May 18, 2020 Comments are off Mr. M

The Judicial Branch

Things that will be covered in this unit.

  • The Road to the Supreme Court
  • The Appointment and Confirmation of Supreme Court Judges
  • Civil Liberties – 1st Amendment

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of the U.S. government is the system of federal courts and judges that interprets laws made by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch. At the top of the judicial branch are the nine justices of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States.

What Does the Judicial Branch Do?

From the beginning, it seemed that the judicial branch was destined to take somewhat of a backseat to the other two branches of government.

The Articles of Confederation, the forerunner of the U.S. Constitution that set up the first national government after the Revolutionary War, failed even to mention judicial power or a federal court system.

In Philadelphia in 1787, the members of the Constitutional Convention drafted Article III of the Constitution, which stated that: “[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

The framers of the Constitution didn’t elaborate the Supreme Court’s powers in that document, or specify how the judicial branch should be organized—they left all that up to Congress.

Judiciary Act of 1789

With the first bill introduced in the U.S. Senate—which became the Judiciary Act of 1789—the judicial branch began to take shape. The act set up the federal court system and set guidelines for the operation of the U.S. Supreme Court, which at the time had one chief justice and five associate justices.

The Judiciary Act of 1789 also established a federal district court in each state, and in both Kentucky and Maine (which were then parts of other states). In between these two tiers of the judiciary were the U.S. circuit courts, which would serve as the principal trial courts in the federal system.

In its earliest years, the Court held nowhere near the stature it would eventually assume. When the U.S. capital moved to Washington in 1800, the city’s planners failed even to provide the court with its own building, and it met in a room in the basement of the Capitol.

Judicial Review

During the long tenure of the fourth chief justice, John Marshall (appointed in 1801), the Supreme Court assumed what is now considered its most important power and duty, as well as a key part of the system of checks and balances essential to the functioning of the nation’s government.

Judicial review—the process of deciding whether a law is constitutional or not, and declaring the law null and void if it is found to be in conflict with the Constitution—is not mentioned in the Constitution, but was effectively created by the Court itself in the important 1803 case Marbury v. Madison.

In the 1810 case Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court effectively expanded its right of judicial review by striking down a state law as unconstitutional for the first time.

Judicial review established the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality in the United States, including federal or state laws, executive orders and lower court rulings.

In another example of the checks and balances system, the U.S. Congress can effectively check judicial review by passing amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Selection of Federal Judges

The U.S. president nominates all federal judges—including Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges and district court judges—and the U.S. Senate confirms them.

Many federal judges are appointed for life, which serves to ensure their independence and immunity from political pressure. Their removal is possible only through impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate.

Since 1869, the official number of Supreme Court justices has been set at nine. Thirteen appellate courts, or U.S. Courts of Appeals, sit below the Supreme Court.

Below that, 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has its own court of appeals. The 13th court, known as the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and located in Washington, D.C., hears appeals in patent law cases, and other specialized appeals.

(source: History Channel)




May 11, 2020 Comments are off Mr. M

Executive Branch

Things you should know about this unit.

  • The Many Different Roles of the President
  • The Powers of the President
  • The Qualifications to Become President
  • Role of Vice-President
  • Term Limits, Impeachment and the 25th Amendment

The Many Different Roles of the President

The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress and, to that end, appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet. The Vice President is also part of the Executive Branch, ready to assume the Presidency should the need arise.

The Cabinet and independent federal agencies are responsible for the day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws. These departments and agencies have missions and responsibilities as widely divergent as those of the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Social Security Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Including members of the armed forces, the Executive Branch employs more than 4 million Americans.

The President

The President is both the head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
Under Article II of the Constitution, the President is responsible for the execution and enforcement of the laws created by Congress. Fifteen executive departments — each led by an appointed member of the President’s Cabinet.  They are joined in this by other executive agencies such as the CIA and Environmental Protection Agency, the heads of which are not part of the Cabinet, but who are under the full authority of the President.

The President has the power either to sign legislation into law or to veto bills enacted by Congress, although Congress may override a veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses. The Executive Branch conducts diplomacy with other nations, and the President has the power to negotiate and sign treaties, which also must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. The President can issue executive orders, which direct executive officers or clarify and further existing laws. The President also has unlimited power to extend pardons and clemencies for federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment.

The Qualifications to Become President

The Constitution lists only three qualifications for the Presidency — the President must be:

  • 35 years of age
  • be a natural born citizen, and
  • must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.
The Vice President

The primary responsibility of the Vice President of the United States is to be ready at a moment’s notice to assume the Presidency if the President is unable to perform his duties. This can be because of the President’s death, resignation, or temporary incapacitation, or if the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet judge that the President is no longer able to discharge the duties of the presidency.

The Vice President is elected along with the President by the Electoral College — each elector casts one vote for President and another for Vice President. Before the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804, electors only voted for President, and the person who received the second greatest number of votes became Vice President.

The Vice President also serves as the President of the United States Senate, where he or she casts the deciding vote in the case of a tie. Except in the case of tiebreaking votes, the Vice President rarely actually presides over the Senate. Instead, the Senate selects one of their own members, usually junior members of the majority party, to preside over the Senate each day.

Executive Office of the President

Every day, the President of the United States is faced with scores of decisions, each with important consequences for America’s future. To provide the President with the support that he or she needs to govern effectively, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) was created in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The EOP has responsibility for tasks ranging from communicating the President’s message to the American people to promoting our trade interests abroad.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet is an advisory body made up of the heads of the 15 executive departments. Appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the members of the Cabinet are often the President’s closest confidants. In addition to running major federal agencies, they play an important role in the Presidential line of succession — after the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and Senate President pro tempore, the line of succession continues with the Cabinet offices in the order in which the departments were created. All the members of the Cabinet take the title Secretary, excepting the head of the Justice Department, who is styled Attorney General.





May 4, 2020 Comments are off Mr. M

Legislative Branch


Established by Article I of the Constitution, the Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the United States Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.


Members of the House are elected every two years and must be 25 years of age, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent.

Senators must be 30 years of age, U.S. citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state they represent.

Roles of Each House

The House has several powers assigned exclusively to it, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.

The Senate has the sole power to confirm those of the President’s appointments that require consent, and to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.

Make Up of Each House, Leadership and Terms

The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members, representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.

The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected to six-year terms by the people of each state. Senator’s terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.

The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate.

Legislative Process

In order to pass legislation and send it to the President for his signature, both the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again in each chamber with at least two-thirds of each body voting in favor.

The first step in the legislative process is the introduction of a bill to Congress. Anyone can write it, but only members of Congress can introduce legislation. Some important bills are traditionally introduced at the request of the President, such as the annual federal budget. During the legislative process, however, the initial bill can undergo drastic changes.


After being introduced, a bill is referred to the appropriate committee for review. There are 17 Senate committees, with 70 subcommittees, and 23 House committees, with 104 subcommittees. The committees are not set in stone, but change in number and form with each new Congress as required for the efficient consideration of legislation. Each committee oversees a specific policy area, and the subcommittees take on more specialized policy areas. For example, the House Committee on Ways and Means includes subcommittees on Social Security and Trade.

A bill is first considered in a subcommittee, where it may be accepted, amended, or rejected entirely. If the members of the subcommittee agree to move a bill forward, it is reported to the full committee, where the process is repeated again. Throughout this stage of the process, the committees and subcommittees call hearings to investigate the merits and flaws of the bill. They invite experts, advocates, and opponents to appear before the committee and provide testimony, and can compel people to appear using subpoena power if necessary.

If the full committee votes to approve the bill, it is reported to the floor of the House or Senate, and the majority party leadership decides when to place the bill on the calendar for consideration. If a bill is particularly pressing, it may be considered right away. Others may wait for months or never be scheduled at all.

Passing a Bill and Filibuster

When the bill comes up for consideration, the House has a very structured debate process. Each member who wishes to speak only has a few minutes, and the number and kind of amendments are usually limited. In the Senate, debate on most bills is unlimited — Senators may speak to issues other than the bill under consideration during their speeches, and any amendment can be introduced. Senators can use this to filibuster bills under consideration, a procedure by which a Senator delays a vote on a bill — and by extension its passage — by refusing to stand down. A supermajority of 60 Senators can break a filibuster by invoking cloture, or the cession of debate on the bill, and forcing a vote. Once debate is over, the votes of a simple majority passes the bill.

A bill must pass both houses of Congress before it goes to the President for consideration. Though the Constitution requires that the two bills have the exact same wording, this rarely happens in practice. To bring the bills into alignment, a Conference Committee is convened, consisting of members from both chambers. The members of the committee produce a conference report, intended as the final version of the bill. Each chamber then votes again to approve the conference report. Depending on where the bill originated, the final text is then enrolled by either the Clerk of the House or the Secretary of the Senate, and presented to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate for their signatures. The bill is then sent to the President.

Becoming A Law or Veto

When receiving a bill from Congress, the President has several options. If the President agrees substantially with the bill, he or she may sign it into law, and the bill is then printed in the Statutes at Large. If the President believes the law to be bad policy, he may veto it and send it back to Congress. Congress may override the veto with a two-thirds vote of each chamber, at which point the bill becomes law and is printed.

There are two other options that the President may exercise. If Congress is in session and the President takes no action within 10 days, the bill becomes law. If Congress adjourns before 10 days are up and the President takes no action, then the bill dies and Congress may not vote to override. This is called a pocket veto, and if Congress still wants to pass the legislation, they must begin the entire process anew.




Key Questions

  • What is the role of the legislative body?
  • Should there be term limits on for Senators and Representatives of each state?
  • What is Bicameral?
  • What is divided government?
  • What role does the legislative branch play in creating public policy (laws)?
  • How are committees setup and what role do they play?
April 27, 2020 Comments are off Mr. M

US Government – Elections and Voting Rights (4-27/4/28)

Good Morning! We are finishing up our unit on Political Participation. Today we will be looking at Elections and Voting Rights.

Today’s we will be focusing on the following:

US Government classes -We will be looking at the following topics and questions

  • How to register to vote
    • NM voting laws
    • Should you be able to vote if you are younger than 18?
  • Nomination Process
    • What is a primary what is a caucus?
  • Past Presidential Elections
    • Controversial elections
  • Voting Rights
    •  What laws are in place to protect your rights?
      • Disenfranchised voter
      • Voter fraud/problems
    • Should you right to vote ever be taken away?
    • Should felons be able to Vote?
    • Should non-citizens be able to vote?


April 20, 2020 Comments are off Mr. M

US Government – Electoral College (4-20/4/21)

Today we will be looking at the Electoral College. As the presidential election approaches you will begin to hear more and more about the electoral college and if we should look and going from this process of electing our presidents to a popular vote method. Like everything we look at in this class there are two sides to this argument. There are also groups who would be at an advantage or disadvantage in either system.

The first thing I want you to look at is a short video that explains how the Electoral College works. Then I would like for you to visit the website and look at the different arguments for and against the Electoral College. I have included a handout with a few questions to help you organize your thoughts.

I am also including a handout that talks about some controversial presidential elections.

In addition to this resources take a look at the website  There is a lot of interesting and useful information about our presidential elections. Take a look at all the historical elections maps. (click here) (more…)

April 13, 2020 Comments are off Mr. M

US Government – Media and Politics (4-13)

Today we will looking at how the role of the media and how media covers politics. You will often hear people say that the media is bias or “That’s fake news”. If there was a bias, what would you be looking for that would lead you to conclude there was a bias.

Below are a number of different examples of how a bias might be detected. Keep in mind, just becuase you see one of these examples in a news report does not make the source bias. What you are looking for is to see if there is a clear and continuous pattern from a particular source.  Also, be aware that our own biases may be at play when evaluating a news source. As I always encourage you, apply the same standard to both ends of the political spectrum. Don’t be hipper critical of new outlets form the opposite side of your own views and overlook or explain away examples form the new sources that you often watch. (more…)