Notes 2
Department of Mathematics and Computer Studies
York College (CUNY)
Jamaica, New York 11451
The American system of government has an unusual design. This design was chosen, in part, to correct perceived inequities suffered by it citizens during the time the American Colonies were ruled by Great Britain.
These special features include a written Constitution (adopted 1789), whose first 10 amendments are known as the Bill of Rights (Adopted 1791). (The Bill of Rights protects fundamental freedoms: Amendment I, free speech, protection against the establishment of religion, peaceable assembly, petition the government for redress of grievance; Amendment II, the right to keep and bear arms; III, no requirement during peace time to quarter soldiers; IV, protection against unreasonable searches and seizure of property, and the requirements of warrants for searches; Amendment V, right to a jury trial in criminal cases and protection against double jeopardy, and compelled testimony against oneself, seizure of private property without just compensation; Amendment VI, speedy public trial, and right to a lawyer; Amendment VII, jury trial in civil cases; Amendment VIII, prevents excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment; Amendment IX, enumeration of rights does not mean that others are denied by the people; Amendment X, powers not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved to the States and the people. The Constitution now has XXVII Amendments, the most recent was passed in 1992 and specifies "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."
Despite these amazing features, the Constitution allowed slavery, limited the rights of women, did not allow the voters to directly elect Senators (the were selected by the State Legislators until the 20th Century), and used an indirect system to elect the President. ((Initially,, the President and Vice-President were elected separately but an Amendment to the Constitution changed this.) The American form of government has proved to be flexible enough to deal with both changing views of equity and justice and with new unforeseen technologies (e.g. telephone, radio, airplanes, computers, Internet, etc.).
Other features of the government were a system of checks and balances between the three branches of the government: legislative (Congress), executive (President and the Vice-President), and the courts (Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, and District Courts). The Supreme Court evolved the power to be able to declare laws in violation of the Constitution to be void! This provision has almost no counterpart in any other democratic country where the laws of Parliament are supreme.
The Legislative Branch, Congress is bicameral (two houses), consisting of a House of Representatives (the number of representatives for each state depends on the population of the state) and the Senate (where each state gets two representatives). Laws must also be approved by the President but there are provisions to override a Presidential "veto."
The President to this day is not directly elected, and has tremendous discretionary power to carry out the laws, and deal with foreign governments. In particular, the President is commander in chief of the armed forces of the country.
The judicial branch of government is headed by a Supreme Court, whose members serve for life. Appointments to the Court are made by the President but require the "advice and consent" of the Senate.
Is is fair that large States have the same representation as small States? (Large and small can be interpreted either in terms of physical size, economic wealth, or population.)
Is it fair for the President to continue to be indirectly elected? (Why was this provision made in the first place?)
What aspects of the way the American government currently runs do you think are are unfair? In what ways might we improve America's government?