1UCLA Department of Political Science Fall 2007 PS 40 Introduction to American Politics Prof. Thomas Schwartz Hunk 7 Famous Court Decisions Today we’ll discuss how Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution have shaped government in the US. In general there are several influences apart from Supreme Court cases on how government works. Government shaped by: •The Original Constitution •Amendments •Precedents and Practice Many traits of government in the US come from individual decisions and practices throughout history. Arbitrary conventions, such as driving on the right side and speaking English, arise to coordinate behavior. They congeal as social equilibria, or stable practices. In some ways our Constitution allows us to try out different practices before settling on certain ones. Because, around the world, many new constitutions have lately been written, this indeterminacy or flexibility is important to appreciate. It is not always clear what particular set of practices will result form a given constitution. It depends on the people interpreting and applying it and on the circumstances under which they operate. For example, whether or not the French system is a presidential or parliamentary one is ambiguous; the same is true of Poland and Taiwan. A nice illustration of this point in the American context is Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s practice of acting much like a prime minister during Washington’s first term, when his Federalist Party controlled Congress. Had different parties captured Congress
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