Essay Questions

  1. Define "constitution" using Francis Wormuth's classic definition.
    • "A constitution is often defined as the whole body of rules, written and unwritten, legal and extralegal, which describe a government and its operation"

  2. According to the textbook, what are five main purposes of state constitutions?
    • To define the general purposes and ideals of the several states, including the determination of the common good of citizens.
    • To establish republican and accountable forms of government, with legal limits on the powers of government.
    • To provide a framework for governmental structures, including the scope of authority, mechanisms for exercising authority, and procedures for the passage of state laws, local ordinances, and administrative rules and regulations. This includes the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
    • To provide for an independent judiciary that allows citizens to seek court-ordered remedies for illegal actions of government as well as a process to challenge laws they believe to be unconstitutional.
    • To provide legal definitions of key concepts (e.g., citizenship, property rights, parental rights, etc.) and prescribe a process for establishing basic political rights such as voting.
    • To establish and define the powers of local governments, including counties, cities, townships, and special-purpose governments.
    • To establish the requirements for holding elective and appointed office, as well as setting the terms of office for elected officials.
    • To provide for a process of removal of incompetent and corrupt elected or appointed officials, which can include recall and impeachment.
    • To define responsibilities for major government departments and agencies, and the principal duties of the individuals heading up those governmental entities.
    • To establish a system of taxation and budgetary processes.
    • To provide for the public safety of the citizenry, including regulatory authority for civil and criminal actions to be exercised to promote public health and safety and to operate effective criminal justice systems.
    • To provide for a process of replacing or revising the state constitution. (Depending on the state, these processes can include initiatives, referendums, constitutional conventions, and legislative action.)
    • To establish the rights of citizens, including both "negative" and "positive" rights and freedoms. Negative freedoms are often called "civil liberties," which include freedom of speech and assembly. Civil liberties are individual or group protections from a potential oppressive government. Positive rights, on the other hand, are things government can do for citizens, including the provision of education, economic assistance in times of need, timely assistance in times of natural disasters, and the preservation of cultural assets with public libraries and museums.

  3. Based on the textbook readings on state constitutions, discuss two basic elements in so-called republican forms of government.
    • Separation of powers
    • Centralization vs. decentralization

  4. List and discuss three typical methods by which state constitutions are changed.
    • Legislative proposal
    • Popular initiative
    • Constitutional convention

  5. What is judicial federalism?
    • Judicial federalism is said to occur when state courts address their own state's constitutional claims first in a case, and only consider federal constitutional claims when cases cannot be resolved on state grounds. This phenomenon ties directly into the enhancement of state civil liberties in many states during the 1970s, as state supreme courts worked to secure civil rights and liberties unavailable to their citizens under the U.S. Constitution (Tarr 1998) as that document was being read by the members of the conservative Burger Court.

  6. According to the textbook, what are two examples of "new constitutions" of sustainable governance? List and discuss.
    • Intergovernmental agreements (IGAs)
    • Memoranda of understanding (MOUs)

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