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Legally Speaking

A Balance Agreement

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04/01/2007 - In my last article I discussed how a constitution is the overriding contract that controls all laws (rules) by which we are governed. I offered the opinion that constitutions have two important qualities. First, they are a contract between the people and their government. Second, these unique contracts are drafted in such a fashion that they are able to be adapted to the changes in our national environment. As I talk about the constitutions that govern the relationship between the readers of Our Town Casper Magazine and their respective governments, I will often refer back to these basic concepts because they are the core to understanding the rules we call law.

To begin our exploration of the rules (laws) that govern us I need to start with the United States Constitution. I want to start with the U.S. Constitution because it is the core foundation for all laws in our land. Each state has a constitution but each state's constitution must exist within the constraints formed by the U.S. Constitution. Although the Constitution of the United States is a relatively short document it is probably wise to take it in small portions.

Though the United States of America declared its independence from England on the 4th of July, 1776, the Constitution was not drafted until the 17th of September, 1787 and finally became effective on the 4th of March, 1789. The original Constitution was a series of Seven Articles that constituted the basic contract between the people of the United States and their newly formed government. As you might guess, the drafting of those Articles was nothing short of a verbal battle. After the war with England, many Americans were sick and tired of government rule and wanted the maximize the power of the people. Other drafters of the Constitution felt that a strong government was critical to a successful nation. Don't think for a minute that the first seven articles of the U.S. Constitution are just some thoughtless set of words. The drafters knew that this was the contract that would be the law of the land for their new country and every phrase and word was considered and argued by some of the best minds of the age. To take a look at the Constitution and the get a wild look at the history behind the Constitutional Convention, check out the web site at http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/charters.html.

As a first order of business in the U.S. Constitution, the founding fathers formed an unique balance of power within their new government. Articles one, two and threee of the Constitution cover the three branches of government. The three branches are: the Legislative Branch consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate (Article One), the Executive Branch consisting of the President and various departments of government (Article Two), and the Judicial Branch consisting of the Federal District Courts, Courts of Appeal and the Unites States Supreme Court (Article Three). This division split the power and authority to govern the people between three independent and often adverse factions. The plan was simple. The three branches of government would have separate powers and authority and would control each other. This separation of power would protect the people from a single government entity that could become too powerful like the King of England. As I discuss these first three articles of the United States Constitution, try to imagine the balance of power these three entities enjoy and what factors influence each factions decisions.

Please don't think of this separation of powers as written in stone. Like the Constitution, it is in constant flux. If the legislature votes in a new judge it is impacting the Judiciary. When the Supreme Court of the United States rules on a Florida election law it can pick the next leader of the Executive Branch. This balance of power is like the Constitution and is in constant flux. If the ability to redefine the Constitution is the lifeblood of our living constitution, it is possible that the balance of power between the three branches of government forms its backbone.

Tom Sedar is an attorney-at-law practicing in Casper.

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