Understanding Governmental and Legal Structure

Understanding Governmental and Legal Structure

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Understanding Governmental and Legal Structure

One of the
basic functions of a constitution is to provide for the governmental and legal
structure of the area which it covers, which most conventionally comprises an
entire country. A basic definition of a constitution’s scope is that it
provides for the rights which the government under its control may and may not
exercise.

The rule of
law of a government should be provided for by a well-devised constitution. This
principle is normally framed in the terms of the government being ruled by the
laws, as opposed to the government controlling the laws. In addition to these
ideological precepts for the rights of citizens, constitutions also have the
more neutrally conceived task of assuring the efficiency of the government’s
operations. Procedural and humanitarian considerations generally operate in
concert in determining the shape which a constitution mandates for a country’s
government.

The modern mold for constitutions is often
considered that of the United States Constitution. One of the significant tasks
undertaken by this document was the division of the government of the United
States into separate parts, each given its own powers and tasked toward a
specific end. This division took a tripartite form, creating judicial,
executive, and legislative branches.

The idea was
derived by the United States Constitution’s drafters, the American
“Founding fathers,” from the French philosopher Montesquieu. This
function, termed the “separation of powers,” has often occurred in
subsequent governments and is conceived as a device for preventing one section
of the government from assuming too much control over the others.

Another basic task for a constitution is to
address where power is actually located in a government, which in turn
determines the basis by which it may wield it. The way in which a government
operates is in part determined by how the constitution defines the
“distribution of sovereignty”.

The three
kinds of sovereignty according to constitutional law theory are unitary,
federal, and confederal. For instance, a unitary constitution considers that
authority comes from the state itself. Different sections of the country only
possess power in relation to the central authority. By contrast, a federal
constitution, such as that of the United States, splits the sovereignty of the
government between the central administrative center and the various regions
which it governs. Certain powers are given to the central government while
others are accorded to the provinces or states. In a confederal state, there is
a central administrative center but the balance of power in government is
oriented toward the provinces. The actual sovereignty is located in the
provincial areas, while the central state has, at most, only the ability to
provide for coordination between them.

An essentially procedural task for the
constitution to undertake toward a nation’s governmental system is that of the
“lines of accountability”. This principle refers to the hierarchies
of responsibility and supervision in the government. Often the lines of accountability
will give the chief executive precedence over cabinet ministers or secretaries,
whom the chief executive can both appoint and dismiss.

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