Throughout the history of the USA, the governance approaches have been changed, improved, and strengthened. The dominant idea of the political system in the USA has always been in the pursuit of constitutional democracy as a type of governance capable of providing equal opportunities and justice for all. However, the dualistic partisan patterns in the political environment that have emerged throughout the centuries of elections have generated an opposition between Republicans and Democrats. This opposition is reflected not only in their different vision of the country’s governance but also in the subjectivity and ambiguity of interpretation of some pivotal constitutional provisions.
Indeed, within the context of the global decay of democracy as a system of government, US politics undergoes severe deterioration in terms of unrestricted interpretation of the Constitution. Such a tendency breaches the rights and freedoms of the citizens and undermines the very fundamental principles of constitutional democracy. Therefore, it is pivotal to reform the political system to ensure constitutional integrity to avoid partisan alterations and ensure the systematic and consistent development of a democratic society.
The Importance of Constitution to Democratic State
The successful functioning of a state with its authorities and citizens in the agreement is dependent on adequate and clear articulation of the rules that all the entities within the political system are expected to follow. Constitution is considered the essential and groundbreaking set of laws and provisions that regulate, oversee, and manage relationships between the stakeholders within a state. In the United States, the foundations on which constitutional rights are based are derived from the democratic principles of equality, the rule of law, transparency of elections, justice, and freedom (Fishkin, J., & Pozen; Scacchi, 2021). Since these basic considerations are integrated into the primary law of the country, it is the obligation of all political actors to abide by these provisions and ensure their non-biased and precise implementation.
On the international level, the constitution plays an important role in maintaining the legality and consistency of the applied principles and values of democracy. According to Schleiter and Fleming (2021), impartiality is one of the most decisive principles of constitutional democracy, which constitutes the core of viable political reforms. Impartiality implies that no one party should dominate the process of political reform, and the inclusion of all representatives of diverse parties and citizens should be prioritized as the background for the unbiased political process (Schleiter & Fleming, 2021). For that matter, a specifically designed Constitution, Democracy, and Rights Commission, as the example of the UK shows, might be a solid solution to the problem of the lack of constitutional integrity.
Deterioration in Constitutional Democracy
The worldwide political situation in the modern environment of globalization trends is reflected in the governmental decisions of the leading countries. Loughlin (2019) states that the contemporary global community undergoes a crisis related to the decay of constitutional democracy, with the USA being one of the countries where such a process takes place. Indeed, the process of constitutional degradation is observed in multiple countries, including the USA.
This process is manifested “less by constitutional democracies being overthrown than by an increase in regimes that retain the formal institutional trappings while flouting the norms and values on which constitutional democracies are based” (Loughlin, 2019, p. 435). Indeed, the role of constitutions has changed over the past decades, thus hindering the essence of constitutional democracy. According to Loughlin (2019), “invented to ensure the maintenance of limited government, constitutions have recently been transformed into blueprints for the good society” and “have become instruments for reforming the established social order” (p. 440). In other words, how the Constitution is interpreted, breaches the ethics behind the supremacy of the law.
According to Schleiter and Fleming (2021), “constitutional change is most likely to be successful and durable if it is drafted through a process that is characterized by impartiality, expertise, and public participation” (p. 75).
However, the context of the US political system demonstrates that an effective constitutional change might not be the case due to the partisan bias of power. The continuous inclination of the power toward one dominating party and the strong non-constitutional opposition to its efforts of the second party impose significant obstacles for the political functioning of the state, its leading actors, and the citizens. In such conditions, conventional social issues such as health, education, marriage, employment, and others become the objects of politicization for the interests of the authorities. Indeed, how the First and the Second Amendments are interpreted by the Democratic and Republican parties differ and ultimately destabilize the overall federal direction of social policies.
In the particular case of the US political system, its bipartisan composition has been a problematic issue for years due to the disruption in the consistency of implementing constitutional rights. Indeed, according to Fishkin and Pozen (2018), the political struggles between the two leading political parties in the United States of America have been characterized by asymmetric developmental changes. In particular, “the Republican Party has moved significantly further to the right than the Democratic Party has moved to the left” (Fishkin & Pozen, 2018, p. 915). In such a manner, due to the inconsistency and inequality between the two parties, the execution of constitutional principles is biased and impedes the functioning of a democratic society.
Moreover, it is relevant to review the role of the Constitution in the overall regulation of political matters in the country. As stated by Fishkin and Pozen (2018), the so-called constitutional hardball has significantly impaired the ability of the Constitution to be the primary legal guide for internal affairs. Indeed, the actors in the political system interpret the Constitution to their preference to promote their partisan interests and agendas. For example, the case when Congress, under the rule of Republicans, shut down the executive branch to aid budget decision-making of President Clinton demonstrates the constitutional hardball. Another example of such biased use of the Constitution was witnessed when the Senate Democrats interfered with President Bush’s recess appointments (Fishkin & Pozen, 2018).
In such a manner, the constitutional rights and provisions are used selectively to serve the needs and interests of particular actors in the political field. In such a manner, a serious issue arises, which implies that such tactics might be “legally permissible yet nevertheless constitutionally worrisome in some deep sense” (Fishkin & Pozen, 2018, p. 923). Thus, it is essential to ensure constitutional integrity at both legal and ethical levels to promote true democratic values and principles in the USA.
The Necessity to Reform the Political System toward Constitutional Integrity
Constitutional integrity is a cornerstone of ensuring justice and equality as executed by the authorities of the state, including the executive branch of power, which tends to exacerbate the tension around the differences in interpreting constitutional provisions (Lynch, 2017). Indeed, research demonstrates that the executive branch of political power has continuously breached constitutionality to pursue their political agendas.
The US Constitution clearly states that the President of the United States is obliged to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” (Scacchi, 2021, p. 2). According to Scacchi (2021), although such a formulation sets particular objective duties on the President, it implies that the President preserves “the Constitution as he understands it and not as it is understood by others” (p. 3). Therefore, the interpretive approach to the Constitution is inevitable from this perspective.
The result of a continued lack of constitutional integrity has been reflected in the election and presidency of Donald Trump. His political agenda was in many ways unconstitutional, which did not interfere with his ability to take office and make important federal and international political decisions. The very election of Donald Trump as President of the United States demonstrates the process of “widening gap between the democratic order the US Constitution presupposes and the one it governs” (Greene, 2018, p. 94). The lack of necessity to follow the provisions of the Constitution precisely and the differences between the constitutional and the legal in the USA reflects the lack of constitutional integrity.
However, the duty of the President is not to interpret the laws but to execute them. The interpretation of the Constitution is only the obligation of the judicial branch of power. Indeed, “the Supreme Court is seen as the final arbiter on the meaning of the Constitution, while the presidency has become more of an administrative and policy-focused office” (Scacchi, 2021, p. 7). The following of this principle of duty differentiation might be a helpful measure in regulating the freedom of interpretation and ensuring constitutional integrity. Much confusion and bias might have been avoided if the Constitution was preserved and followed as it is without alterations dependent on the interpretation of every political entity.
Reform should be initiated to eliminate the opportunity for the executive branch of power to interpret the Constitution and fix this interpreting duty in the hands of the judicial power. In such a manner, the constitutional integrity will be enhanced, the provision of constitutional rights and freedoms granted to all political actors and citizens, and the partisan bias in governance will be reduced for the benefit of the development of constitutional democracy.
In summation, the current affairs in the political system of the United States indicate a significant disruption in the interpretation of the Constitution. As the most important federal law, the Constitution implies that it should be followed without bias. However, the bipartisan composition of the government and the ongoing constitutional hardball issue has deteriorated the principles of democracy. It implements constitutional provisions, rights, and freedoms insufficient for individual citizens and the system as a whole at the legal and ethical level. Therefore, the governmental approach should be reformed to ensure constitutional integrity at all levels of the political system. It will allow for eliminating disruption in promoting and developing a democratic society and ensure non-biased, consistent reading of the Constitution as it was intended.
Fishkin, J., & Pozen, D. E. (2018). Asymmetric constitutional hardball. Columbia Law Review, 118(3), 915-982.
Greene, J. (2018). Trump as a constitutional failure. Indian Law Journal, 93(1), 93-109.
Loughlin, M. (2019). The contemporary crisis of constitutional democracy. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 39(2), 435-454.
Lynch, S. L. (2017). Constitutional integrity: Lessons from the shadows. New York University Law Review, 92(3), 623-639.
Scacchi, M. (2021). Presidents and the US Constitution: The executive’s role in interpreting the supreme law of the land. Web.
Schleiter, P., & Fleming, T. G. (2021). International best practice and the Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission. The Political Quarterly, 92(1), 74-79.