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A rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority. The body of rules and principles governing the affairs of a community and enforced by a political authority; a legal system: international law. The condition of social order and justice created by adherence to such a system: a breakdown of law and civilized behavior. A set of rules or principles dealing with a specific area of a legal system: tax law; criminal law. A piece of enacted legislation. What is Law?

Government of the United States

The government of the United States, established by the Constitution, is a
federal republic of 50 states. The national government consists of the
executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The head of the executive
branch is the President of the United States of America. The legislative
branch consists of the United States Congress, while the Supreme Court of
the United States is the head of the judicial branch.

The legal system of the United States is based on English common law;
judicial review of legislative acts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction,
with reservations.

Legislative branch

Article I of the Constitution grants all legislative powers of the federal
government to a Congress divided into two chambers, a Senate and a House of
Representatives. The Senate is composed of two members from each state as
provided by the Constitution. Its current membership is 100. Membership in
the House is based on each state's population, and its size is therefore not
specified in the Constitution. Its current membership is 435.

The Constitution does not specifically call for congressional committees. As
the nation grew, however, so did the need for investigating pending
legislation more thoroughly. The 106th Congress (1999-2000) had 19 standing
committees in the House and 17 in the Senate, plus four joint permanent
committees with members from both houses: Library of Congress, printing,
taxation, and economic. In addition, each house can name special, or select,
committees to study specific problems. Because of an increase in workload,
the standing committees have also spawned some 150 subcommittees.

The Congress has the responsibility to monitor and influence aspects of the
executive branch. Congressional oversight prevents waste and fraud; protects
civil liberties and individual rights; ensures executive compliance with the
law; gathers information for making laws and educating the public; and
evaluates executive performance. It applies to cabinet departments,
executive agencies, regulatory commissions, and the presidency. Congress's
oversight function takes many forms:

   * Committee inquiries and hearings;
   * Formal consultations with and reports from the president;
   * Senate advice and consent for presidential nominations and for
   * House impeachment proceedings and subsequent Senate trials;
   * House and Senate proceedings under the Twenty-fifth Amendment in the
     event that the president becomes disabled, or the office of the vice
     president falls vacant;
   * Informal meetings between legislators and executive officials;
   * Congressional membership on governmental commissions;
   * Studies by congressional committees and support agencies such as the
     Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office, and the
     Office of Technology Assessment ? all arms of Congress.

Executive branch

Article II of the Constitution establishes the Executive branch of
Government. The President is both the head of government, chief of state,
and commander-in-chief. The current President and Vice President are George
W. Bush and Dick Cheney, since January 20, 2001.

The office of president of the United States is one of the most powerful
offices of its kind in the world. The president, the Constitution says, must
"take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this
responsibility, he presides over the executive branch of the federal
government, a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including
1 million active-duty military personnel. In addition, the president has
important legislative and judicial powers. Within the executive branch
itself, the president has broad powers to manage national affairs and the
workings of the federal government.

The Executive Departments

The day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the
hands of the various executive departments, created by Congress to deal with
specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the 15
departments, chosen by the president and approved by the Senate, form a
council of advisers generally known as the president's "Cabinet." In
addition to departments, there are a number of staff organizations grouped
into the Executive Office of the President. These include the White House
staff, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget,
the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of the U.S. Trade
Representative, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. There are
also a number of independent agencies such as the Central Intelligence
Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Constitution makes no provision for a presidential cabinet. It does
provide that the president may ask opinions, in writing, from the principal
officer in each of the executive departments on any subject in their area of
responsibility, but it does not name the departments nor describe their
duties. Similarly, there are no specific constitutional qualifications for
service in the cabinet.

The cabinet developed outside the Constitution as a matter of practical
necessity, for even in the days of George Washington, the country's first
president, it was impossible for the president to discharge his duties
without advice and assistance. Cabinets are what any particular president
makes them. Some presidents have relied heavily on them for advice, others
lightly, and some few have largely ignored them. Whether or not cabinet
members act as advisers, they retain responsibility for directing the
activities of the government in specific areas of concern.

Each department has thousands of employees, with offices throughout the
country as well as in Washington. The departments are divided into
divisions, bureaus, offices, and services, each with specific duties.

Department of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports agricultural
production to ensure fair prices and stable markets for producers and
consumers, works to improve and maintain farm income, and helps to develop
and expand markets abroad for agricultural products. The department attempts
to curb poverty, hunger, and malnutrition by issuing food stamps to the
poor; by sponsoring educational programs on nutrition; and by administering
other food assistance programs, primarily for children, expectant mothers,
and the elderly. It maintains production capacity by helping landowners
protect the soil, water, forests, and other natural resources.

USDA administers rural development, credit, and conservation programs that
are designed to implement national growth policies, and it conducts
scientific and technological research in all areas of agriculture. Through
its inspection and grading services, USDA ensures standards of quality in
food offered for sale. The department's Agricultural Research Service works
to develop solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority, and
it administers the National Agricultural Library to disseminate information
to a wide cross-section of users, from research scientists to the general public.

The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) serves as an export promotion
and service agency for U.S. agriculture, employing specialists abroad who
make surveys of foreign agriculture for U.S. farm and business interests.
The U.S. Forest Service, also part of the department, administers an
extensive network of national forests and wilderness areas.

Department of Commerce

The United States Department of Commerce serves to promote the nation's
international trade, economic growth, and technological advancement. It
offers assistance and information to increase U.S. competitiveness in the
global marketplace; administers programs to create new jobs and to foster
the growth of minority-owned businesses; and provides statistical, economic,
and demographic information for business and government planners.

The department comprises a diverse array of agencies. The National Institute
of Standards and Technology, for example, promotes economic growth by
working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements, and
standards. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which
includes the National Weather Service, works to improve understanding of the
earth's environment and to conserve the nation's coastal and marine
resources. The Patent and Trademark Office promotes the progress of science
and the useful arts by securing for authors and inventors the exclusive
right to their creations and discoveries. The National Telecommunications
and Information Administration advises the president on telecommunications
policy and works to spur innovation, encourage competition, create jobs, and
provide consumers with better quality telecommunications at lower prices.

Department of Defense

Headquartered in The Pentagon, one of the world's largest office buildings,
the United States Department of Defense (DoD) is responsible for all matters
relating to the nation's military security. It provides the military forces
of the United States, which consist of about 1 million men and women on
active duty. They are backed, in case of emergency, by 1.5 million members
of state reserve components, known as the National Guard. In addition, about
730,000 civilian employees serve in the Defense Department in such areas as
research, intelligence communications, mapping, and international security
affairs. The National Security Agency, which coordinates, directs, and
performs highly specialized intelligence activities in support of U.S.
government activities, also comes under the direction of the secretary of defense.

The department directs the separately organized military departments of the
Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, as well as the four military
service academies and the National War College, the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
and several specialized combat commands. DoD maintains forces overseas to
meet treaty commitments, to protect the nation's outlying territories and
commerce, and to provide air combat and support forces. Nonmilitary
responsibilities include flood control, development of oceanographic
resources, and management of oil reserves.

Department of Education

While schools are primarily a local responsibility in the U.S. system of
education, the United States Department of Education provides national
leadership to address critical issues in American education and serves as a
clearinghouse of information to help state and local decisionmakers improve
their schools. The department establishes policy for and administers federal
aid-to-education programs, including student loan programs, programs for
disadvantaged and disabled students, and vocational programs.

In the 1990s, the Department of Education focused on the following issues:
raising standards for all students; improving teaching; involving parents
and families in children's education; making schools safe, disciplined, and
drug-free; strengthening connections between school and work; increasing
access to financial aid for students to attend college and receive training;
and helping all students become technologically literate.

Department of Energy

Growing concern with the nation's energy problems in the 1970s prompted
Congress to create the United States Department of Energy (DOE). The
department took over the functions of several government agencies already
engaged in the energy field. Staff offices within DOE are responsible for
the research, development, and demonstration of energy technology; energy
conservation; civilian and military use of nuclear energy; regulation of
energy production and use; pricing and allocation of oil; and a central
energy data collection and analysis program.

The Department of Energy protects the nation's environment by setting
standards to minimize the harmful effects of energy production. For example,
DOE conducts environmental and health related research, such as studies of
energy-related pollutants and their effects on biological systems.

Department of Health and Human Services

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which
oversees some 300 programs, probably directly touches the lives of more
Americans than any other federal agency. Its largest component, the Health
Care Financing Administration, administers the Medicare and Medicaid
programs, which provide health care coverage to about one in every five
Americans. Medicare provides health insurance for 30 million elderly and
disabled Americans. Medicaid, a joint federal-state program, provides health
coverage for 31 million low-income persons, including 15 million children.

HHS also administers the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world's
premier medical research organization, supporting some 30,000 research
projects in diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, arthritis, heart
ailments, and AIDS. Other HHS agencies ensure the safety and effectiveness
of the nation's food supply and drugs; work to prevent outbreaks of
communicable diseases; provide health services to the nation's American
Indian and Alaska Native populations; and help to improve the quality and
availability of substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment, and mental
health services.

Department of Homeland Security

Created in 2002 and activated in 2003, the United States Department of
Homeland Security is responsible for protecting the nation against attacks
to the homeland. The department consolidates 22 previously separate agencies
under the authority and control of one department. The department covers
border & transportation security, emergency preparedness & response,
information analysis & infrastructure protection, science & technology,
Coast Guard, Secret Service, and citizenship & immigration Services. It also
is responsible for coordination of homeland security related concerns with
state and local governments as well as the private sector.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages
programs that assist community development and help provide affordable
housing for the nation. Fair housing laws, administered by HUD, are designed
to ensure that individuals and families can buy a home without being
subjected to discrimination. HUD directs mortgage insurance programs that
help families become homeowners, and a rent-subsidy program for low-income
families that otherwise could not afford decent housing. In addition, it
operates programs that aid neighborhood rehabilitation, preserve urban
centers from blight, and encourage the development of new communities. HUD
also protects the home buyer in the marketplace and fosters programs to
stimulate the housing industry.

Department of the Interior

As the nation's principal conservation agency, the United States Department
of the Interior is responsible for most of the federally owned public lands
and natural resources in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service administers 500 wildlife refuges, 37 wetland management districts,
65 national fish hatcheries, and a network of wildlife law enforcement
agents. The National Park Service administers more than 370 national parks
and monuments, scenic parkways, riverways, seashores, recreation areas, and
historic sites, through which it preserves America's natural and cultural heritage.

Through the Bureau of Land Management, the department oversees the land and
resources, from rangeland vegetation and recreation areas to timber and oil
production, of millions of hectares of public land located primarily in the
West. The Bureau of Reclamation manages scarce water resources in the
semiarid western United States. The department regulates mining in the
United States, assesses mineral resources, and has major responsibility for
protecting and conserving the trust resources of American Indian and Alaska
Native tribes. Internationally, the department coordinates federal policy in
the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the
Northern Mariana Islands, and oversees funding for development in the
Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.

Department of Justice

The United States Department of Justice represents the U.S. government in
legal matters and courts of law, and renders legal advice and opinions upon
request to the president and to the heads of the executive departments. The
Justice Department is headed by the attorney general of the United States,
the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government. Its Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the principle law enforcement body for
federal crimes, and its Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
administers immigration laws. A major agency within the department is the
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which enforces narcotics and
controlled substances laws, and tracks down major illicit drug trafficking

In addition to giving aid to local police forces, the department directs
U.S. district attorneys and marshals throughout the country, supervises
federal prisons and other penal institutions, and investigates and reports
to the president on petitions for paroles and pardons. The Justice
Department is also linked to INTERPOL, the International Criminal Police
Organization, charged with promoting mutual assistance between law
enforcement agencies in 176 member countries.

Department of Labor

The United States Department of Labor promotes the welfare of wage earners
in the United States, helps improve working conditions, and fosters good
relations between labor and management. It administers federal labor laws
through such agencies as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
the Employment Standards Administration, and the Mine Safety and Health
Administration. These laws guarantee workers' rights to safe and healthy
working conditions, hourly wages and overtime pay, freedom from employment
discrimination, unemployment insurance, and workers' compensation for
on-the-job injury. The Department also protects workers' pension rights,
sponsors job training programs, and helps workers find jobs. Its Bureau of
Labor Statistics monitors and reports changes in employment, prices, and
other national economic measurements. For job seekers, the department makes
special efforts to help older workers, youths, minorities, women, and the disabled.

Department of State

The United States Department of State advises the president, who has overall
responsibility for formulating and executing the foreign policy of the
United States. The department assesses American overseas interests, makes
recommendations on policy and future action, and takes necessary steps to
carry out established policy. It maintains contacts and relations between
the United States and foreign countries, advises the president on
recognition of new foreign countries and governments, negotiates treaties
and agreements with foreign nations, and speaks for the United States in the
United Nations and in other major international organizations. The
department maintains more than 250 diplomatic and consular posts around the
world. In 1999, the Department of State integrated the U.S. Arms Control and
Disarmament Agency and the U.S. Information Agency into its structure and mission.

Department of Transportation

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) establishes the
nation's overall transportation policy through 10 operating units that
encompass highway planning, development, and construction; urban mass
transit; railroads; civilian aviation; and the safety of waterways, ports,
highways, and oil and gas pipelines.

For example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates a network of
airport towers, air traffic control centers, and flight service stations
across the country; the Federal Highway Administration provides financial
assistance to the states to improve the interstate highway system, urban and
rural roads, and bridges; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
establishes safety performance standards for motor vehicles and motor
vehicle equipment; and the Maritime Administration operates the U.S.
merchant marine fleet. The U.S. Coast Guard, the nation's primary maritime
law enforcement and licensing agency, conducts search and rescue missions at
sea, combats drug smuggling, and works to prevent oil spills and ocean

Department of the Treasury

The United States Department of the Treasury is responsible for serving the
fiscal and monetary needs of the nation. The department performs four basic
functions: formulating financial, tax, and fiscal policies; serving as
financial agent for the U.S. government; providing specialized law
enforcement services; and manufacturing coins and currency. The Treasury
Department reports to Congress and the president on the financial condition
of the government and the national economy. It regulates the sale of
alcohol, tobacco, and firearms in interstate and foreign commerce;
supervises the printing of stamps for the United States Postal Service;
operates the Secret Service, which protects the president, the vice
president, their families, and visiting dignitaries and heads of state;
suppresses counterfeiting of U.S. currency and securities; and administers
the Customs Service, which regulates and taxes the flow of goods into the country.

The department includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the
Treasury official who executes the laws governing the operation of
approximately 2,900 national banks. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is
responsible for the determination, assessment, and collection of taxes ? the
source of most of the federal government's revenue.

Department of Veterans Affairs

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), established as an
independent agency in 1930 and elevated to cabinet level in 1989, dispenses
benefits and services to eligible veterans of U.S. military service and
their dependents. The Veterans Health Administration provides hospital and
nursing-home care, and outpatient medical and dental services through 173
medical centers, 40 retirement homes, 600 clinics, 133 nursing homes, and
206 Vietnam Veteran Outreach Centers in the United States, Puerto Rico, and
the Philippines. It also conducts medical research in such areas as aging,
women's health issues, AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) oversees claims for disability
payments, pensions, specially adapted housing, and other services. The VBA
also administers education programs for veterans and provides home loan
assistance to eligible veterans and active-duty service personnel. The VA's
National Cemetery System provides burial services, headstones, and markers
for veterans and eligible family members within 116 cemeteries throughout
the United States.

Judicial branch

Article III of the Constitution states the basis for the federal court
system: "The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one
Supreme Court, and such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to
time ordain and establish." The Federal judiciary consists of the Supreme
Court of the United States, whose nine justices are appointed for life by
the president and confirmed by the Senate, and various "lower" or "inferior
courts," among which are the United States courts of appeals, the United
States district courts, and the United States bankruptcy courts.

The Federal Court System

With this guide, the first Congress divided the nation into districts and
created federal courts for each district. From that beginning has evolved
the present structure: the Supreme Court, 13 courts of appeals, 94 district
courts, and two courts of special jurisdiction. Congress today retains the
power to create and abolish federal courts, as well as to determine the
number of judges in the federal judiciary system. It cannot, however,
abolish the Supreme Court.

There are three levels of federal courts with general jurisdiction meaning
that these courts handle criminal cases and civil law suits between
individuals. The other courts, such as the bankruptcy courts and the tax
court, are specialized courts handling only certain kinds of cases.

The United States district courts are the "trial courts" where cases are
filed and decided. The United States circuit courts are "appellate courts"
that hear appeals of cases decided by the district courts. The Supreme Court
of the United States hears appeals from the decisions of the courts of appeals.

The judicial power extends to cases arising under the Constitution, an act
of Congress, or a treaty of the United States; cases affecting ambassadors,
ministers, and consuls of foreign countries in the United States;
controversies in which the U.S. government is a party; controversies between
states (or their citizens) and foreign nations (or their citizens or
subjects); and bankruptcy cases. The Eleventh Amendment removed from federal
jurisdiction cases in which citizens of one state were the plaintiffs and
the government of another state was the defendant. It did not disturb
federal jurisdiction in cases in which a state government is a plaintiff and
a citizen of another state the defendant.

The power of the federal courts extends both to civil actions for damages
and other redress, and to criminal cases arising under federal law. Article
III has resulted in a complex set of relationships between state and federal
courts. Ordinarily, federal courts do not hear cases arising under the laws
of individual states. However, some cases over which federal courts have
jurisdiction may also be heard and decided by state courts. Both court
systems thus have exclusive jurisdiction in some areas and concurrent
jurisdiction in others.

The Constitution safeguards judicial independence by providing that federal
judges shall hold office "during good behavior" ? in practice, until they
die, retire, or resign, although a judge who commits an offense while in
office may be impeached in the same way as the president or other officials
of the federal government. U.S. judges are appointed by the president and
confirmed by the Senate. Congress also determines the pay scale of judges.
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