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Understanding Governmental and Legal Structure

Us Governmental 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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