In my January 1967 application for admission to the Bar of the State of New York, I provided the following statement on what I believed were the principles underlying the form of the government of the United States.
Underlying the form of the government of the United States is, in my opinion, the view that government is a necessary evil to ensure that individuals can exist together in a society. Thus, the government is in theory created by the people only for limited purposes, and limitations are placed upon governmental authority in order to preserve unfettered individualistic determination where governmental power is not needed for societal living.
One means of effectuating the desire for limited government is by having a government by laws, not by men. Under this principle of American government, the actions of those in positions of governmental authority are not acts of complete discretion, but are actions which accord with some general rule, whether it be a constitutional rule or statutory or common law rules which are created pursuant to constitutional rules. Thus, a governmental act to be proper must be justified by reference to a general rule.
Another means of effectuating the desire for limited government is by adherence to the principle of separation of powers. The Constitutions of the united States and of New York, while specifically denying certain powers to the governments, create governments of certain enumerated powers which are entrusted to different institutions or organs of the government. The principle of separation of powers is based upon the assumption that limitations on governmental authority will be more difficult to circumvent where there are checks and balances within the government than where authority is lodged in a single person or organ. The federal system of distributing power among a central government and provincial governments rests, in part, upon the same assumption.
The popular election of legislators and chief executives of government and the principle of majority rule ensures that the government is responsive to the needs of the people and, so long as the majority of the people desire limited government, is another means of effectuating that desire. The constitutional rules are barriers to the transitory majority’s overthrowing the basic commitment to limited government.
The principle of judicial review of the constitutionality of statutes and other government actions is yet another way in which the American government implements the principle of limited government. Allowing a person to challenge the legitimacy of a statue or other government action where its application would have a harmful effect on him means that citizens and lawyers as well as persons in positions of governmental authority are constantly engaged in the process of determining whether the American commitment to limited government us being honored in particular circumstances.
Government is deemed necessary because man is basically selfish and aggressive. Conflicts between men and between man’s institutions are an inevitable result of man’s selfish and aggressive nature. The courts in the American system provide a means whereby these conflicts may be resolved peacefully and in accordance with rules which are designed to advance the common good and promote justice. It is to assist in this task that I wish to become a lawyer.
I was admitted to the bar of the State of New York in 1967 and then in 1970 to the bar of the State of Minnesota. I still affirm the preceding Statement.
One thought on “The Principles Underlying the U.S. Form of Government”