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Table of Contents


The US Congress and Domestic and Economic Policy             The Presidency and Foreign Policy

The National Bureaucracy               The National Courts               Civil Liberties and Civil Rights   








The US Congress and Domestic and Economic Policy

Comparing the House and Senate



435 members serving two-year terms 100 members serving rotating six-year terms
Speaker's referral of bills to committee hard to challenge Referral decisions easy to challenge
Committees almost always consider legislation first Committee consideration easily bypassed
Rules Committee powerful -
controls time of debate, admissibility of amendments
Rules Committee weak -
few limits on debate or amendments
Debate usually limited to one hour Unlimited debate unless shortened by unanimous consent or invoking cloture
Non-germane amendments may not be introduced from floor Non-germane amendments may be introduced (riders)



I. Qualifications to Run for Congress


25 years of age when seated, not when elected

US citizen for 7 years

resident of state from which elected: custom that a representative live in the district that he/she represents, not Constitutional


30 years of age when seated, not when elected

US citizen for 9 years

resident of state from which elected


C-Span Congressional Resources

Power Rankings



II. Congressional Leadership

A. Senate

1. Majority Party (most senators)

President Pro Tempore: selected by majority party and usually most senior member of the Senate majority party

Majority Leader: leads majority party

Majority Whip: assists majority leader, rounds up votes, heads group of deputy whips

Chairman of the Conference: presides over meetings of all members of the Senate majority party

Policy Committee: schedules legislation

Legislative Review Committee: reviews legislative proposals and makes recommendations to senators of the majority party

Steering Committee: assigns Senators of the majority party to committees

2. Republican/Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: provides funds, assistance to Republican/Democratic candidates for the Senate

3. Minority Party (least senators)

Minority Leader: leads minority party

Assistant Minority Leader: assists minority leader, rounds up votes

Chairman of the Conference: presides over meetings of all senators of the minority party

Policy Committee: makes recommendations on party policy

Committee on Committees: assigns Senators of the minority party to committees

Senate Reference Section

B. House

1. Majority Party (most representatives)

Speaker of the House: selected by the majority party

100 Years Later, a Modern Speaker Showdown Feels Eerily Similar

Majority Leader: leads majority party

Majority Whip: assists majority leader, rounds up votes, heads large group of deputy and assistant whips

Chairman of the Caucus: presides over meetings of all members of the majority party

Steering and Policy Committee: schedules legislation, assigns members of the majority party to committees

2. Republican/Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: provides funds, advice to Republican/Democratic candidates for the House

3. Minority Party (least representatives)

Minority Leader: leads minority party

Minority Whip: assists minority leader, rounds up votes, heads large forum of deputy and assistant whips

Chairman of the Conference: presides over meetings of all members of the minority party

Committee on Committees: assigns members of the minority party to committees

Policy Committee: advises on party policy

Research Committee: on request, provides information about issues



III. Powers of Congress

found in Article 1, section 8, of the Constitution -

levy and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises

borrow money

regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states and with Indian tribes

establish rules for naturalization (becoming a citizen)

establish rules for bankruptcy

coin money, set its value and punish counterfeiting

fix the standard of weights and measures

establish a post office and post roads

issue patents and copyrights to inventors and authors

create courts inferior to (below) the Supreme Court

define and punish piracies, felonies on the high seas and crimes against the law of nations

declare war

raise and support an army and navy and make rules for their governance

provide for a militia (reserving to the states the right to appoint militia officers and to train the militia under congressional rule)

exercise exclusive legislative powers over the seat of government (the District of Columbia) and over places purchased to be federal facilities (forts, arsenals, dockyards and "other needful buildings")

"make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for the carrying into execution the foregoing powers and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States"



IV. How a Bill Becomes LawHOW OUR LAWS ARE MADE

A. Introduction: any member can introduce a piece of legislation

House: legislation is handed to clerk of the House or placed in hopper

Senate: members must gain recognition of the presiding officer to announce the introduction of a bill during the morning hour … introduction of bill postponed until next day if any senator objects

The Legislative Processbill assigned a number (HR 1 or SB 1)

bill labeled with the sponsor's name

bill sent to Government Printing Office (GPO) to make copies

Senate bills can be jointly sponsored

members can cosponsor legislation

B. Committee: bill referred to appropriate committee by Speaker of the House or presiding officer in Senate … often actual referral decision made by the House or Senate parliamentarian

bill may be referred to more than one committee

bill may be split so that parts are sent to different committees

Speaker of the House may set time limits on committees

bills placed on calendar of the committee to which assigned

failure to act on a bill is equivalent to killing it

bills in House can only be released from committee without a proper committee vote by a discharge petition signed by a majority of the House membership (218 members)

Committee Steps:

1. comments about the bill's merit are requested by government agencies

2. bill can be assigned to subcommittee by chair

3. may hold hearings

4. subcommittees report findings to the full committee

5. vote by the full committee: bill is "ordered to be reported"

6. committee will hold "mark-up" sessions during which it will make revisions and additions ... if substantial amendments are made committee can order the introduction of a "clean bill" which will include the proposed amendments, have a new number and be sent to floor while the old bill is discarded (chamber must approve, change or reject all committee amendments before conducting a final passage vote)

7. after bill reported, committee staff prepares written report explaining why they favor bill and why they wish to see amendments, if any, adopted … committee members who oppose a bill sometimes write a dissenting opinion in report

8. report sent to whole chamber and placed on calendar

9. House: most bills go to Rules committee before reaching floor and committee adopts rules that will govern procedures under which the bill will be considered, for example, a "closed rule" sets strict time limits on debate and forbids introduction of amendments

10. rules can have major impact on whether bill passes … rules committee can be bypassed in three ways: (1) a vote of members to suspend rules, (2) file a discharge petition or (3) the House can use a Calendar Wednesday procedure

C. Floor

1. Calendar

House: bills placed on one of four House Calendars in the order which reported but don't usually come to floor in that order and some never reach the floor at all

Speaker of the House and Majority Leader decide what will reach floor and when (legislation can also be brought to floor by discharge petition)

Senate: legislation placed on Legislative Calendar … Executive Calendar deals with treaties and nominations

Scheduling of legislation is job of Majority Leader but bills also brought to floor whenever majority of Senate chooses

I'm Just a Bill


2. Debate

House: Debate limited by rules formulated in the Rules Committee … Committee of the Whole debates and amends bill but cannot technically pass it. Debate guided by Sponsoring Committee and time divided equally between proponents and opponents. Committee decides how much time to allot to each person. Amendments must be germane to subject of bill - no riders allowed. Bill is reported back to House (to itself) and voted on. A quorum call is a vote to make sure there are enough members present (218) to have final vote. If no quorum, House will adjourn or will send Sergeant at Arms out to round up missing members.

Senate: debate unlimited unless cloture invoked. Members can speak as long as they want and amendments need not be germane - riders are often offered. Entire bills can be offered as amendments to other bills. Unless cloture is invoked, Senators can use a filibuster to defeat a measure by "talking it to death"

3. Vote

If passed, sent to other chamber unless that chamber already has a similar measure under consideration. If either chamber does not pass bill dies. If the House and Senate pass the same bill then sent to President. If the House and Senate pass different bills they are sent to Conference Committee. Most major legislation goes to a Conference Committee.

D. Conference Committee

1. Members from each house form conference committee and meet to work out differences. Committee usually made up of senior members appointed by presiding officers of the committee that originally dealt with bill. Representatives from each house work to maintain their version of the bill.

2. If the Conference Committee reaches compromise, it prepares a written conference report submitted to each chamber.

3. Conference report must be approved by both House and Senate.

E. President: bill sent to President for review

1. Bill becomes law if signed by President or if not signed within 10 days and Congress is in session.

2. If Congress adjourns before 10 days and President has not signed bill it does not become law ("pocket veto").

3. If President vetoes bill it is sent back to Congress with note listing reasons. The chamber that originated the legislation can attempt to override veto by a vote of of those present. If the veto of the bill is overridden in both chambers it becomes law.

4. Once a bill is signed by President or his veto overridden by both houses it becomes a law and is assigned an official number.

Congressional Bills | govinfo

BillTrack50 | Track and Share Legislation

Federal Statutes: A Beginner's Guide

How to Read a Government Bill



V. The Budget Process

A. Budget FactsFederal Spending Cartoon

The government spends most of our money on a few major programs.

Federal Spending:(2022)

Health Insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, ACA) 25%

Social Security 21%

Defense 13%

Economic Security Programs (Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Unemployment, SSI, SNAP, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child care assistance, help meeting home energy bills, aid to abused or neglected children) 11%

Benefits for Veterans and Federal Retirees 7%

Interest on National Debt 7%

Education 3%

Transportation 2%

Natural Resources, Environment, Agriculture 1%

Science, Medical Research 1%

Law Enforcement 1%

International Expenditures (humanitarian aid, maintaining US embassies and consulates) 1%

All Other 5%

TOTAL: 5.8 trillion (over $4.8 trillion estimated to be financed by federal revenues, remaining financed by net borrowing)

The government collects most of its revenues from a few main sources.

Federal Tax Revenues 2000-2021   

Federal Revenues (2022)

approximately 50% of federal revenue comes from individual income taxes

36% from payroll taxes that fund social insurance programs (Employers and employees split the cost of payroll taxes but research has shown that employers pass their portion of the cost on to workers in the form of lower wages.)

7% from corporate income taxes

8% from a mix of excise taxes (collected on the sale of certain goods such as fuel, alcohol, tobacco), estate taxes (taxes on assets - such as cash, real estate, stocks - that are transferred from deceased persons to their heirs), other revenue sources



Federal Deficits or Surpluses 1973-2022

In its first three years, the government spent a total of about $4 million. By 1800, total annual spending amounted to less than $11 million. National spending climbed during the 1930s from $4 billion in 1931 to over $8 billion in 1936. WWII increased that number to over $91 billion by 1944. Today the total has climbed to $30.9 trillion (2022).

Because often total revenues do not cover total spending, the government borrows money to finance any annual deficit. The total it has borrowed over the years, but not repaid, is the national debt. In its first 150 years, the government sometimes generated budget deficits (for instance, to finance a war) but later ran surpluses and repaid the debt that had accumulated. Budget deficits have grown more frequent in the last half-century and they soared during the 1980s. At the end of fiscal year 1977 the deficit was $706 billion. By the end of fiscal year 1997 it was $5.38 trillion - almost 8 times as much as it had been 20 years earlier - but the national budget ran a surplus of $184 billion in 2001. However, in 2022, the federal budget had a deficit of $1.4 trillion, 5.5% of the GDP.


Federal Debt Ceiling

The debt limit or debt ceiling is the total amount of money that the US government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations. If the debt ceiling is reached and the US Treasury doesn’t have the ability to pay its obligations, the negative economic effects would quickly mount and risk triggering a deep recession. Unlike most other developed countries, the US puts a hard limit on how much it can borrow. Because the US government spends more than it takes in, lawmakers must periodically raise the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is the legal limit on the total amount of federal debt the US government can accrue. The limit applies to almost all federal debt, including the debt held by the public and the debt the government owes itself as a result of borrowing from various government accounts, like the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. As a result, the debt continues to rise due to both annual budget deficits financed by borrowing from the public and from trust fund surpluses, which are invested in Treasury bills with the promise to be repaid later with interest. Since the end of World War II, Congress and the President have modified the debt ceiling more than 100 times. Lawmakers suspended the debt limit, rather than raising it by a specific dollar amount, seven times since 2012 and increased the debt limit twice in 2021. In early 2023, the US once again hit its debt ceiling, which was capped at $31.4 trillion. After months of using “extraordinary measures” to stave off default, lawmakers enacted legislation to suspend the debt limit through January 1, 2025.

The debt ceiling increase enacted in late 2021 sustained federal borrowing authority until January 19, 2023, with extraordinary measures (accounting maneuvers that provide for shifting certain funds around such as suspending the sale of some government securities) allowing the federal government to pay its obligations in full and on time until at least June of that year. However, once the debt ceiling was reached, the US government would not be able to issue any new debt, potentially defaulting on its obligations. If Congress had not raised or suspended the debt ceiling before then, the federal government would have lacked the cash to pay its obligations.

Such obligations are the result of laws previously enacted by Congress. Raising the debt limit is not about new spending; it is about paying for previous choices policymakers legislated. There is no plausible set of changes that can generate the instant surplus necessary to avoid having to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. Once the government hits the debt ceiling and exhausts all available extraordinary measures, it is no longer allowed to issue debt and soon after will run out of cash-on-hand. At that point, given annual deficits, incoming receipts will be insufficient to pay millions of daily obligations as they come due. The federal government will have to at least temporarily default on many of its obligations, from Social Security payments and salaries for federal civilian employees, and the military to veterans’ benefits and utility bills, among others. Some believe the Treasury Department could buy more time by engaging in unprecedented actions such as selling large amounts of gold, minting a special large-denomination coin, or invoking the Fourteenth Amendment to override the statutory debt limit. Whether any of these tools is truly available is in question, and the potential economic and political consequences of each of these options are unknown. A Treasury report found that a delay of payments, which suspends all government payments until they can all be paid on a day-to-day basis, is the least harmful scenario. Realistically, though, the only option to avoid a default of our nation’s obligations is for Congress to raise or suspend the debt ceiling.

A default occurs when the Treasury does not have enough cash available to pay for obligations that have already been made. In the debt ceiling context, a default is precipitated by the government exceeding the statutory debt limit and being unable to pay its obligations to its citizens and creditors. Without enough money to pay its bills, all payments are at risk, including all government spending, mandatory payments, interest on debt, and payments to US bondholders. A US government default would be disastrous. A default would roil global financial markets and create chaos (including extreme stock market volatility), since both domestic and international markets depend on the relative economic and political stability of US debt instruments and the US economy. Interest rates would rise, and demand for Treasuries would drop as investors stopped or scaled back investments in Treasury securities that were no longer considered safe. Even the threat of default during a standoff increases borrowing costs. If interest rates for Treasuries increase substantially, interest rates across the economy would follow, affecting car loans, credit cards, home mortgages, business investments and other costs of borrowing and investment. The balance sheets of banks and other institutions with large holdings of Treasuries would decline as the value of Treasuries dropped, potentially tightening the availability of credit. In the event of an actual default, increased unemployment rates could persist for years.

Although policymakers have often enacted “clean” debt ceiling increases, Congress has also coupled increases with other legislative priorities … “I’ll vote to raise the debt ceiling if you’ll pass my bill.” In nearly all instances in which a debt limit increase was accompanied by such deal-making, lawmakers generally approved temporary increases in the debt limit to allow time for negotiations to be completed without the risk of default.  But threatening to break the promises of the US government to people all over the world as well as its own citizens in order to gain political points makes no sense. Such legislative maneuvers ought to be banned as a weapon. Failing to raise a debt ceiling would be disastrous. It would result in severe negative consequences that experts are not capable of fully predicting in advance. Even threatening a default or taking the country to the brink of default has serious implications. In 2011, such maneuvers took the country to the brink of default and prompted a downgrade of the country's top-notch credit rating. The argument that raising the debt ceiling encourages additional future spending is logically irresponsible. The debt ceiling has to be raised to authorize past spending already approved by past Congresses. The truth is that the US doesn't need, and shouldn't have, a debt ceiling. Every other democratic country, with the exception of Denmark, does fine without one.

B. Types of Spending

1. Discretionary: 28% of all Federal Spending (2023)

This is the money the President and Congress must decide to spend each year. It includes money for such programs as the FBI, Coast Guard, housing, education, space exploration, highway construction, defense, foreign aid and so on.

2. Mandatory: 62% of all Federal Spending (2023)

This is the money that the national government spends automatically - Federal Budget FY2022, including mandatory and discretionary spendingunless the President and Congress change the laws that govern it. It includes entitlements - such as Social Security, Medicare and Food Stamps - through which individuals receive benefits because they meet some criteria of eligibility (e.g. age, income). It also includes interest on the national debt, which the Government pays to individuals and institutions that buy saving bonds and other US securities. Despite its name, however, mandatory spending is not unchangeable. The President and Congress can change the laws that govern entitlements or taxes but they must take explicit action to do so since they include laws other than appropriations acts.

C. The Budget ProcessFederal Budget Balance 1998-2020

The President's budget is sent to Congress in early February. This proposal is his plan for the next fiscal year, beginning October 1. This plan, however, only becomes official after Congress passes and the President signs spending bills and legislation creating new taxes and entitlements.

After receiving the President's budget, Congress examines it in detail. Scores of committees and subcommittees hold hearings on proposals under their jurisdiction. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees, for instance, hold hearings on the President's defense plan. If the President's plan contains proposals that affect federal revenues, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees hold hearings. The President, the Budget Director, the Cabinet and others work with Congress as it accepts some proposals, rejects some and changes others.

Each year Congress must pass and the President must sign, 13 appropriation bills that include all of the discretionary spending. The President and Congress do not have to enact new laws governing entitlements or taxes. If they do not, the government will pay the benefits for Social Security and other programs and collect the taxes required by laws already in place.

D. Budget Calendar

                                                                                    The Budget Calendar

No later than the 1st Monday in February

The President transmits the budget, including a sequester preview report.

Six weeks later

Congressional committees report budget estimates to the Budget Committee.

April 15th

Action completed on congressional budget resolution.

May 15th

House consideration of annual appropriations bills may begin.

June 15th

Action completed on reconciliation.

June 30th

Action on appropriations completed by House.

July 15th

The President transmits the Mid-Session Review of the budget.

August 20th

OMB updates the sequester preview.

October 1st

The fiscal year begins.

15 days after the end of a session of Congress

OMB issues final sequester report and the President issues a sequester order if necessary.


US National Debt Clock

5 Facts about the US National Debt

Okay, Folks, Let's Put Aside Politics and Talk About Taxes...

Understanding the Federal Budget

Mandatory vs. Discretionary Spending

Where the Current National Debt Comes From

History of Presidents and Federal Income Tax

We the Economy Films: Chapter 3: What is the role of our government?

o   Why is our tax system so complicated? Can a cartoon conquer a challenge like today’s tax system, with its ever-changing, 75,000 pages of laws? With retro flair, "Taxation Nation" looks into how our tax system does – and doesn’t – work.

o   Where do our tax dollars go? Uncle Sam takes a cut of our earnings every April. But what does he spend our hard-earned money on? The answers will truly surprise you in this vérité odyssey.

o   Why does the US fund foreign aid? The US spends approximately $37 billion dollars a year on foreign aid - just under 1% of our federal budget. "The Foreign Aid Paradox" zeroes in on food aid to Haiti and how it affects American farming and shipping interests as well as Haiti’s own agricultural markets. The result: a surprising study in unintended consequences.

o   Why do we have budget deficits and a national debt? In this free-wheeling animated film, you’ll see how Congress and public officials use and manage debt, and why it matters to you.

Understanding Taxes



Policy Basics: Introduction to the Federal Budget Process


Budget Hero was launched in May 2008,

re-launched in September 2012 and retired

in August 2014 by Public Insight Network.

I’m keeping the link ready (and my fingers crossed!)

for the next re-launch.



VI. Making Policy (Click on link to access notes.)



VII. Domestic Policy (Click on link to access notes.)



VIII. Economic Policy (Click on link to access notes.)














The Presidency and Foreign Policy


I. Qualifications

A. Must be a natural-born citizen of the US (can be born abroad of parents who are American citizens).

B. Must be 35 years of age.

C. Must be a resident of the US for at least 14 years (but not necessarily the 14 years preceding the election).




II. Benefits

A. White House

B. a chef

C. a salary of $400,000 per year (taxable)

D. expense account of $50,000 per year (taxable)

E. travel expenses of $100,000 per year (tax-free)

F. pension, on retirement, cabinet member's salary (taxable)

G. staff support on leaving the presidency

H. a place in the country: Camp David ON BOARD AIR FORCE ONE

I. a personal airplane:Air Force One







[If you see the message Error Loading Image in either of the two players above, just ignore it and hit the play button.]



III. The President's Roles

  1. Commander in Chief of the Military

    The President is responsible for all military decisions. Ultimately, any military action taken by this nation is his responsibility. This is particularly important because of the nature of the use of weapons ... they start wars and people die.

  2. Chief Diplomat

    The President is the nation's chief diplomat. It is his responsibility to negotiate treaties and conduct foreign affairs.

  3. Chief Executive

    All of the heads of the agencies in Washington report to the President. In the end he is responsible for carrying out the law and making sure the bureaucracy runs efficiently.

  4. Head Legislator

    Often the President suggests laws and he is always pushing for legislation he feels is important. In this function he often acts as a lobbyist, exerting pressure and shepherding bills through Congress. The President must also sign and/or veto legislation.

  5. Leader of Public Opinion

    The President is the one office for which the entire nation votes. He represents and leads the nation. This is particularly difficult considering the contentious nature of politics. Often in trying to lead public opinion he only serves to enrage half of the country. That's what politics is all about.

  6. Head of His/Her Political Party

    The President is responsible for helping to get members of his party elected / reelected (as well as himself). While this is not an official function it is very time-consuming.



IV. The Powers of the President

  1. According to Article II of the Constitution the President has the following powers:

    1. Serve as commander in chief of the armed forces

    2. Commission officers of the armed forces

    3. Grant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses (except impeachment)

    4. Convene Congress in special sessions

    5. Receive ambassadors

    6. Take care that the laws be faithfully executedCourt appointments by president

    7. Wield the "executive power"

    8. Appoint officials to lesser offices

  2. Powers shared with the Senate

    1. Make treaties

    2. Appoint ambassadors, judges and high officials

  3. Powers shared with Congress

    1. Approve legislation


State of the Union (SOTU)

White House Tapes: The President Is Calling

Supreme Court Nominations Not Confirmed

Most of Trump’s executive orders aren’t actually executive orders. Here’s why that matters.

The Art in the Oval Office Tells a Story

Video: FDR’s First Fireside Chat, 1933 (13:01)

Video: FDR Asks Congress for Declaration on War against Japan, 1941 (4:47)

Video: President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, 1961 (9:28), in which he warns of the dangers of the unprecedented and vast military-industrial complex

Video: JFK’s Inaugural Address, 1961 (15:26)

Video: JFK’s Cuban Missile Crises Speech to the Nation, 1962 (16:58)

Video: JFK’s Speech near the Berlin Wall, 1963 (10:09)

Video: JFK’s Civil Rights Message, 1963 (10:41)

Audio: LBJ Takes Presidential Oath on Air Force One, 1963 (0:43)

Video: LBJ’s Comments on Returning to Washington after JFK’s Death, 1963 (0:42)

Video: LBJ Signs the Civil Rights Act, 1964 (9:57)

Video: LBJ’s Speech Withdrawing from His Re-election Campaign, 1968 (14:50)

Video: John Dean’s Testimony on the Watergate Cover-up, 1973 (17:35)

Video: Representative Barbara Jordan’s Statement to the House Judiciary Committee on the Proposed Impeachment of Pres. Nixon, 1974 (13:18)

Video: Pres. Richard Nixon’s Resignation Speech, 1974 (8:22)

Video: Pres. Jimmy Carter’s Fireside Chat on the Energy Crisis, 1977 (12:32)

Video: Pres. Reagan’s Star Wars Proposal, 1983 (20:31)

Video: Pres. Reagan Speaks at the Berlin Wall, 1987 (5:23)

Video: Pres. Reagan’s Farewell Address, 1989 (20:48)

Presidential approval ratings are more partisan.


V. Making Policy (Click on link to access notes.)



VI. Foreign Policy (Click on link to access notes.)














The National Bureaucracy

The executive branch consists of a number of different people/offices other than the president.NATIONAL BUREAUCRACY CARTOON



I. Vice President

Traditionally, the power of the vice president has depended on the president. The Constitution makes the VP the 'president' of the Senate, but he has no actual power in the Senate. The Constitution mainly provides for a VP who waits around for the president to die. Few VPs, then, are given any real power by their president. Most presidents don't like their VPs (since each was chosen to balance a ticket and has little in common with the president) and don't trust their VPs (since they assume the VP is out to replace him).

Kamala Harris is trying to define her vice presidency.


Biden will start with an historic number of women in his Cabinet.

II. Cabinet

The cabinet is the collective heads of the various executive departments - the head of State, Defense, Commerce, etc. The cabinet was intended to come together and act as a source of wisdom for the president on policy matters. After all, you have in one group the leading authority of every subject in the country. However, the cabinet has never been a major source of policy because members tend to think in terms of departmental interests, rather than national interest.



III. White House Staff / Office

These are the presidential advisors that actually have offices in the White House. These people - the press secretary, the national security advisor, etc. - will always be the president's closest advisors since, unlike any other officials, they have daily access to the president.



IV. Executive Office of the President

These agencies report directly to the president and perform services directly for him but are not located in the White House. Their contact with the president is direct, but not as intimate as the White House staff. The Executive Office of the President includes such positions as the CIA director and the OMB director.

Agencies of the National Bureaucracy

Executive Office of the President

Council of Economic Advisers

Council on Environmental Quality

Domestic Policy Council

Gender Policy Council

National Economic Council

National Security Council

Climate Policy Office

Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator

Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

Office of Management and Budget

Office of National Drug Control Policy

Office of Public Engagement

Office of Science and Technology Policy

Office of the National Cyber Director

US Trade Representative

Presidential Personnel Office

National Space Council


Executive Departments

Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Department of Commerce (DOC)

Department of Defense (DOD)

Department of Education (ED)

Department of Energy (DOE)

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Department of Justice (DOJ)

Department of Labor (DOL)

Department of State (DOS)

Department of the Interior (DOI)

Department of the Treasury

Department of Transportation (DOT)

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)


Boards, Commissions and Committees

Access Board

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

American Battle Monuments Commission

Appalachian Regional Commission

Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Interagency Coordinating Committee

Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation

Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee

Delaware River Basin Commission

Endangered Species Committee

Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council

Federal Financing Bank

Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer

Federal Library and Information Center Committee

Federal Register, Administrative Committee

Fine Arts, Commission of

Foreign Investments in the US, Committee on

Harry S Truman Scholarship Foundation

Helsinki Commission

Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Commission

Implementation of Textile Agreements, Committee for

Indian Arts and Crafts Board

International Religious Freedom, Commission on

J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board

James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation

Japan-US Friendship Commission

Joint Board for the Enrollment of Actuaries

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Coordinating Council on

Marine Mammal Commission

Migratory Bird Conservation Commission

Mississippi River Commission

Morris K Udall Foundation: Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy

National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC)

National Park Foundation

Northwest Power Planning Council

Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB)

Presidio Trust

Social Security Advisory Board

Susquehanna River Basin Commission

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel

US Ability One Commission

US Election Assistance Commission

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Veterans Day National Committee

White House Commission on Presidential Scholars: "Presidential Scholars Program"


Other Advisory Boards

White House Council for Community Solutions

White House Initiative and President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

President's Global Development Council


The President's Cabinet

Vice President of the US

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Defense

Department of Justice

Department of the Interior

Department of Agriculture

Department of Commerce

Department of Labor

Department of Health and Human Services

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Department of Transportation

Department of Energy

Department of Education

Department of Veterans Affairs

Department of Homeland Security


The following positions have Cabinet-rank status:

White House Chief of Staff

Environmental Protection Agency

Director of National Intelligence

US Trade Representative

US Ambassador to the United Nations

Small Business Administration

Office of Management and Budget

Office of Science and Technology Policy

Council of Economic Advisers

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

Independent Agencies and Government Corporations

Administrative Conference of the US

African Development Foundation

AmeriCorps, formerly Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)

Arctic Research Commission

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Commission on Civil Rights

Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation authorized by Congress in the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB)

Denali Commission

Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Office of

District of Columbia, a US territory created to house the national capital

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Export-Import Bank of the US

Farm Credit Administration (FCA)

Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation (FCSIC)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)

Federal Election Commission (FEC)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)

Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA)

Federal Maritime Commission (FMC)

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS)

Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission (FMSHRC)

Federal Reserve System (The Fed)

Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB)

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

General Services Administration (GSA)bureaucracy cartoon

Global Media, Agency for (USAGM)

Government Ethics, Office of (OGE)

Inspectors General

Institute of Museum and Library Services

Inter-American Foundation

International Trade Commission (USITC)

Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)

Millennium Challenge Corporation

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC)

National Council on Disability (NCD)

National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)

National Endowment for the Arts

National Endowment for the Humanities

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK)

National Science Foundation (NSF)

National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligencex (NSCAI)

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC)

Personnel Management, Office of (OPM)

Peace Corps

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC)

Special Counsel, Office of (OSC)

Railroad Retirement Board (RRB)

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

Selective Service System (SSS)

Small Business Administration (SBA)

Social Security Administration (SSA)

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Trade and Development Agency

US Agency for International Development (USAID)

US International Trade Commission

US Postal Service (USPS)


Quasi-Official Agencies

Smithsonian Institution

State Justice Institute

US Institute of Peace




V. Bureaucrats

...the people who are responsible for implementation: putting specific policies into operation. The chief advantage of a bureaucracy is that is tends to standardize everything so that procedures and personnel can be easily transferred or replaced. Today over 85% of the government operates on the merit system. It is this vast group of people that add stability to the government. Presidents, congressman, judges may come and go but the bureaucracy remains the same. The chief disadvantage of a bureaucracy is that is tends to standardize everything so that people become numbers and problems become cases.  How far can the bureaucracy go in the name of efficiency? By the way, most people who work in government don’t work in Washington:  85% of the federal workforce is based elsewhere, and nearly 18 million of the 20 million civilian government jobs are at the state and local level.

Homeland Security Knowledge Base

Pentagon Official News














The National Courts


The Constitution created one national court - the Supreme Court - but did not mandate its structure. Instead the structure of the Supreme Court is determined by Congress. Originally, the Supreme Court had a chief justice and five associate justices. Today, it has a chief justice and 8 associate justices.

The Constitution also gave Congress the power to create any additional national courts necessary. Over time, the national court structure has evolved into what we have today, with 91 national district courts, 13 national appeals courts, the Supreme Court and a handful of specialized national courts.


Each level of the national court system has its own jurisdiction (types of cases a court is competent to hear and decide). The national district courts are courts of original jurisdiction, while the national appeals courts have appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has both types of jurisdiction, depending on the case. It exercises its appellate jurisdiction when it hears an appeal from a lower court. When the Supreme Court hears a case directly it is exercising original jurisdiction.

                                                                 COMPARING NATIONAL AND STATE COURT SYSTEMS















Comparing National and State Court Systems


Types of Supreme Court Cases Heard

The Supreme Court hears three types of cases:

are cases appealed from lower federal courts

are cases appealed from state supreme courts

Rarely, the court hear cases that have not been previously heard by a lower court, such as between one state's government and another.

The justices decide which cases they will hear, about 80 each year. The US Supreme Court decides fewer cases than any other court in modern times. In recent years, the Court has heard an average of about 80 cases a term, which is half the number they heard 20 years ago and makes up fewer than 1% of the approximately 10,000 review petitions they receive. They decide another 50 without hearing arguments. The cases they choose usually address constitutional issues or federal law. The Court decides cases based on merit: cases in which two lower courts have issued contradictory decisions and issues that have broad impact on the country. Judicial review is the power of courts to declare acts of Congress, actions of national executives or laws enacted by any level of government to be unconstitutional. There are many cases that don't get heard. If the justices decide not to hear a case, the decision of the lower court stands.


What Happens When the Supreme Court Hears a Case?

Typically, all nine of the justices hear each case. Sometimes less than the full nine justices may hear a case due to illness, a vacant position, or if one justice recuses him/herself (chooses not to participate in a case) due to conflict of interest. A minimum of six of the nine judges must be present to make a decision on a case.

Each case is decided by majority vote. In case of a tie, the decision of the lower court is upheld.

Since the court only reviews cases which are appealed from a lower court, there is no evidence presented, and no witnesses are heard. There are simply briefs (written arguments) and oral argument by the parties. Each side has 30 minutes to present oral arguments, and the justices interrupt with questions while they are speaking.

After the attorneys are finished speaking, the justices meet in secret to discuss the case and come to a decision. No official record is kept of this discussion.

When the Supreme Court announces what they have decided in a case, they issue a formal document called a decision, and sometimes more than one.

The conclusion of the court is a majority opinion.

The justices that disagreed with the majority vote may issue one or more dissenting opinions, explaining their reasons for disagreeing.

Sometimes, one or more justices may be on the majority side but disagree with the reasoning behind the decision, and issue a concurring opinion.

In recent years many long-held traditions of the Court have changed or been dropped without explanation. The Supreme Court building has been closed to the public since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Then, not long after the leak in early May 2022 of a draft of the opinion that overruled Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court building was surrounded by an eight-foot fence. Always cloistered and remote, the Court is now impenetrable.

For unexplained reasons, the justices have stopped announcing their decisions from the bench, abandoning a tradition that is both ceremonial and illuminating. In the old days, the author of the majority opinion would give a quick and conversational summary of the ruling that could be extremely valuable for a reporter on deadline and, by extension, for members of the public trying to understand a decision. More important yet were oral dissents, reserved for decisions that the justices in the minority believed were profoundly mistaken. Ordinarily, one or more of the justices who dissent in a case would raise their voices in protest. These days, the Court makes do with posting PDFs of its decisions, robbing the occasion of ceremony, drama and insight.

The Supreme Court opinion allowing Texas to ban nearly all abortions (2021) was different from most major rulings by the court. This one came out shortly before midnight. It consisted of a single paragraph, not signed by the justices who voted for it and lacking the usual detailed explanation of their reasoning. And there had been no oral arguments, during which opposing lawyers could have made their cases and answered questions from the justices. Instead, the opinion was part of something that has become known as “the shadow docket.” In the shadow docket, the court makes decisions quickly, without the usual written briefings, oral arguments or signed opinions. In recent years, the shadow docket has become a much larger part of the Supreme Court’s work. Shadow-docket cases are frequently those with urgency - such as a voting case that must be decided in the final weeks before an election. As a result, the justices don’t always have time to solicit briefs, hold oral arguments and spend months grappling with their decision. Doing so can risk irreparable harm to one side in the case. For these reasons, nobody questions the need for the court to issue some expedited, bare-bones rulings. But many legal experts are worried about how big the shadow docket has grown, including in cases that the Supreme Court could have decided in a more traditional way.

Why have the justices expanded the shadow docket? In part, it is a response to a newfound willingness by lower courts to issue decisions that apply to the entire country. By acting quickly, the Supreme Court can retain its dominant role. But there is also a political angle. Shadow-docket cases can let the court act quickly and also shield individual justices from criticism: In the latest abortion case, there is no signed opinion for legal scholars to pick apart, and no single justice is personally associated with the virtual end of legal abortion in Texas. The only reason that the public knows the precise vote - 5 to 4 - is that the four justices in the minority each chose to release a signed dissent. Critics argue that judges in a democracy owe the public more transparency. The idea of unexplained, unreasoned court orders seems so contrary to what courts are supposed to be all about. If courts don’t have to defend their decisions, then they’re just acts of will, of power. The shadow docket also leaves lower-court judges unsure about what exactly the Supreme Court has decided and how to decide similar cases they later hear. Because the lower-court judges don’t know why the Supreme Court does what it does, they sometimes divide sharply when forced to interpret the court’s non-pronouncements.

Currently, the court’s six Republican-appointed justices are driving the growth of the shadow docket, and it is consistent with their overall approach to the law. They are often (though not always) willing to be aggressive, overturning longstanding precedents, in campaign finance, election law, business regulation and other areas. The shadow docket expands their ability to shape American society. The three Democratic-appointed justices, for their part, have grown frustrated by the trend. Chief Justice Roberts also evidently disagrees with the use of the shadow docket in the Texas abortion case. In his dissent, joining the three liberal justices, he said the court could instead have blocked the Texas law while it made its way through the courts. That the court chose another path means that abortion is now all but illegal in the nation’s second-largest state.

One new line of reasoning recently introduced in SCOTUS arguments is the Major Questions Doctrine (MQD). Federal agencies are given great power to operate within the authority granted to them by Congress. Historically, courts have given agencies broad discretion as long as they are not operating in a way that is not expressly restricted and where they can show that their interpretation is reasonable. However, the MQD, a term the Court never used in a majority opinion prior to 2022, is a principle of statutory interpretation in US administrative law which states that courts will presume that Congress does not delegate to executive agencies issues of major political or economic significance. When the US Supreme Court issued its 2022 decision in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, the majority concluded that the EPA’s policy involved a major question, and that the agency went too far in its attempt to regulate, without explicit permission from Congress to do so. This signaled a turn away from how the Court traditionally interpreted statutes and was at odds with the normal tools of statutory interpretation. Advocates of limiting the power of the federal bureaucracy cheered, while others worried that it could prevent the government from taking decisive action on urgent problems like climate change, student loans, healthcare and so on. Under the MQD, courts make an initial finding of whether something has vast political or economic implications - and if so, the agency loses. The MQD stops agency action, even if a law potentially gives them the power, until Congress authorizes the action again clearly. That seems okay because Congress can, in principle, still act. But the odds of current congressional action are quite poor. Congress, in other words, isn’t going to do what the MQD says it is meant to do. The MQD could potentially be quite harmful since the whole point of an administrative state is to allow broad delegation to agencies. It suggests that the Court does not really respect governmental choices about delegating power to agencies. Rather, the Court looks like an imperial court, motivated by power, not reason. And the MQD stops healthy action, especially in areas where it’s most needed - like climate action or regulation of emerging technologies. The MQD seems to be simply an expression of judicial aggrandizement. It creates a bureaucracy unable to function and imposes an unconstitutional judicial limit on US administrative law. The major questions doctrine inherently benefits the status quo, and with industry, the environment and society evolving at a pace far faster than Congress can legislate with the specificity required, the ruling has cast doubt on how agencies will be able to act on the major issues of our day. If Congress will not act on important issues because the parties are too busy fighting, and the Court stops agencies and the President (see Biden v. Nebraska (2023)) from acting, the country is going to be in real trouble.


What Do Supreme Court Justices Do Besides Hear Cases?

In remarks in May 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas reflected on how things had changed at the Court since an 11-year stretch without changes in its membership before the arrival of Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005. “This is not the Court of that era,” Justice Thomas said, adding: “We actually trusted each other. We may have been a dysfunctional family, but we were a family.” A less collegial Court seems like it could be especially problematic for justices in the minority. There are now five Republican-appointed justices who are even more conservative than Chief Justice Roberts. If the Court is a less collaborative place, it probably gives justices in the minority less ability to shape decisions. It’s possible to overstate the power of collegiality, though. Justices cast votes based on the strength of the relevant arguments and the desired outcomes, not on how likable their colleagues are. The justices also say there is no vote-trading across cases. On the other hand, there are certainly negotiations within cases. It seems fairly clear, for instance, that Justices Breyer and Kagan shifted positions in one part of the 2012 case that upheld a key portion of the Affordable Care Act to make certain they would secure Chief Justice Roberts’s vote on another part. Justices may well be prepared to narrow or reshape a draft opinion that seeks to speak for a five-justice majority in exchange for a vote. But once the author has gotten to five, the value of another potential vote plummets. It is that dynamic that must worry the Court’s minority justices.

The Portrait of Justice

Table for Nine (Lunch at the US Supreme Court)

Speaking of collegiality … On June 30, 2022, Justice Breyer officially retired and helped swear in his replacement, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. When a new justice joins the Supreme Court, tradition requires the second-most junior justice to arrange a little party. In 2006, for instance, when Justice Samuel Alito came on board, that task fell to Justice Breyer, who knew his new colleague to be a Phillies fan. Before dessert was served, Justice Breyer introduced a special guest: the Phillie Phanatic, the team’s mascot. This year, Justice Amy Coney Barrett is the second-most junior justice and will presumably be in charge of the welcoming celebration for Justice Jackson.

The Court is in recess from sometime near the end of June until October each year. During the break justices analyze new petitions for review, consider motions and applications, study argued and forthcoming cases and work on their opinions, travel extensively, make public appearances and speeches (for which they are well compensated), and write books and articles. The justices often teach courses in exotic places. In 2012, for instance, after voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act (and thus angering Republicans), Chief Justice Roberts left for Malta to teach a two-week class on the history of the US Supreme Court. “Malta, as you know, is an impregnable island fortress,” Roberts said. “It seemed like a good idea.”

Because the justices do not meet to decide whether to grant or deny review in cases during the summer months, thousands of legal petitions pile up during their absence. The Court plows through this backlog at their first conference (aptly referred to as the “long conference”) in the last week of September. But they obviously cannot give these petitions the same consideration as those that arrive later in the term. (For this reason, savvy appellate attorneys know that it is best to avoid filing petitions over the summer if they can.) When pressing issues arise during the recess, the matter is often handled by a single justice “in chambers” who must make important decisions about whether to grant stays, injunctions or extensions without consulting with his/her absent colleagues.

A charity tied to the Supreme Court offers donors access to the Justices.

Former Anti-Abortion Leader Alleges Another Supreme Court Breach


Supreme Court Jurisdiction

Under the Constitution, federal courts exercise only judicial powers. The Supreme Court only considers cases that are justiciable:

o   the petitioner has standing to sue (stake in outcome): In an actual case or controversy, the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit also must have legal standing to ask the court for a decision. That means the plaintiff must have been aggrieved, or legally harmed in some way, by the defendant. This means that federal judges may interpret the law only through the resolution of actual legal disputes, referred to in Article III of the Constitution as “Cases or Controversies.” A court cannot attempt to correct a problem on its own initiative, or to answer a hypothetical legal question.

o   the case is ripe for decision (will have an impact on the country)

o   it is not moot (has not already been decided): it must present an ongoing problem for the court to resolve

o   it is not a political question (an issue with which the Congress or the President should deal)


The case must present a category of dispute that the law in question was designed to address, and it must be a complaint that the court has the power to remedy. In other words, the court must be authorized, under the Constitution or a federal law, to hear the case and grant appropriate relief to the plaintiff. The federal courts, thus, are courts of limited jurisdiction because they may only decide certain types of cases as provided by Congress or as identified in the Constitution .Although the details of the complex web of federal jurisdiction that Congress has given the federal courts is beyond the scope of this brief discussion, it is important to understand that there are two main sources of the cases coming before the federal courts: federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction.

In general, federal question jurisdiction arises in cases that involve the US government, the US Constitution or federal laws, or controversies between states or between the United States and foreign governments. A case that raises such a federal question may be filed in federal court. Examples of such cases might include a claim by an individual for entitlement to money under a federal government program such as Social Security, a criminal prosecution by the government that alleges someone violated a federal law, or a challenge to actions taken by a federal agency.

A diversity jurisdiction case also may be filed in federal court based on the diversity of citizenship of the litigants, such as between citizens of different states or between US citizens and those of another country. To ensure fairness to the out-of-state litigant, the Constitution provides that such cases may be heard in a federal court. An important limit to diversity jurisdiction is that only cases involving more than $75,000 in potential damages may be filed in a federal court. Claims below that amount may only be pursued in state court. Moreover, any diversity jurisdiction case regardless of the amount of money involved may be brought in a state court rather than a federal court.

Federal courts also have jurisdiction over all bankruptcy matters, which Congress has determined should be addressed in federal courts rather than the state courts. Through the bankruptcy process, individuals or businesses that can no longer pay their creditors may either seek a court-supervised liquidation of their assets, or they may reorganize their financial affairs and work out a plan to pay their debts.

Although federal courts are located in every state, they are not the only forum available to potential litigants. In fact, the great majority of legal disputes in American courts, civil or criminal, are addressed in the separate state court systems. State courts have jurisdiction over virtually all divorce and child custody matters, probate and inheritance issues, real estate questions, and juvenile matters, and they handle most criminal cases, contract disputes, traffic violations, and personal injury cases. In addition, certain categories of legal disputes may be resolved in special courts or entities that are part of the federal executive or legislative branches or state and federal administrative agencies.

                                                 HOW A CASE GETS TO THE SUPREME COURT


























A Primer on Supreme Court Procedures


Contrary to popular belief the Supreme Court has traditionally been limited by a number of factors:SCOTUS 2022

o   The Constitution sets certain outer limits by guaranteeing certain rights and liberties.

o   Past decisions – Precedents must serve as general guidelines for current decisions. A super-precedent is a case that is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the law that it should be especially hard to overturn, a decision so widely accepted that it is invulnerable to serious legal challenges that could see it overturned, a cases that is so well settled that no one seriously pushes for its overruling, e.g., Brown v. Board of Education (1954 ruling that outlawed racial segregation in public schools), Marbury v. Madison (1803) decision giving courts the authority to strike down laws as unconstitutional. Recent decisions by the current very conservative Court, however, have shown that the current Court does not feel bound by precedent.

o   The Supreme Court does not have any enforcement power. However, as recent decisions have shown, if state legislatures agree with the Court, they will provide enforcement power of the Court's decisions.

o   The Supreme Court relies on public acceptance of its rulings ... although that seems to be changing. The Court's rejection of Roe v. Wade and a constitutional right to reproductive choice (2022) was unpopular with an overwhelming majority of the country.

SCOTUS asked governors to quell non-violent protests.

Supreme Court justices don’t like being criticized in public, which is a good reason to keep doing it.

o   The public must be willing to follow a ruling even if it doesn't like it.SCOTUS rulings line up with public opinion ... most of the time.

o   Congress can rewrite legislation so that it avoids the rational the Supreme Court gave for its decision..Of course, this assumes a Congress that can agree on legislation.

Congress has the power to override Supreme Court rulings.

o   We can amend the Constitution, which could negate any ruling the Supreme Court may have made on any applicable issue. However, as the past has shown, amending the US Constitution is difficult, perhaps impossible in modern times.

There are limits to the Supreme Court’s power: Political progressives and moderates who are alarmed about the 2022 Court - the combination of its aggressiveness and the relative youth of its conservative members - have many options for confronting it.

Some options are fairly radical, like changing the size of the Court or passing a law declaring any subject to be off limits from Supreme Court review (both of which, to be fair, have happened in previous centuries). Other options are more straightforward. They involve the basic tools of democratic politics: winning over public opinion and winning elections. The founders did not design the Court to be the final arbiter of American politics, anyway. At the state level, progressives still have the ability, for example, to protect abortion rights, so long as they can persuade enough voters. At the federal level, Congress has more authority to defy Court decisions than many people realize. For example, the same-sex marriage bill is so intriguing because it is a rare recent instance of Congress acting as a check and balance on the Supreme Court, just as the founders envisioned and the Constitution allows.

When the Court overturns a specific law, Congress can often pass a new law, written differently, that accomplishes many of the same goals. Congress took this approach with civil rights starting in the 1980s, including with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which made it easier for workers to sue for pay discrimination. The law was an explicit response to a Supreme Court ruling against Ledbetter. More recently, however, Congress has been too polarized and gridlocked to respond to Court decisions. As a result, the courts have tended to dominate federal policy, by default.

However, after the Court’s abortion decision in June 2022 contained language that seemed as if it might threaten same-sex marriage rights, House Democrats quickly proposed a marriage bill that would defang any future Court decision. The Court could still issue a ruling allowing states to stop performing same-sex marriages but the House bill would require one state to recognize another state’s marriage. Two women or men who married in, say, California would still be legally married in South Carolina even if it stopped performing same-sex weddings. According to a recent Gallup poll, 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage.

[It should be noted that progressives still face obstacles to achieving their goals through Congress. The Senate has a built-in bias toward rural, conservative states. The House suffers from gerrymandering (although 2022’s districts don’t actually give Republicans a big advantage). And the Supreme Court has made it easier for states to pass voting restrictions.]


The Right accuses the Supreme Court of being too liberal.

The Left accuses the Supreme Court of being too conservative.

If both Republican and Democratic presidents have been able to make their share of Supreme Court nominations over time (and that's a big "if" given the US Senate's behavior regarding Court appointees in the last decade), can we not say that, over time, we have had a balanced Supreme Court? As of 2022, however, an ambitious Republican-appointed majority controls the Supreme Court even though Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections.

Virtual Tour of the Supreme Court    DANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

The justices usually make an effort to treat one another respectfully. They disagree on the law, sometimes harshly, while maintaining productive and even warm relationships, like the famous friendship between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Rule of Law Mentions of family during SCOTUS confirmation hearings

Levels of the Federal Courts

Granting Certiorari

Judicial Independence

How Courts Work

Understanding the Federal Courts (PDF)

Interactive Supreme Court Timeline

State Courts vs. Federal Courts: Which court hears the case?

United States Supreme Court Cases

Landmark Supreme Court Rulings

Federalism Court CasesChief Justice Roberts is increasingly pivotal to the court.

First Amendment Court Cases

Religious Freedom Court Cases

Freedom of the Press Court Cases

Civil Rights Court Cases

Criminal Rights Court Cases

The Supreme Court’s Secret Power

The first Supreme Court was held on this day 226 years ago

Why November 8, 2016 is Judgment Day for the Supreme Court ... and Our Rights

The Court Martial Process

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living

Amy Coney Barrett Says Roe v. Wade Is Not Super-Precedent

Why the Supreme Court Probably Doesn’t Care What Most Americans Think about Abortion or Gun Rights

Gridlock in Congress has amplified the power of the Supreme Court.

What We Lose as John Roberts Is Sidelined on the Court

Religious Doctrine, Not the Constitution, Drove the Dobbs Decision

Abortion: A Global Overview

How the End of Roe Will Impact Women of Color in Texas

Roe v Wade (1973), annotated

Dobbs v Jackson (2022), annotated

Full Text of Supreme Court Justices' Dissenting Opinion on Dobbs v Jackson

A History of Key Abortion Rulings of the US Supreme Court

How a Corporate Law Firm Led a Political Revolution

The Supreme Court Just Keeps Deciding It Should Be Even More Powerful

Justice Alito’s crusade against a secular America isn’t over.

The Supreme Court is blowing up law school, too.

Takeaways from the latest controversial and contentious Supreme Court term















Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

The American system of government is based on the concept that power flows from the people to the government.

Poster Save Freedom of Speech--Buy War Bonds

Poster fight for--Freedom From Fear

Poster Save Freedom of Worship--Buy War Bonds

Poster fight for--Freedom From Want

When the power of government is limited by a framework of fundamental written law,
that government is said to be constitutional.



I. Civil Liberties

...prohibitions against government interference in the lives of its citizens

Civil liberties refer to individuals in general situations.

my right to say what I please on the street

your right to worship in the church of your choice.

Civil liberties guarantee individuals freedom from government intrusion into their lives.

Government does not provide liberty but it can provide the condition of legal order necessary for liberty.

Government can get too strong without restraint -- thus the Bill of Rights -- but civil liberties are significant only if individuals use them.

Civil liberties are found in the Bill of Rights, Articles 1, 3 and 6, and in various Congressional laws -- for example, the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Liberties Guaranteed in the US Constitution (before the Bill of Rights was added)

May not suspend writs of habeas corpus (except during invasion or rebellion).

Congress or states may not pass bills of attainder.

Congress and states may not pass ex post facto laws.

The right of trial by jury in criminal cases is guaranteed.

Citizens of each state are entitled to the privileges and immunities of the citizens of every other state.

No religious test or qualification for holding federal office are imposed.

States may not pass laws impairing the obligation of contracts.

Protections Afforded Citizens to Participate in the Political Process

Amendment 1: Freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly; right to petition government

Protections against Arbitrary Police and Court Action

Amendment 4: No unreasonable searches or seizures

Amendment 5: Grand jury indictment required to prosecute an individual for a serious crime, no double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same offense), forcing an individual to testify against himself prohibited, no loss of life, liberty or property without due process

Amendment 6: Right to a speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel and right to cross-examine witnesses

Amendment 7: Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds $20

Amendment 8: No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments

Protections of States' Rights and Unnamed Rights of People

Amendment 9: Unlisted rights necessarily denied

Amendment 10: Powers not delegated to US or denied to states are reserved to states

Other Amendments

Amendment 2: Right to bear arms

Amendment 3: Troops not quartered in homes in peacetime

Although the Bill of Rights is the fundamental charter of American civil liberties, the Supreme Court determines how those rights are defined and applied.

Civil liberties were established at a time when the common perception was that individuals could take care of themselves if government left them alone. Gradually Americans became less optimistic about the individual's ability to take care of himself and more optimistic about the government's ability to take care of people.

Do you think this has led to our willingness to allow our freedoms to erode? Do we now say "the government can have my freedom of privacy if they will keep drugs off of my street"? If so, have our priorities shifted?


Know Your Rights: What to Do...

Cartoon Police Pull Over

...If You're Stopped by the Police

Think carefully about your words, movement, body language and emotions.

Don't get into an argument with the police.

Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.

Keep your hands where the police can see them.

Don't run. Don't touch any police officer.

Don't resist even if you believe you are innocent.

Don't complain on the scene or tell the police they're wrong or that you're going to file a complaint.

Do not make any statements regarding the incident. Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest.

Remember officers' badge and patrol car numbers.

Write down everything you remember ASAP.

Try to find witnesses and their names and phone numbers.

If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first.

If you feel your rights have been violated file a written complaint with police internal affairs division or a civilian complaint board.

...If You're Stopped for Questioning

  1. It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer can make the police suspicious about you. If you are asked to identify yourself, see #2 at the bottom.

  2. Police may "pat-down" your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. Don't physically resist but make it clear that you don't consent to any further search.

  3. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.

  4. Don't bad-mouth the police or run away even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.

...If You're Stopped in Your Car

  1. Upon request, show them your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. In certain cases, your car can be searched without a warrant as long as the police have probable cause. To protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is not lawful for police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.

  2. If you're given a ticket, you should sign it; otherwise you can be arrested. You can always fight the case in court later.

  3. If you're suspected of drunk driving (DWI) and refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test, your driver's license may be suspended.

...If You're Arrested or Taken to a Police Station

  1. You have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police. Tell the police nothing except your name and address. Don't give any explanations, excuses or stories. You can make your defense later, in court, based on what you and your lawyer decide is best.

  2. Ask to see a lawyer immediately. If you can't pay for a lawyer, you have a right to a free one and should ask the police how the lawyer can be contacted. Don't say anything without a lawyer.

  3. Within a reasonable time after your arrest, or booking, you have the right to make a local phone call: to a lawyer, bail bondsman, a relative or any other person. The police may not listen to the call to the lawyer.

  4. Sometimes you can be released without bail or have bail lowered. Have your lawyer ask the judge about this possibility. You must be taken before the judge on the next court day after arrest.

  5. Do not make any decisions in your case until you have talked with a lawyer.

Search Warrant Cartoon



 ...In Your Home

  1. If the police knock and ask to enter your home, you don't have to admit them unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.

  2. However, in some emergency situations (like when a person is screaming for help inside or when the police are chasing someone) officers are allowed to enter and search your home without a warrant.

  3. If you're arrested, the police can search you and the area close by. If you are in a building, close by usually means just the room you are in.


  1. What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you and can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you bad-mouth a police officer.

  2. You must show your driver's license and registration when stopped in a car. Otherwise, you don't have to answer any questions if you are detained or arrested, with one important exception. The police may ask for your name if you have been properly detained and you can be arrested in some states for refusing to give it. If you reasonably fear that your name is incriminating, you can claim the right to remain silent, which may be a defense in case you are arrested anyway.

  3. You don't have to consent to any search of yourself, your car or your house. If you DO consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court. If the police say they have a search warrant, ASK TO SEE IT.

  4. Do not interfere with or obstruct the police ... you can be arrested for it.

We all recognize the need for effective law enforcement, but we should also understand our own rights and responsibilities, especially in our relationships with the police. Everyone, including minors, has the right to courteous and respectful police treatment. If your rights are violated, don't try to deal with the situation at the scene. You can discuss the matter with an attorney afterwards or file a complaint with Internal Affairs or the Civilian Complaint Board.

Produced by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Black Lives Matter: Before you protest, know your rights



II. Civil Rights

...regulations permitting state interference to guarantee rights of full political participation to groups excluded by law, custom or condition of poverty

Civil rights are the freedom or opportunity to take part in government. They usually come about after a struggle leading to new laws that offer guarantees to a previously excluded group. America's history is one of the extension of opportunity to participate in politics to more and different groups of people.

Expansion of the franchise (right to vote) is an obvious example of civil rights struggles.

Amendment 15 gave African Americans right to vote.

Amendment 19 gave women right to vote.

Amendment 26 gave 18-to-20 year olds right to vote.

Specific civil rights are found in Amendments 13-15, 19, 24 and 26.

In addition, Congress has passed a number of Civil Rights Acts over the past several decades.

Although the civil rights movement of African Americans is the most obvious struggle, it is certainly not the only one. Other groups -- women, Hispanics, gays and lesbians, migrant workers, children, disabled -- have struggled and continue to struggle to increase their rights in the system.

Implicit Association Test    DANCING STAR TO DENOTE GOOD SITE

Homo Stereotypus--Wired for Trouble


Racism Then

Racism Now

Pew Report: 5 facts about race in America



Genocide in America


Making Connections

Reducing Prejudice

Freedom of Information Act

A list of the 20 essential films since 2000 that capture the American Latino experience

Video: FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech, 1941 (2:37)

Video: Government Film on the Internment of Japanese and Japanese-American Citizens by the US during WWII, 1942 (18:03)

Video: Little Rock School Integration Crisis, 1957 (1:57)

Video: Pres. Eisenhower’s Response to Little Rock School Integration Crisis, 1957 (13:34)

Video: MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech at the Lincoln Memorial, 1963 (16:22)

Video: Gov. Wallace Resisting Integration at the University of Alabama, 1963 (3:29)

Audio: Malcolm X’s The Ballot or the Bullet Speech, 1964 (52:46)

Video: Selma Alabama Civil Rights March and Confrontation, 1965 (4:13)

Video: Pro-Choice March, Washington, 2004 (2:29)

Video: Pro-Life March, Washington, 2005 (1:58)

FBI monitored Aretha Franklin for years, file shows.

The Perils and Promise of America's Third Reconstruction

The 2020 Black-White Wage Gap Was as Big as It Was in 1950





Copyright © 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   08/18/2023 1330

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