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Discuss in depth the expansion of power obtained by Congress, the presidency, and the judiciary paying close attention to the original outlines within the Constitution. What is the genesis of their additional powers, and is this expansion of power (outside of the framework of the formal amendment process) just?


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The Founding Fathers of the United States established elasticity within the Constitution because they realized it would be dangerous not to allow for some expansion of power should the need arise. Different national leaders have used strict and loose interpretations of the Constitution in order to protect the country or to advance a certain agenda based on the mood and needs of the American public.

The Supreme Court's power has expanded as the courts have ruled in civil rights cases. The Supreme Court has ruled in cases for gay rights and whether or not corporations could give freely to political campaigns. While the courts cited precedents such as the Fourteenth Amendment and freedom of speech under the Bill of Rights, the Founding Fathers would have never imagined these issues in 1787.

Congress has passed laws concerning income taxes and protections of public lands. The legislative branch's power has grown as people now expect the government to intervene in their personal lives in order to provide social safety nets and regulations concerning conservation. This direct governmental intervention would have shocked strict constructionists as they saw the federal government as a potential threat to liberty.

The executive branch has grown as well with military interventions throughout the world authorized by the president. This is a loose interpretation of the president's role as commander-in-chief. The president also intervenes heavily in order to push his/her own political programs through Congress. The president also serves as the head of his/her national political party. The Constitution does not mention political parties but these have become an accepted part of American politics.

In many circumstances, the growth of these branches' power is just. People expect more out of the government and the growth of the branches' power reflects this. In times when a branch grows too much, such as with Johnson's use of the War Powers Act in 1964, Congress or another branch of government can regain some of its former power.

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Throughout the history of the United States, each branch of government has expanded its powers. The judicial branch began to expand its powers in the Marbury v Madison case. In this case, the Supreme Court said the courts have the power of judicial review. This allows the courts to determine if laws are constitutional. This power has been used many times by the judicial branch.

The executive branch has expanded its powers many times. When Thomas Jefferson agreed to the terms of the Louisiana Purchase, he was expanding the powers of the executive branch. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that the President may purchase land. Many presidents have taken a loose view of the Constitution to increase the powers of the executive branch. Another example of increased executive branch power is the use of executive orders to do various things. The recent action of President Trump to ban travel to the United States for people from certain countries is an example.

The legislative branch has also expanded its powers by taking a loose view of the Constitution. Many laws have been passed even though it isn’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution that Congress may pass these laws. An example of this was the passage of the Affordable Care Act. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that Congress can require people to buy health insurance. The same is true with the Social Security Act. There is no provision in the Constitution that says the federal government can establish a pension for workers over the age of 65.

Each branch of government has expanded its powers over time.

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The powers of the three branches have expanded dramatically since the ratification of the Constitution. These changes have been the result of a number of different factors (including the addition of formal amendments mentioned in the question,) but they generally have stemmed from the establishment of precedents. From the earliest actions of George Washington, for example, presidents have acted in ways that expanded the powers of the presidency. When Thomas Jefferson gave his approval to the Louisiana Purchase, for instance, he acted outside the formal boundaries of the Constitution, which does not give the executive the power to conclude such land purchases. Subsequent presidents, however, could draw on this example to do so. Jefferson also sent naval forces to the Mediterranean to combat pirates there, and subsequent presidents could cite this as a precedent for committing troops to combat without a congressional declaration of war. The Supreme Court has expanded the powers of the judiciary by asserting the power of judicial review, which claimed for the court the ability to rule acts of Congress unconstitutional. This power, not expressly granted in the Constitution, is nevertheless a major source of power for the Court. Congress expands its powers simply through making laws, each of which entails an expanded interpretation of the Constitution. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, which banned segregation, was based in part on Congress's expressed power to regulate interstate commerce. The Framers could have envisioned no such intent for the law, and Congress thus expanded its powers by passing it. Future Congresses could look to this law to justify others.

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Discuss in depth the expansion of power obtained by Congress, the presidency and the judiciary paying close attention to the original outlines within the Constitution: Articles I-III. Remember that each branch of government has seen its powers expand beyond what was originally written; what is the genesis of these additional powers? Each branch is different in this regard so be specific: examples should be included to bolster your essay. And most importantly, is this expansion of power (outside of the framework of the formal amendment process) just? Why?

The extent to which one judges the three branches of government as having expanded their powers is dependent, usually, upon one's political orientation and the specific circumstances in which the extension of power is alleged to have occurred. A few examples will clarify this phenomenon as it has taken place at various points in U.S. history.

Especially over the past 70 years many people have perceived that the executive branch has overstepped its bounds with regard to the issue of war. The Constitution assigns to Congress the power to declare war. Yet presidents have repeatedly initiated U.S. military actions without obtaining a declaration of war from Congress. The most blatant instance was probably the Vietnam War in the 1960's. Often such unilateral actions by the President are rationalized by saying that it's not really a "war," but rather, a "police action" or another euphemism to make it seem a more casual situation than it really is. Obviously the public perception, with regard to Vietnam, depended on one's political views. Those who saw "stopping the spread of communism" in Southest Asia as an absolute were in favor of expanded executive power, while other citizens were not. More recently, the George W. Bush administration did ask Congress in 2002 for a resolution supporting its action in Iraq, but it was not an explicit declaration of war. Later, when the Iraq war was not going well for the U.S., many of those in Congress who had voted for the resolution then tried to distance themselves from the war by claiming that it was not a "war resolution" at all, but rather, merely a "process" they had voted for, now asserting that the President had indeed overstepped his bounds (in spite of their having supported him initially).

Conservatives in recent decades have seen the Supreme Court as an "activist" judiciary which has improperly gone beyond the bounds of "judging the laws" and has (from this conservative viewpoint) illegitimately created laws which are supposedly unconstitutional. This is the way anti-abortion activists have viewed Roe v. Wade. Of course, people in favor of abortion rights see it the opposite way. The important thing about the Constitution is that the framers deliberately did not say too much. The fact that the document is so open to interpretation is one of its strengths. The issue on which the power of Congress has been questioned has been (and evidently will be again soon) impeachment. There is no absolute rule by which an action by the president can be judged an impeachable offense. During Andrew Johnson's administration after the Civil War, some senators who were politically opposed to Johnson nevertheless voted not to convict him of the impeachment charges because they believed it would be dangerous to set the precedent of removing the President from office. And, the framers were careful to set the bar high on this issue, requiring a two-thirds vote in the Senate to convict rather than a simple majority.

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