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Could you be a political analyst?

US Constitution in Action:
Democracy & Sovereignty
Key Questions:
• Which group or person is
‘sovereign’ in the US political
system? Why?
- Congress
- President
- People
• Which branch of government
has the most power, despite
the checks and balances?
- Legislative
- Executive Think about the answers to these
questions, discuss with your partner and
- Judiciary
prepare to share your ideas.
Enquiry Question:
How far is the constitution anti-democratic?
Learning Outcomes
• To identify and explain the strengths and
weaknesses of the US constitution
• To assess how far the constitution is anti-
Thinking Critically
Strengths & Weaknesses

• What are the strengths of the US
• What makes it effective in:
– Representing all people equally
– Limiting the power of government
– Protecting the rights of citizens
• What are the weaknesses of the US
• How does the constitution not fulfil
these roles?
BillColour codeEnshrined
of Rights: the statements to show
rights have stoodwhether they are
Principles: Thedescribing
Constitutiona strength or a
the test of time with US Citizens freeweakness. to that every US Citizen is entitled to a life of
Bill of Rights:and have free
Enshrined speech
rights havealongside
stood the liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is
Principles: The Constitution presupposes that
all the
test legalwith
of time rights which some
US Citizens free tocountries
assemble the bedrock of a modern liberal
every US Citizen is entitled to a life of liberty and
and have
do notfreeafford
speechto alongside all the legal
their citizens. democracy.
the pursuit of happiness. It is the bedrock of a
rights which some countries do not afford to
Amendments Process: Change can come modern liberal democracy.
their citizens. Archaic Provisions: Some of the 18th
to the Constitution, but protections are in
Century provisions are no longer
place to protect it from political
Amendments Process: Change can come to the whims and
Archaic in a modern
Provisions: Some ofsociety and
the 18th are
mass public but
Constitution, hysteria. Evidence
protections are incomes
place toin
difficult are
provisions to change
no longersuch as the in
applicable Right to
a modern
protecttheitform of the limited
from political whims and number
mass ofpublic
society Bear
and are difficult to change such as the
Evidence comes in the form of the Arms or form militias.
since 1787. Right to Bear Arms or form militias.
limited number of amendments since 1787.
Vagueness: The ambiguity with which the
Equality: When drafting the Constitution
Constitution was written allows
Vagueness: The ambiguity with which the for
focusses onWhen
Equality: free men only,
drafting therather than all
interpretations to form, together
Constitution was written allows for with the
on free men slaves, women,
only, rather and
than all
interpretations of the
to form, judiciary
together with the
politicisation of the judiciary
peoples including Americans.
women, and Native
The Imperial Presidency: The Constitution Checks and Balances: Checks and Balances
The vague on the powers
Presidency: Theof the executive
Constitution was ensure
Checks that all branches
and Balances: of government
Checks and Balances
vague didthe
not disperse
powers executive
of the executivepower
and did have their
ensure power
that all checked
branches against the
of government have
not creating
disperse the seeds
executive power of an Imperial
evenly others
creating their powerresulting
a balanced system
the others of
seeds of an that
Imperial Presidency
would that would
come with the in a balanced systemfor
government of government
the people for the
come with
Nixon administration. people
How effective is the
• Read the hand-out “Views of the
Constitution” which explores the
views of conservatives, liberals
and centrists on the constitution.
• Use two colours to highlight the
strengths each viewpoint sees in
the constitution, and the
• Make sure to create a key.
• Sanford Levinson, author of Our
Undemocratic Constitution: Where
the Constitution Goes Wrong (And
How We the People Can Correct
It) is a professor at the University
of Texas Law School.
• In his book Levinson takes a hard
look at one of the most revered
documents in American politics,
the Constitution.
• Levinson has kindly summed up his
book for you Letterman-style on
your hand out, however, you need
to decide which is the biggest
weakness in the constitution.
• Organise them into rank order
starting with the biggest weakness
as number 1 and the smallest
weakness as number 10.
Learning Outcomes
• To identify and explain the strengths and
weaknesses of the US constitution
• To assess how far the constitution is anti-
Error 404
Democracy not found.
• Anti-democratic means that something fails to
protect rights, does not allow for effective
government and doesn't allow for maximum
participation upholding principles.
• Although there is some evidence to suggest
that US Constitution does these things, there
is greater evidence to suggest that it does not,
thus making it anti democratic.
Assessing the
YOUR TASK: • You have 30 minutes in
You will work in groups to which to research and
assess the key areas in which answer the key questions for
there is debate regarding the your topic.
democratic nature of the • Each person in group will
then be responsible for
constitution. explaining (at least!) one
• Checks and balances question and answer to the
• Electoral College class who will take notes.
• The aim of this task is for
• Supreme Court your to discuss
• Protection of Rights constitutional debates
• Amendment Process confidently – not read a
Checks and Balances
Key Questions
• Which checks and balances are justified?
• How do they limit the power of government to
protect individuals?
• Which checks and balances are excessive?
• What is ‘divided government’ and ‘congressional
• How does hyper-partisanship reduce the
effectiveness of government as a result of checks
and balances?
Electoral College
Key Questions
• How does the Electoral College work?
• How are states over or under represented in the
Electoral College?
• How does the Electoral College promote
• What is a ‘faithless elector’ and why do they pose
a risk to democracy?
• How can a president receive the most individual
votes and still not become president?
Supreme Court
Key Questions
• How does the power of judicial review help limit
the power of government?
• How do the unelected and unaccountable justices
threaten democracy?
• Why are Supreme Court Justices accuse of
‘legislating from the bench’?
• What is judicial activism?
• How does judicial activism attempt to dictate
society’s moral compass?
Protection of Rights
Key Questions
• What individual rights are protected in the
• Which groups were not originally protected by the
• How has the use of the death penalty been extended?
(Glossip v Gross)
• How has the power of the wealthy been extended at
the expense of the poor? (Citizens United v FEC)
• How has the ‘War on Drugs’ undermined constitutional
democracy? (Veronia School District v Action)
Amendment Process
Key Questions
• Why is the amendment process so difficult?
• Why should the amendment process be
• Why has the Equal Rights Amendment failed?
• How can a determined minority resist
changing the constitution?
• Why are the 18th and 21st amendments a
‘cautionary tale’ in amending the
Learning Outcomes
• To identify and explain the strengths and
weaknesses of the US constitution
• To assess how far the constitution is anti-
Could you be Founding Fathers?
Constitutional Amendment

• Based on your understanding of the current strengths and weaknesses of the US

constitution, write an amendment to make it more democratic.
• In groups, discuss (and come to a consensus on) the wording of a new
To what extent is the US
constitution anti-democratic?
Ways in which the constitution could be considered anti-
democratic include:
Checks and balances/separation of powers
• creates a system in which it is too easy for a minority to block legislation; the
composition of the legislature with two equal chambers elected by different
constituencies, and in the Senate at different times, means the popular will is
difficult to identify and act on
• originally unelected, still two per state regardless of population
Electoral College
• method of indirect election, and even though all electors now formally
pledged to candidates, ‘faithless electors’ can vote as they see fit
• distortion of popular vote means that the winner of the popular vote may
still lose the election
To what extent is the US
constitution anti-democratic?
Amendment procedure
• too difficult - means updating can be resisted by a determined minority, e.g.
the failed attempts to ratify the ERA
Supreme Court
• power of the unelected court over the constitution means it can strike down
laws passed by elected legislatures
• because judicial review is not explicitly detailed in constitution, there are no
effective formal checks
To what extent is the US
constitution anti-democratic?
Ways in which the constitution could be considered not to be anti-
democratic include:
Checks and balances/separation of powers
• the extensive checks and balances means legislation is always carefully
considered and a full range of views are brought to bear on it
Electoral College
• faithless electors have never affected the result
• distortion of popular vote usually works to strengthen the mandate of the
winner, only very occasionally does the loser of the popular vote win
Amendment procedure
• difficulty of amendment is essential to preserve key principles of constitution
from short-lived waves of sentiment – the passage of the Prohibition
amendments shows the process should be more demanding if anything
Application Task:
To what extent is the US constitution anti-
Flipped Learning Presentation Task:
Revise for end of topic test
Stretch & Challenge Task
Documentary: The Making of the Constitution
Make revision materials (e.g. mind map, revision
cards) for the constitution topic