The Legal Process from a Behavioral Perspective

By Stuart S. Nagel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Constitutional Principles: Structure-Function Relations

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to integrate into a unified conceptual scheme some basic facts about American governmental structures and functions. It represents a further attempt to bridge the gap between law and political science. The separate facts are known and need not be documented, but an integrating causal model has not previously appeared in the political science or legal literature.1


I. BASIC ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE AND OF FUNCTION

To characterize the basic structure of the American national government, it is necessary to look at five somewhat legalistic dimensions or variables. American government is federal in form in that the Constitution delegates some powers to the national government and some powers to the state governments rather than all power to the national government to dole out to the states as it sees fit. American government also provides for a separation of horizontal powers in that the chief executive and the national legislature both are chosen by the electorate rather than either one by the other. It is further characterized by the presence of judicial review, whereby the Supreme Court has the power to declare acts of legislators and administrators unconstitutional. The party system is basically a two-party system with some minor parties, although the ideological difference between the two parties has, at least prior to 1964, been relatively weak in comparison with the British and other two-party systems. Finally, American government has a democratic structure in

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1
For a more philosophical and more normative discussion of structure-function analysis in political science than this chapter provides, see FUNCTIONALISM IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES: THE STRENGTH AND LIMITS OF FUNCTIONALISM IN ANTHROPOLOGY, ECONOMICS, POLITICAL SCIENCE, AND SOCIOLOGY ( D. MARTINDALE ed. 1965).

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