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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state and other officials are elected as representatives of the people, and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government's power over citizens. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches and the will of the majority of the population is tempered by protections for individual rights so that no individual or group has absolute power. The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government's power, makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican. This is the type of government used in the United States of America.
 Purpose and Scope
Constitutional Republics are a deliberate attempt to diminish the threat of mobocracy thereby protecting dissenting individuals and minority groups from the tyranny of the majority by placing checks on the power of the majority of the population. The power of the majority of the people is checked by limiting that power to electing representatives who govern within limits of overarching constitutional law rather than the popular vote having legislative power itself. John Adams defined a constitutional republic as "a government of laws, and not of men." Also, the power of government officials is checked by allowing no single individual to hold executive, legislative and judicial powers. Instead these powers are separated into distinct branches that serve as a check and balance on each other. A constitutional republic is designed so that "no person or group [can] rise to absolute power."
The notion of the constitutional republic originates with Aristotle's Politics and his notion of a possible fifth type of government called the polity. He contrasts the polity of republican government with democracy and oligarchy in book 3, chapter 6 of Politics. Polity, in the general descriptive sense, can refer to the political organizational system that is being used by a particular group, be it a tribe, a city-state, an empire, a corporation, etc. In Aristotle's second, more specific sense of the word, he envisioned a polity to be a combination of what he thought were the best characteristics of oligarchy (rule by the wealthy) and democracy (rule by the poor). The polity government would be ruled by the many in the best interests of the whole.
Oligarchies favored the wealthy members of society and featured elected leadership positions. Democracies favored the poor and middle-class members, of which there are usually greater numbers, and had features such as legislative assemblies open to citizens of voting age. When taken to heart, so to speak, and used correctly, the polity form of government would be the most ideal government possible, thought Aristotle, because it could take input from community members of all levels and rule fairly in the interests of the whole community and not just the majority.
Constitutional republics were first advocated in the 18th and 19th centuries by liberals, who were engaged at the time in a political and ideological conflict against conservative supporters of traditional monarchy. Since the beginning of the 20th century, constitutional republics have entered the political mainstream and have gathered the support of many other ideologies in addition to liberalism. Political debate on the issue of constitutional republicanism has largely subsided.
The United States of America is one of the oldest constitutional republics in the world. According to James Woodburn, in The American Republic and Its Government, "the constitutional republic with its limitations on popular government is clearly involved in the Constitution, as seen in the election of the President, the election of the Senate and the appointment of the Supreme Court." That is, the ability of the people to choose officials in government is checked by not allowing them to elect Supreme Court justices. Woodburn says that in a republic, as distinguished from a democracy, the people are not only checked in choosing officials but also in making laws. A Bill of Rights exists in the U.S. Constitution which protects certain individual rights. The individual rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights cannot be voted away by the majority of citizens if they wished to oppress a minority who does not agree with the restrictions on liberty that they wish to impose. To eliminate these rights would require government officials overcoming constitutional checks as well as a two-thirds majority vote of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the States in order to amend the Constitution.
A constitutional republic is a form of liberal democracy, but not all liberal democracies are constitutional republics. For example, though the head of state is not elected in a monarchy, it may still be a liberal democracy if there is a parliament with elected representatives that govern according to constitutional law protecting individual rights (called a constitutional democratic monarchy). Also, a representative democracy may or may not be a constitutional republic. For example, "the United States relies on representative democracy, but [its] system of government is much more complex than that. [It is] not a simple representative democracy, but a constitutional republic in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law."
Alexander Tsesis, in The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History says, to him, a constitutional republic means "a representative polity established on fundamental law, each person has the right to pursue and fulfill his or her unobtrusive vision of the good life. In such a society, the common good is the cumulative product of free and equal individuals who pursue meaningful aims."
Karl Marx claimed that a constitutional republic is a protective legal framework for what he considered to be "capitalist exploitation." He says: "All the bourgeois economists are aware of is that production can be carried on better under the modern police than e.g. on the principle of might makes right. They forget only that this principle is also a legal relation, and that the right of the stronger prevails in their 'constitutional republics' as well, only in another form."
- ^ House, Wayne H. Christian and American Law. Kregel Publications. p. 101 & Honohan, Iseult. Republicanism in Theory and Practice. Routledge UK 2006. p. 115
- ^ Levinson, Sanford. Constitutional Faith. Princeton University Press, 1989, p. 60
- ^ Delattre, Edwin. Character and Cops: Ethics in Policing, American Enterprise Institute, 2002, p. 16.
- ^ Woodburn, James Albert. The American Republic and Its Government: An Analysis of the Government of the United States, G. P. Putnam, 1903, pp. 58-59
- ^ Scheb, John M. An Introduction to the American Legal System. Thomson Delmar Learning 2001. p. 6
- ^ Tsesis, Alexander. The The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History, NYU Press, 2004, p. 5
- ^ Marx, Karl Marx's Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse)