This paper is divided into two parts. Part one discusses ways in which the Watergate scandal challenged the constitution of the United States. To achieve this objective, the paper explains President Nixon’s acts which led to various arguments which had significant constitutional issues.
Part two discusses the issue of federal system of government in the United States. This is done through elaborating on its history, how it is exercised and how it is evolving with time.
Constitutional challenges and the Watergate scandal
The beginning of Watergate scandal was marked by burglary activity at the “National Committee headquarters in June 1972” and it ended when Gerald Ford, the then president, forgave his predecessor, Richard Nixon, during the month of September 1974 (Cox 1). The whole process of Watergate outrage confronted the US laws in several ways. Two significant issues were raised and they included president’s subjectivity to the legal procedure and the extent of his documents’ immunity (conferred by executive advantage) when undergoing investigations. In the preliminary stages of the judicial process, Richard Nixon and his mentors denied any knowledge concerning the occurrence of the burglary activity. However, the cover-up was short-lived as some of the accused pledged guilty and informed that both the president and the White House had a prior knowledge of the criminal activity (Cummings and Wise 440).
This led to appointment of a specific prosecutor to facilitate the hearings. At his capacity, the prosecutor solicited for tapes recorded in the president’s office but Nixon dishonored the request. The prosecutor continued to search for justice but Nixon tried to kick him out of office.
However, his efforts were futile as the ‘attorney general’, Richard Kleindienst, the man in-charge of terminating prosecutor’s contract failed to do so and instead quit office. Another attorney general was appointed and refused to sack the prosecutor and resigned as well. However, the attorney general who was installed after the second one sacked the prosecutor and appointed another one. These happenings brought up some issues regarding the constitution of the United States. At first, to what extent is the president of USA “subject to the rule of the law- to constitutional and other legal restrictions and obligations adjudicated by courts of law?”(Cox 1).
According to the United States constitution, the courts have jurisdiction over individuals attached to the area where such courts are located. So, a court has authority over all the individuals in its area of jurisdiction. However, Nixon’s acts challenged constitutionalism and tested people’s morality and political will to implement the laws of the land.
The president is the chief executive of the country and he should act as a role model for others through respecting the rule of the law. Furthermore, the president must be treated by the law just like any other individual. However, in this case, Nixon tried to interfere with the judicial process right from the beginning. The other issue questioned the president’s responsibility in providing evidence to the courts and the parliament when required to do so. At first, the president was unwilling to give the tapes although he finally accepted, but, what if he completely denied access to them? Also, the level to which the president is shielded by executive advantage against such interrogations may be questioned although he has to act in the best interest for the nation (Cox 1). Such issues made people to seek clarification on the nature of presidency as well as its relationship to other executive institutions. Additional constitutional difficulties constituted defining crimes, intents and acts which may lead to impeachment. This was necessitated by Nixon’s refusal to provide evidence.
Further, it was questioned if “a subsequent President can issue a pardon in the absence of either a conviction or an indictment” (Cox 7). Currently, the main question is whether the constitution was effective in this case or it failed.
Federalism in USA
Federalism is the embryonic rapport “between the states and the federal government of the United Stases” (Cox 18). Patrick et al (234) says that federalism is “the division of governmental powers between the national and state governments.” The regional administrations must always respect federal government laws in accordance to the constitution. In case of differences, the superiority clause states that federal laws are absolute. The powers of federal administration are officiated in the constitution and the rest belong to regional governments. The regional governments exercise their authority over a demarcated geographical area while the national government encompasses all such states.
Therefore, a USA citizen belongs to both the regional and federal governments. Federalism in the United States has 5 distinct attributes. As such, it enables separation of power between “regional and central government” (Cox 18). However, overlap arises in some situations but the two forms of government still remain. In addition, regional governments are seen as subordinates of central administration in international issues and control of trade between states (Cox 19). Furthermore, federalism enhances productive collaboration between regional and central administrations in activities like environmental conservation, education and infrastructure construction among others. Moreover, federalism enables individuals to enjoy dual citizenship and they are protected by laws of both the regional and central governments.
Finally, federalism requires Supreme Court to settle cases involving the national and regional governments. People in the USA express varying views regarding the effectiveness of federal and state governments. Some argue that regional governments are more effective in addressing “public policy issues” while others say that in times of major disasters, regional governments are incapacitated and they need help from national government (Patrick et al 233).
The pros of regional rights and autonomy argue that “the constitution is a compact between the states and the federal government” while the supporters of dual federalism argue that central administration cannot interfere with the powers conferred to state authorities (Patrick et al 222). However, the concept of federalism in the US keeps on evolving. The standards established by federalism in United States in the 18th C were audacious and significantly influenced the United States history. The effects are still being felt today (Cox 20). Towards the end of 1970s, there were heated arguments between “Federalists and Anti-Federalists” concerning the endorsement of the constitution which had some impacts on privileges and authority of regional governments in relation to the central administration (Patrick et al 221). The ideologies contained in ‘federalists’ work serves as foundations of civic culture in the US and such ideas are highly copied in foreign nations. Since the inception of federalism, changes related to distribution of power between the two governments have been witnessed.
According to Patrick et al (221), authority of federal government has been extended by “Supreme Court decisions, constitutional amendments, executive orders, and federal statutes.” However, he notes that ‘new federalism’ observed from early 1970s to 1990s has tried to give more power to the regional governments as opposed to national government. Clinton’s administration conceded more power to state governments in 1996. As such, regional governments could have total control over their economy and social wellbeing.
Proper interpretation and application of the constitution is integral to effective functioning of any administration. Based on the principle of equality, all individuals should be treated equally under such laws regardless of social status, race or religion. In addition, good comprehension of the constitution is important for proper functioning of a federal type of government.
This type of government is important as it enhances devolution of power and thus active democracy.
Cox, Archibald. “Watergate and the U.
S. Constitution.” British Journal of Law and Society 2.1 (1975): 1-13. Print Cummings, Milton C. and Wise, D. Democracy under Pressure: An Introduction to the American Political System.
United States: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2001. Print. Patrick, John J., Richard M. Pious, and Donald A.
Ritchie. The oxford guide to the United States government. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.