Glossary

 

 

A

 

Administrative law             Rules, regulations, and laws relating to the authority and procedures of administrative agencies.

 

Amendment             The addition to or the deletion of a clause to a constitution or law.

 

Amicus curiae brief also called a friend of the court brief An action filed with the permission of the court which provides additional arguments to those presented by parties immediately involved with the case.

 

Annapolis convention      A convention called in August 1786 which delegates from five states attended to originally consider trade and navigational problems. It was at this convention that the call was made to Congress and the states for what became the Constitutional Convention.

 

Anti-Federalists      Persons opposed to the 1787 Philadelphia Constitution and to a more nationally centralized government.

 

Appellate jurisdiction        Authority to review lower court decisions and administrative tribunals.

 

Articles of Confederation             Drafted in 1777, ratified in 1781, this was the first constitution of the newly independent United States. It was replaced in 1789 with the present Constitution.

 

Autocracy     Government in which all power is held by one person.

 

 

 

B

 

Bad tendency doctrine     Interpretation of the First amendment that allows legislatures to make laws banning speeches that may have a tendency to cause people to engage in illegal activities.

 

Bicameralism          Government use of a two-house legislature.

 

Bicameral legislature        Format used by the U.S. Congress and forty-nine of the states that employs a two-house legislative system.

 

Bill of Attainer          Legislation used to punish named individuals or easily identifiable groups.

 

Binding Arbitration            When the law dictates that the stalemated dispute between management and labor be resolved by an impartial third-party whose decision must be accepted as compulsory by all parties.

 

Bipartisanship        Policy that makes it appear that there is cooperation and unison between the major political parties.

 

Block Grant              Funds granted by one level of government to another for broad programs such as health care or law enforcement.

 

Bureaucrat   Government official; usually appointed rather than elected.

 

 

 

C

 

Categorical formula grant            Funds granted by one level of government to another for specific programs, under specific circumstances.

 

Caucus         Meeting of party members to choose party officials and candidates for public office and to decide policy questions.

 

Checks and balances       In order for the government to run effectively, all three branches must work together and share equally in the power so that no one branch dominates the others and the business of government in efficiently run.

 

Civil law        The legal code that regulates the conduct between private individuals. Under this system, the government acts as negotiator of disputes among individuals and businesses.

 

Class action suit                 Lawsuits brought by a person or a group of people on their own behalf as well as on the behalf of all persons in a similar situation. Class action suits are often brought against the auto industry and their outcome often mandate the replacement, at no cost, of car parts found to be defective or unsafe to all cars of the same make and model.

 

Clear and present danger doctrine       This interpretation of the First amendment does not allow laws that directly or indirectly restrict freedom of speech to be utilized unless the particular speech or writing presents a clear and present danger that it's presentation will lead to acts that the government defines as illegal.

 

Cloture          Method used to end filibusters in particular and debates in general in the U.S. Senate.

 

Coattail effect          The electoral success or failure that one candidate has impacts the success or failure of other candidates in the same party.

 

Commerce clause              The Constitutional clause giving Congress the power to regulate business activities that involve more than one state. This clause also prohibits states from disrupting the business activities of other states or nations.

 

Comparable worth             Notion advocated by those who believe that jobs traditionally held by women-nursing, childcare, secretarial, teaching-have been systematically held down in wage. These jobs are traditionally held by women because of pervasive stereotyping and discrimination while the higher paying jobs, such as plumbers and janitors are held by men. The idea that jobs should be paid at the same rate if they require comparable skills and contributions made to society.

 

Concurrent powers           Powers given to both the states and the national government by the Constitution.

 

Concurring opinion           An opinion offered by a Supreme Court justice which agrees with the decision of the majority but for different reasons than those of the majority.

 

Confederation         Government created when nation-states agreed to create a new government and allowed it certain powers. The power to regulate the conduct of individuals is not allowed in this form of government.

 

Conference committee     Committee appointed by each the House and the Senate to adjust differences on bills. Once out of committee, the bill must be accepted or rejected as it stands and may not be amended.

 

Connecticut Compromise           The original delegates of the Constitutional Convention agreed to give each state two senators regardless of population to compromise for the House of Representative's method of picking numbers of representatives according to population density. The compromise was made at the demand of the less populous states for agreeing to the new Constitution.

 

Conservatism          Political belief that favors state and local government over the Federal government involvement in private lives and businesses.

 

Conspiracy              Collaboration between two or more people to engage in illegal activity or in an activity that is lawful by itself but not when orchestrated by a particular group, under particular circumstances.

 

Constitution             Rules and procedures of those who govern as outlined by agreement to allow for effective government.

 

Constitutional convention           The Philadelphia convention of 1857 that determined the Constitution of the United States which was ratified by nine states and adopted in 1788.

 

Constitutional government         Governments that follow a code of ethics that apply to those who govern and enforce that code when need be.

 

Constitutional law              The Supreme Court interprets the meanings of the Constitution of the United States through its opinions. Laws are focused around these interpretations and people and government behave according to these laws.

 

Containment            The foreign policy strategy employed by the Truman Administration and to some extent by all of the presidential administrations after World War II which was aimed at preventing the emerging powers of Europe and the Middle East from falling under Soviet control.

 

Curtiss-Wright case           The 1936 Supreme Court case which upheld the sovereignty of the National Government in foreign affairs and declared the President to be its prime agent.

 

 

 

D

 

De facto segregation         racial segregation that results from sources other than government practices.

 

Defendant    In any court action, the individual or group defending itself against charges brought either by another person or by the legal authorities.

 

De jure segregation           see Jim Crow laws Racial segregation that results from government policies and practices.

 

Delegate       Legislators, as the delegates of the people whom they represent, representing the views of their constituents rather than views that they hold personally.

 

Demagogue             Charismatic leaders who appeal to the prejudices and emotions of the masses to retain their power.

 

Democracy              Direct or indirect government by the people where there are frequent free elections. Deregulation Hands-off approach that calls for less interference via rules and regulations by government.

 

Detente         Policy aimed at reducing the tension between nations.

 

Deterrence   U.S. defense policy to prevent nuclear attack by being able to survive a first attack by an adversary and respond with a massive counter attack that would inflict costly damage. The idea is that an initial attack would not be forthcoming because of fear of retaliation. Thus, an ever increasing arsenal of weapons on all sides.

 

Direct primary         Election in which voters who are members of the party choose who will be nominated for the party's nominees in the general election.

 

Discharge petition             Petition signed by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives which forces a bill from Committee onto the House floor for consideration.

 

Domino Theory       Theory that assumes that if some key nations fall under Communist control, other nations will subsequently fall.

 

Double jeopardy     Practice forbidden by the Constitution in which a person is tried for the same trial by the same government.

 

Dual Federalism     Idea that state and national governments, each granted certain rights and powers by the Constitution, are equal partners with the Supreme Court arbitrating conflicts between the two.

 

Due process clauses        Clauses in the fifth and fourteenth amendments that guarantee individuals that neither the state or national governments can deprive individuals of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

E

 

Electoral College    This formality gathers the states electors together and counts their votes as cast to formally represent their parties choice for president and vice president.

 

Eminent domain     The Constitution makes allowances for the government to take private property for public use, but just compensation must be made to the individual citizen.

 

Equal protection clause               A constitutional restraint imposed by the fifth and fourteenth amendments on the power of government to discriminate on the grounds of race, national origin or sex.

 

Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)            Proposed Constitutional amendment by the Congress of 1972 designed to give women equal protection under the law. Ratified by only thirty-five states, just three short of the number needed, time ran out and the amendment failed in June, 1982.

 

Equal-time requirement                Requirement by Congress and the Federal Communications Commission that requires television and radio licensees to give opposing candidates for public office equal amounts of free air time.

 

Equity            Remedy used by the courts when suits for money do not provide justice.

 

Establishment clause       First and fourteenth amendment clauses that forbids the government to make laws about any established religion. The Supreme Court further interpreted this clause to forbid government to support any or all religions.

 

Ethnocentrism        The belief held by most people in most societies that their own group is superior to others.

 

Excise tax     Tax imposed on the consumer of particular items such as cigarettes, liquor and gasoline.

 

Executive agreement        An international agreement that carries the weight of a treaty made by the president that does not need the approval of Congress.

 

Executive office of the President           The Reorganization act of 1939 established a group of offices to help the president carry out his tasks. These staff agencies change as the needs of government change.

 

Executive privilege            Claim made by presidents that justify the withholding of certain information from the public, the courts and even Congress in the interest of national security. Questioned by the United States v. Nixon case, the Supreme Court ruled that while presidents do have this privilege, its extent is subject to judicial review.

 

Ex post facto law    "After-the-fact" law not allowed by the Constitution that would punish criminals for an act not illegal at the time of its commission.

 

Extradition   Legal process whereby a criminal caught in one state is surrendered to another state.

 

 

F

 

Fairness Doctrine Doctrine that imposes on television and radio, licensees the opportunity for differing viewpoints to be presented.

 

Federal Reserve System              Created by Congress in 1913 to ensure regulated currency and amount of credit available and to establish banking practices.

 

Federalism   Governmental arrangement that allows for two levels of government, one at a central level and the other at each of the state levels both of which have jurisdiction over individuals.

 

The Federalist         Written by Hamilton, Jay and Madison during the debate over ratification of the Constitution, this series of essays favored its adoption.

 

Filibuster      A lengthy speech given by a member of the US Senate that impedes the introduction of a controversial matter by stalling until time runs out.

 

Full faith and credit clause          Clause in the Constitution that requires that each state recognizes civil judgments made in other states.

 

 

 

G

 

Gerrymandering     The practice of drawing or redrawing the boundaries of a voting district in such a way as to prevent the opposition from establishing a majority of votes.

 

Grand jury    Twelve to twenty-three people who sit in private at a hearing where the government presents evidence. The grand jury then decides whether the evidence warrants an individual to stand trial.

 

Gross national product (GNP)    The total monetary value of all goods and services given in any one year in the nation.

 

 

 

 

H

 

Habeas corpus       Court orders that require jailers to show just cause for holding an individual.

 

Hatch Act      Federal statute that disallows federal employees from certain political actions and protects them from being fired on partisan grounds.

 

 

 

I

 

Ideology        A set of political attitudes and beliefs about the role of government, power and the role of the individual in society.

 

Ideologue     Person with a stable and fixed ideology.

 

Immunity       Exemption from prosecution given to a witness as a result of testimony given in return.

 

Implied Powers       Constitutional powers given to Congress to do whatever is necessary to carry out expressed powers.

 

Impoundment          Presidential act refusing to allow an agency to spend funds authorized by Congress.

 

Inflation         Rise in the cost of goods purchased. Same as the decline of monetary value.

 

 

Inherent powers     Powers attributed to the national government that deal with foreign relations. Supreme Court ruled that these powers do not need to be granted by the Constitution, rather they naturally grow out of the nature of governments and their relationship with other governments.

 

Initiative petition     Petition by a group of voters to create a new law. May be submitted either directly to the people or to the legislature first, and if refused, to the voters.

 

Interest groups       Collection of people sharing a common interest or concern willing to interact with other groups to meet their demands.

 

Interstate compacts           Agreements among states usually approved by Congress.

 

Isolationism             1930's attitude that the US should stay out of everyone's business, especially militarily, and look after its own self-interest.

 

Item veto       Power granted to state executives that allows them to veto part of a bill without having to veto it all. Presidents do not have this power.

 

 

 

J

 

Jim Crow laws        Laws requiring that public facilities and accommodations, public and private, be segregated by race.

 

Joint committee      Intended to speed up legislative processes, these committees are formed by members consisting of both the House and the Senate.

 

Judicial activism     As opposed to judicial restraint which asks for a conservative interpretation of the Constitution, judicial activism asks that judges interpret the Constitution to reflect current trends and the desires and values of current people.

 

Judicial restraint     The Constitution should be interpreted in the context of wording and intent meant by the authors of the document and changes should be made via the formal amendment process.

 

Judicial review        Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison defines the authority of judges to decide on the validity of actions taken by executive officials according to the judges interpretation of the Constitution.

 

 

 

K

 

Ku-Klux-Klan           Organization of white supremists characterized by white flowing robes and hoods espousing inferiority and hatred of blacks, ethnic groups and various religious factions.

 

 

 

L

 

Lame duck               Elected official serving out a term of office after being defeated for reelection before the inauguration of the successor.

 

Legislative veto      Declared unconstitutional in 1983, provisional law that allowed Congress or a committee of Congress to reject by majority vote an act or regulation of an agency of the national government.

 

Libel               Written defamation of another person.

 

Liberalism    Philosophical approach that favors governmental action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all.

 

Libertarianism         Philosophical approach that favors a free-market economic policy and non-interventional foreign policy along with a general limited role approach to government in general.

 

Lobby                        Seen as part of a citizens right to petition the government, lobbying involves activities aimed at influencing government officials to enact desired policies.

 

Lobbyist       Person who acts for an organized group aimed at influencing decision making of public officials.

 

 

 

M

 

Maintaining election          An election that runs in a similar pattern as the last election maintaining partisan support.

 

Majority floor leader           The majority floor leader helps frame party policy and keeps the membership in line, determines the agenda and has strong influence in committee selection. This legislative position is held by an important party member selected in caucus or conference.

 

Massachusetts ballot        Method of voting in which all candidates are listed under the office for which they are running. Also called office group ballot or office block ballot.

 

McCulloch v. Maryland     Celebrated 1819 Supreme Court decision that established the doctrine of National supremacy and established the principal that the implied powers of the national government be generously interpreted.

 

Medicaid       A state and national government project that pays as much as 80% of medical costs for those who do not qualify for the national medicare program. This financial assistance ensures that impoverished individuals whose medical expenses exceed social security and pension benefits have medical assistance available to them.

 

Military-industrial complex          Alliance between top industry and top military personnel who protect their common interests in arms production and use.

 

Minority floor leader          Elected spokesperson for the minority party who acts as party leader in the House and the Senate.

 

Misdemeanor          Criminal offense punishable by fine and/or imprisonment of usually less than one year.

 

Missouri Plan          System of selecting judges whereby the governor makes an appointment and then after one year the electorate votes whether to retain or reject. After the initial term, the judge comes up for reelection if she wishes to serve again.

 

 

 

N

 

National Security Council            Planning committee including the president, vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state and the chair of the joint chiefs of staff which confers on matters of national security.

 

National supremacy          Constitutional doctrine that advocates that when a conflict between national, federal and local governments occur, the national government actions take priority.

 

Necessary and proper clause    The clause in the Constitution that sets forth the implied powers of Congress. This clause grants Congress not only the enumerated powers, but also grant Congress the authority to make any new and additional laws needed in order to carry out those enumerated powers.

 

New Jersey Plan    Presented by Paterson of New Jersey, this plan advocated modification of the Articles of Confederation and provided for strong states rights rather than a new Constitution and strong national government.

 

Nixon Doctrine        1970's policy suggested by President Nixon that would have the United States come to the defense of allies and friendly nations only if they would do most of the main fighting themselves.

 

Nonproliferation Treaty    An international agreement that pledges that nations possessing nuclear devices not distribute that technology to those nations that do not posses nuclear devices.

 

 

 

O

 

Obscenity     Defined by legislation or judicial interpretation as material presented in a patently offensive way that appeals to prurient interest in sex lacking serious literary, artistic, scientific or political interest.

 

Office group ballot             Also called Massachusetts ballot or office-block ballot, this is a method of voting in which all candidates are listed under the office for which they are running.

 

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)       Agency that serves as clearinghouse for budgeting requests and management improvements.

 

Oligarchy      Form of government where control lies within a small group of people based on wealth or power.

 

Oligopoly      Occurs when a small group of business dominate an industry.

 

Ombudsman            Governmental official or office that handles complaints made against the government or its officials.

 

Override        An action of Congress attempting to override a presidential veto of congressional legislation. Veto overrides are rare, succeeding only 3% of the time, as a two thirds vote in both the Senate and the House are required.

Oversight      Process of monitoring and evaluating how a program has been carried out.

 

 

 

P

 

Party column ballot           Also called the Indiana ballot, this method of voting lists all candidates under their party designations allowing for easy casting of votes for only one party.

 

Party convention                Held on county, state and national levels, these conventions decide on policy matters and sometimes select party candidates for public office.

 

Party primary           Election open only to members of the party where nominees for office are presented and the candidate to run for the party for a particular office is chosen.

 

Party realignment               Seeking to maintain its competitiveness, a party sometimes makes fundamental changes in economic, social and other electoral foundations.

 

Patronage    Procedure whereby government jobs are given to supporters of the winning party.

 

Petit jury       Ordinary jury convened in criminal or civil trials. Not the grand jury.

 

Plaintiff          Party initiating court action seeking legal remedies for injuries received.

 

Plea bargaining      Negotiations between the prosecutor and the defense attorney whereby the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser crime.

 

Pocket veto              After the legislative body adjourns, if the president or governor does not sign a bill, rather "puts the bill in his/her pocket", the bill dies and does not become law.

 

Political Action Committee (PAC)          Major agencies through which congressional campaigns are financed, these groups are the political arm of well organized special interest groups.

 

Political machine    Political "boss" along with supporting ward and precinct workers who provide various services to constituents between elections and then call in these favors when it is time to reelect their candidate.

 

Political socialization        Process whereby we develop our political attitudes, values and behaviors usually started before we go to school and continuing throughout our lifetime.

 

Poll tax          Payment required to vote. Some states formerly required a poll tax, but it is now outlawed.

 

Populists      Political party of the 1880's and 1890's based in the rural South, Southwest and Midwest that waged reformist actions against banks, railroads and other establishments. Populist issues influenced the Democratic party and the progressive movements after 1892.

 

Preferred position doctrine         Interpretation of the first amendment that disallows any law to be made that limits expression unless the government can convince the courts that the law is necessary to prevent serious injury to the public welfare.

 

Presidential primary          Statewide primary in which members of a party choose delegates to go the national party convention and the nominee who will be the party's candidate running for president.

 

President pro tempore      In the absence of the vice president, this official serves as the president of the Senate. Chosen from the members of the U.S. Senate, he is usually the senior member of the majority party.

 

Prior restraint          Order made prior to the delivery of a speech, publishing of a book or newspaper or the release of a motion picture until certain conditions have been met.

 

Progressive tax      Tax that imposes higher tax payments on those who are more wealthy.

 

Project grant            Government funds earmarked for specific purposes based on merits.

 

Public defender      Officer of the court whose job it is to provide free legal services to those who are accused of crimes and are unable to afford an attorney.

 

Public opinion         Views and attitudes held by people on significant issues.

 

Public policy            Intentions and actions practiced by the government on all issues.

 

 

 

Q

 

Quasilegislative and quasijudicial          Words coined by the Supreme Court to permit noncourt and nonlegislative bodies to decide disputes and make rules. Decisions are subject to court review and rules must be within general guidelines established by the legislature.

 

 

 

R

 

Random sampling                         A representative selection picked at random to sample public opinion.

 

Realigning election            Election in which existing party loyalties change.

 

Reapportionment               Redrawing the legislative district lines to acknowledge the existing population distributions.

 

Recall            After a certain number of voters petition to have an elected official removed from office, this election is held where all voters have their say in the matter.

 

Referendum             Submission for approval to the general voters of measures passed by the legislature.

 

Regressive tax        Taxes imposed most heavily on those least able to afford them.

 

Representative democracy         Also called a Republic The form of government where power is derived directly or indirectly from the people. Those elected to govern are responsible for their actions to the people who have given them their power. In this form of government, people elect representatives who make the rules as opposed to making rules themselves as occurs in a direct democracy.

 

Revenue sharing               Program that allows for federal funds to be used by state and local governments to be spent at the discretion of the receiving governments.

 

Runoff election       Election held when neither candidate receives a required number of votes.

 

 

 

S

 

Safe seat       Electoral office in which the candidate or the party is so strong that reelection is taken for granted.

 

Sales tax       Tax charged on sales transactions.

 

Salience        Significance of an issue or an event.

 

SALT Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty          Agreement made between the US and the Soviets limiting both offensive and defensive weapons.

 

Sampling error        The degree to which a sample is distorted and does not perfectly represent the entire population.

 

Sedition        Attempt to overthrow the government by force or violence.

 

Seditious      Descriptive word for a speech made to advocate forcefully overthrowing the government. The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can outlaw seditious speech but that proof of specific urgings to commit violence were advocated by the speech giver.

 

Senate majority leader      Elected leader of the majority party in the U.S. Senate. This is the most influential person, the chief power broker and the setter of the agenda.

 

Senatorial courtesy           U.S. Senate custom of referring the names of prospective appointees to senators from the states where these appointees reside and withdrawing the names of any prospective appointees that these senators deem objectionable.

 

Separation of powers       Constitutional division of power between the judicial, legislative and executive branches. The judicial branch interprets laws, the legislative branch makes laws and the executive branch applies the laws.

 

Shays's Rebellion              Led by Daniel Shays in 1786-87 this rebellion in rural Massachusetts pro- tested the foreclosing of mortgages. It resulted in support for a stronger national government.

 

Shield law     Law establishing the right under certain circumstances of reporters and other media people to refuse to reveal sources of information.

 

Socialism      Philosophical approach to government that allows for public ownership of businesses.

 

Speaker        Selected by the majority party, elected by the entire House, this is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives.

 

Stare decisis            The rule of precedence commonly held as binding; when a judge must decide on a case where the same question is presented as had been previously decided.

 

Statutory law           Law enacted by legislature.

 

Subpoena    A court order that demands the presence of an individual or certain materials before a judicial agency.

 

Suburbs        Residential communities that surround an existing city.

 

Sunset process      Legislative review of programs after a set number of years to determine whether the program is still viable or has outlived its usefulness.

 

Sunshine law          Law requiring public agencies to operate in public except under certain circum- stances.

 

 

 

T

 

Tariff              Taxes levied on imports to help protect a nations own industries from international competition or simply to raise revenues by taxing products from abroad rather than raising taxes internally.

 

Third world              Those nations that are rather poor and non-industrialized but are seeking to modernize and compete in the world market.

 

Three-Fifths Compromise            An agreement between the north and the south at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to count only three-fifths of the slave population in determining the number of representatives sent to the House of representatives.

 

Ticket splitting        Practice of some voters who vote for the candidate rather than the party that the candidate represents. This means that a particular voter might vote for a candidate in a one office who is a democrat while at the same time voting for another candidate in a different office that is a republican.

 

Treason        No person can be convicted of this crime unless he confesses in an open courtroom to the crime or two witness testify that they personally witnessed actions specified as treasonous. Only levying war against the U.S., adjuring to its enemies, or giving aid and comfort to its enemies constitute crimes of treason.

 

Truman Doctrine    1947 doctrine sponsored by Harry Truman aimed at halting the spread of communism in southeastern Europe. This plan called for the financial support of all free people in the world who wanted to resist outside forces of repression.

 

Trustee          This view of a legislator holds that when elected, an officer of the people represents independent views for the general welfare of the people and that the legislator need not vote as their constituents demand, rather as general welfare dictates.

 

 

 

 

 

U

 

Unicameral legislature      One house legislature. The state of Nebraska and almost all cities use this system.

 

Unitary system        Form of government where power is concentrated in the form a national government.

 

 

 

V

 

Virginia Plan            Plan presented at the Constitution Convention which favored the larger states proposing that the number of representatives in each of the houses be determined by the population density in each state.

 

 

 

W

 

Watergate     1972 incidents involving various misdeeds by the Nixon administration among which was the break-in that occurred in the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C. when the National Democratic Committee headquarters was raided. Among the other incidents were misuse of the CIA, FBI and IRS and the break-in of a psychiatrists office along with "dirty tricks" being played on Nixon's opponents during his election in 1972. Nixon eventually was forced out of the presidency and others in his administration were tried and spent time in prison.

 

Whip              Party leader in the legislature who is the liaison between the rank and file and the leaders.

 

White Primary          Declared unconstitutional in 1944 (Smith v. Aiiwright), this type of Democratic party primary held in the South allowed only white persons to participate. Because during this time period the democratic party candidates were the only one that had a chance to win in the elections held after the primaries, this effectively eliminated all of the black vote.

 

Writ of certiorari      The formal device used to regularly bring lower court decisions before the Supreme Court.

 

Writ of habeas corpus      Court order demanding jailers to explain to a judge why a person is being held in custody.

 

Writ of mandamus Court order demanding that a person perform a nondiscretionary act as required by law.