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US constitition and amendments

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Identify and explain how the constitution may be informally amended. The US constitution is a written, codified document and has survived for over 200 years. This has been possible because it has changed and adapted to take into account developments in US society. The 'Founding Fathers' laid down two formal procedures for proposing amendments to the constitution. The first requires Congress to call a national convention at the request of two-thirds of the states -along the same lines as the original convention in Philadelphia. This procedure has never been used. The second method requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. Once proposed an amendment needs to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. This can be done either through a vote in the state legislatures, or by special state ratifying conventions. The latter has only been used once, for the 21st amendment in 1933. Although over 10,000 amendments have been suggested only 40 have been approved by Congress and only 27 have been approved by states. The difficulty in formally amending the Constitution can be illustrated by the problems encountered by the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1980's. ...read more.


The Constitution, therefore, through judicial review is constantly being adapted and reshaped. The second procedure whereby the Constitution can be informally amended relates to 'Constitutional' legislation passed by Congress. Congress can use flexible devices to flesh out the constitution. These are called Acts of Congress. For example, the Civil Rights Act (1964) clarified the constitutional position on racial discrimination in the states. A further example can be found in the Wars Power Resolution Act (1973). Although the constitution states that only Congress can officially start a war, the Act enables the President (who is also Commander in Chief of the Army) to send US army troops to war, just so long as he informs Congress within 60 days and give them a further 60 days to respond. Thus it can be seen that 'Congressional' legislation also plays a role in adding meat to the skeleton of the Constitution. The constitution makes no mention of foreign policy issues, other than to describe the powers of President and Congress in war and negotiating treaties. Over the years, however, two key doctrines have developed which guide US foreign policy. ...read more.


Though both Houses have similar powers with regard to the development of the federal budget, it is understood that the House of Representatives plays a leading role and the Senate will be led by the House. In foreign affairs the position is reversed. The House may debate foreign issues, but is not expected to attempt to usurp the Senate's pre-eminence in the field. Again these unwritten conventions have evolved over time and cannot be found in the written constitution. The doctrine of the separation of powers, enshrined in the Constitution, also disguises the existence of an important political practice. Although, unlike Britain, the executive branch is not strictly responsible to Congress and its members, including the President, and cannot be removed by Congress for purely political reasons, it is clear that there is a constant requirement for officers of the administrations to report to Congress and to respond to its criticisms. Powerful congressional committees regularly submit Department Heads for close scrutiny and it is understood that, should criticism become severe enough the President must remove the individual in question even though he is neither constitutionally nor legally obliged to do so. This particular development in the practical operation of government has simply arisen over the years and is, therefore, an informal gradual amendment to constitutional doctrine. ...read more.

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