The US Constitution is not a complicated document. It is actually a short read, containing approximately 7500 words, written in plain English.
The Federal government is comprised of three equal branches as described in Articles One, Two and Three of the Constitution.
The Congress is bicameral (two houses), the Senate and the House of Representatives. Basically the function of the Congress is to pass laws and control the purse.
The Executive Branch (think president) enforces the laws enacted by Congress and serves as Commander in Chief for the Armed Forces.
The Judicial Branch is known as the Supreme Court and is the final interpreter of constitutional law.
In this current presidential election cycle a lot of attention is being paid to the Supreme Court due to its number having been reduced to eight by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Despite all the rhetoric there is nothing magical about the number nine when it comes to the Supreme court. The Constitution does not specify how many members the Court must have. The original court (1789) had six members and this number has fluctuated over the years. In 1937 Franklin Roosevelt attempted to expand the Court to fifteen.
The biggest problem within our government comes from that very equality of powers established by the framers of the Constitution. It seems that due to human nature, individuals in each of the branches, to borrow a phrase from George Orwell, want to be, “more equal than the others.”
This is especially true in the Executive and Judicial Branches. We have Presidents who create law through executive orders and Supreme Court Justices seeking to legislate by employing the nebulous factor of intent rather than ruling on the words as written in the laws being considered.
A final thought in this far from comprehensive primer is the notion of the Constitution being a living document. The argument is that the founding Fathers could not possibly know which changes would take place over the years and that now, 240 years after the fact, we should not be bound to the words written so long ago.
This argument is specious at best and serves only those who have a hidden agenda to promote. A so-called living constitution, easily changed whenever the mood strikes, is tantamount to having no constitution.
The Founding Fathers knew full well that circumstances would change over the years and a process, the ability to amend, was included in the constitution to address that reality. Amending the Constitution is a difficult and arduous task, as well it should be, but it is the only proper avenue for making changes.
Read your Constitution, learn and understand which powers are vested in the separate but equal branches so that you will know when our leaders are straying from the authority we have entrusted to them and can be held accountable.
And perhaps most important of all, resist the idea that the Justices of the Supreme Court have any constitutional power other than to rule on laws presented to them, based on the actual words they contain, when weighed by the words in the constitution itself. If a Supreme court Justice can be identified by political leanings then he or she is not impartial and is not keeping to the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.
Civics can be a fascinating subject when viewed as a window on history and a benchmark for how devious the human mind can be when seeking to circumvent those quite simple rules of governance set down by our founding Fathers.