The US congress and the Supreme Court are the two institutions in charge of legislation and passing of bills, and judicial interpretation of contentious issues respectively. This paper looks at the different political concepts upon which each of the institutions is created, as well as the nature of their relationship. In particular, the role of both institutions in the issue of gun control will be discussed.
The political role of the two institutions: the Congress and the Supreme Court are intertwined and at the same time separate (Huckabee, 1995). The two organs are required to work hand in hand in the common good of the American citizen, but their roles have at various times raised controversy especially with regard to interpretation of the law, as well as in matters of constitutionalism. The results of disharmony between the two institutions have at various times led to massive debates which have led to amendments in the constitution.
The relationship between the Supreme Court and the congress in matters of constitutional interpretation has grown more adversarial, with congress seeming to work around bills which the courts strike down as unconstitutional. Gun control has recently been a subject of controversy, with the judicial interpretational in the District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008) case regarding Gun Control depicting this controversy.
II The Congress
The congress is the legislative institution in the United States. The congress is composed of two houses, the upper house (senate) and the lower house (House of Representatives). Currently, the congress has 535 members allowed to vote, including 435 from the lower house and 100 from upper house. A political body, the congress draws from both political affiliations (democrats and republicans), as well as from independent representatives (two in the senate and three in the lower house).
The current structure of the congress, named the Second Continental Congress, evolved from the First Continental Congress, which was formed by thirteen British Colonies. The second congress expanded to include all the 50 states, and adopted the Declaration of Independence on 4[th] July, 1776. It was therefore formed as a representative union of the different states, under the argument of autonomy of American territory from Britain, France, France, England and all other foreign controls who had colonies in America. A principal challenge in the union was the lack of an executive body, rendering the congress weak and ineffective. This challenge was resolve through an amendment which established a bicameral congress. A dominant political concept regarding the evolution of the congress was the balance and checks incorporated through Separation of Powers between the separate chambers. For example, a motion discussed in the lower house may not receive support in the senate. Similarly, the members of the lower house have powers to impeach judicial and executive officials for crime such as bribery and treason. This arrangement ensures that no one in government is insulated from individual responsibility (Lott 2008).
The 1774 meeting of the First Continental Congress was the origin of the current congress. The 13 colonies represented were subsequently declared free in 1775. In 1776, additional states were included. The articles of confederation were adopted and states ratified in 1781 (Huckabee, 1995). A compromise was made with regard to state representation in congress, in order to cater for smaller states versus bigger states. The compromise was in way of having representatives elected by the population so as to benefit large states, while senators were chosen by the respective state governments, which worked well for smaller states. In this way, voting participation as a political concept was used to bring harmony in congress.
Evolution of Congress
The initial arrangement of congress has largely remained unchanged. However, the rise of lobbying, as well as introduction in the 108[th] congress of a 12 member bi-partisan committee mandated with fast-tracking issues of legislation, have changed how the institution conducts its mandate.
` The congress today legislates on issues of legislation for the federal governance, as well as ensured balanced representation for states in the national government (Cushman, 1998). It also works in conjunction with the judiciary in matters relating to interpretation of constitution. It also offers support services through the Library of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office and the Congressional Research Service.
III The Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the US. It evolved from the Marshall court. It was created in order to create judicial independence, harmonize state appeal cases, as well as for matters of constitutional interpretation. The barriers it experienced were lack of physical composition and prestige. Two political concepts embodied in its creation were constitutional democracy and federalism. The court was a federal power over all states through its appellate jurisdiction in constitutional issues as well as on issues of national interest (New York Times, 2013).
The court is composed of a chief justice and eight associate judges (Hemenway, Matthew and Deborah 2000).. The Judicial Act 1789 specified 6 justices for the court, changing the number to cater for growing workload over time to nine. The Circuit Judges Act 1869 set the number to nine, which is the current composition. John Jay was the first Supreme Court judge. The concept of constitutional democracy was a priority for the court. For instance, in the case of Chisholm Vs Georgia, the court held that Supreme Court had jurisdiction of cases against states. An organizational power compromise was held against the Supreme Court in the eleventh amendment, restricting it to certain cases (Olson, 2013).
The court evolved both in number of justices and jurisdiction, from the initial six justices, to the current eight, in line with existing judicial circuits. Its jurisdiction in states matters was limited through the 11[th] amendment. It has gone through ten generations, from the Jay court (1879) to the Roberts court (2005). The current representation shows ethnic and gender balance.
The contemporary institution hears cases regarding such issues as property rights, abortion, constitutional implementation, and right to privacy. It decides on issued beyond jurisdiction of any one state. The Supreme Court and the congress have a mutual relationship. The court is mandated with the interpretation of statutes created by the congress, usually in deciding whether any such statutes violate the constitution. The congress, on the other hand, monitors decisions made by the court and may often come up with new legislation to bypass court decisions (Baum and Hausegger, 2013).
IV Gun Control
Gun control has been a contemporary issue in the congress/ judicial debate. Does the 2[nd] amendment ban gun control? In District of Columbia Vs Heller (2008) as well as McDonald Vs Chicago, the court ruled in that the second amendment of 1791 sort to protect an individual`s right to possess, and use within restricted provisions, a firearm. The congress has in various bills and amendments, legislated on gun control, while the Supreme Court has given judicial interpretation on constitutional issues (Pickerill, 2006). In the debate case, District of Columbia had instituted legislation banning registration of firearms, while complainant, Heller, sort judicial interpretation regarding the second amendment in the Supreme Court. The court maintained that the second amendment allowed ownership and controlled use of firearms in the home (Cook, Ludwi and Hemenway , 1997).
Challenges and the Future
The challenges facing gun control is the split between combating crime through disarming gun owners, and enhancing self protection for home owners (Pickerill, 2006) . The president have relied on executive orders directing more stringent gun control measures to combat rising cases of shooting sprees, usually in schools. Institutional challenges complicating the issue include the divided legislation in the different states, as well as the almost ambiguous and contextually controversial wording in the original constitution regarding gun control in the 2[nd] amendment. In addition, motions regarding gun control have severally failed in the congress, meaning that the majority of population is anti-gun control.
The most likely near term likelihood of gun control is that no constitutional amendments will be reached in its regard and it will remain as it is. However, in the long term, limited legislation might be put in place to combat misuse of firearms. I do not support gun control, as I believe in the right of every citizen to protect them. What I would like to see is more restrictive policies in gun licensing and background checking, as well as more stringent penalties for firearm usage offences.
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