AP Government Vocabulary

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Affirmative action

LBJ’s executive order-designed to correct the effects of past discrimination; requirement by law that positive steps be taken to increase the number of minorities in business, schools, colleges, and labor

Agenda setting

The process of forming the list of matters that policymakers intend to address


A revision/change to a bill, law, or constitution

Amicus curiae brief

Friend of the court; interest groups may be invited to file legal briefs supporting/rejection arguments of the case


Opposed the adoption of the U.S. Constitution b/c it gave too much power to the national govt at the expense of the state govts and it lacked a bill of rights

Appellate jurisdiction

On appeal from lower courts-Supreme Court is mostly an appellate court


Distribution of representatives among the states based on the population of each state


Money granted by Congress or to a state legislature for a specific purpose

Articles of Confederation

1st Constitution of the U.S. 1781-1788 (weaknesses-no executive, no judicial, no power to tax, no power to regulate trade)


All the voters of a state/country elect their representative (senate elections are at large on the federal level)


2 chambers; Congress has the Senate and the House of Representatives


a proposal for a law

Bills of attainder

Prohibits a person being found guilty of a crime w/o a trial

Bill of Rights

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution-guarantees liberties to the people-written in 1789-ratified in 1791

Blanket primary

Registered voters may vote for candidates from either party on the same primary ballot

Block grant

Money given to states for general programs within a broad category


Legal document submitted to the court setting forth the facts of a case and supporting a particular position

Brief orders

The returning of a case to a lower court b/c a smiliar case was recently decided

Brown v. BOE of Topeka, KA

Overturned Plessy v. Ferguson: ended legal segregation, said school regulation is unconstitutional


A systematic way of organizing a complex &large adminstrative structure w/ responsibility for carrying out day-to-day tasks of the organization, departments, &agencies of the govt

Bureaucratic theory

The hierarchical structure and standarized procedures of govt allow bureaucrats to hold the real power over public policy; proposed by Max Weber


Govt depts headed by presidential appointees to help establish public policy &operate a specific policy are of govt activity


Assistance given to constituents by congressional members, answering questions/doing favors

Categorical grant

Federal grants for specific purposes define by law


Locally held meeting in a state to select delegates who, in turn, will nominate candidates to political offices

Caucus (congressional)

An association of congressional members who advocate a political ideology/regional/ethnic/economic interest


A lower court asks the Supreme Court abt a rule of law/procedure

Checks and balances

Each branch of govt is subject to restraints by the other two branches

Civil liberties

Constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all citizens

Civil rights

Positive acts of govt designed to prevent discrimination &provide equality before the law

Closed primary

Only registered party members may vote in the primary (independents, greens, etc…not allowed)

Cloture rule

Prevents filibustering (16 signatures) and ends debate in the Senate, by a 3/5s vote of the Senate

Coattail effect

Weaker/lesser-known candidates from (bottom of the ticket) the president’s party profit from the president’s popularity-people vote straight ticket because they like the top of the ticket.

Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise

Resolved differences btwn northern and southern states; Congress could not tax exports nor ban the slave trade for 20 yrs.

Comparable worth

Women should be paid salaries equal to men for equivalent job responsibilities &skills

Concurrent jurisdiction

The authority to hear cases is shared by federal &state courts

Concurrent powers

Powers shared by the federal and state govts (tax, to define crimes and punishments)

Concurring opinion

Justice/justices who agree w/ the majority’s opinion but not with the reason behind the decision

Conference committee

A temporary committee to work out a compromise version of a bill that has passed the House of Representaives &Senate in diff. forms

Congressional districting

State legislatures draw congressional districts for Congressional elections

Connecticut Compromise

Legislative branch-2 houses-one based on population, one based on equal representation


A person whose pol. views favor more local, limited govt, less govt regulations, conformity to social norms &values; rough on criminals

Constituency service

Casework, assistance to constituents by congressional members


people within a district or state-government official represents them.


The document setting forth the laws &principles of the govt; a plan of govt

Constitutional courts

Federal courts created by Congress under Article III of the Constitution, including the district courts, courts of appeals, &specialized courts such as the U.S. Court of International Trade

Constitutional law

Laws relating to the interpretation of the Constitution

Cooperative federalism

Cooperation among federal, state, &local govts; "marble cake" federalism

Courts of appeals

Federal courts that review decisions of federal district courts, regulatory commissions, &other fed. courts

Critical election

Sharp changes in the existing patterns of party loyalty due to changing social and economic conditions

Dealigning election

Party loyality becomes less important to voters, &they vote for the other party candidate/independent


When a significant # of voters choose to no longer support a particular pol. party

Declaration of Independence

Drafted in 1776 by T. Jefferson declaring America’s separation from Great Britain (3 parts-New theory of government, reasons for separation, formal declaration of war and independence)


Govt spending exceeds revenue

Delegated powers

Powers specifically granted to the national govt by the Constitution


A system whereby the people rule either directly/by elected representation

Deviating election

Minority party is able to win the support of majority party members, independents, &new voters


An effort to shirft responsibility of domestic programs to the states in order to decrease the size &activites of the fed. govt; some states have attempted to shift responsibilities further to local govts

Direct democracy

Citizens meet and make decisions abt public policy issues

Direct primary

Election within the party to choose their favorite candidate for a particular office

Discretionary spending

Spending set by the govt through appropriations bills, including operation expenses &salaries of govt employees (defense, environment, education, space exploration)


Unfair treatment of a person based on race/group membership

Dissenting opinion

Justice/justices who disagree with the majority opinion

District courts

Lowest level of fed. courts, where fed. cases begin &trials are held (bank robbery, environmental violations, tax evasion)

Divided govt

One party controls the executive, &the other party controls on /both houses of Congress

Double jeopardy

Being tried twice for the same offense (if you appealing, it is not double jeopardy because you are asking to be retried)

Dual federalism

Fed. &state govts each ahve defined responsibilities w/n their own sphere of influence; "layer cake" federalism

Elastic clause

The necessary &proper clause/Art. I, Sec. 8, Clause 18/imlied powers clause- that allows Congress to pass laws to carry out its powers

Electoral college

Number each state gets is based on the number of representatives and the number of senators that state has. Need 270 to win election


People qualified to vote

Elite theory

A small group of people identified by wealth/ pol. power, who rule in their self-interest

Eminent domain

Allows the govt to take property for public use but also requires the govt to provide just compensation for that property

Entitlement program

Madatory payments made by the federal government to people meeting eligibility requirements, such as Social Security, vets, welfare, medicare

Environmental impact statement

Required studies &reports of likely environmental impacts, filed w. the Environmental Protection Agency prior to the beginning of a project

Equal Protection Clause

Constitutional guarantee that everyone be treated equally-14th amendment

Establishment Clause

Prohibits the establishment of a national religion-1st amendment

Exclusionary rule

Rule that evidence acquired as a result of an illegal act by police cannot be used agains the person form whom it was seized

Executive agreement

Agreement w/ another head of state not requiring approval form teh Senate

Executive order

The president directs an agency to carry out policies/existing laws (informal power)

Executive privilege

The right of the president to withhold info from Congress/ refuse to testify; limited by U.S. v. Nixon

Ex post facto law

Laws applied to acts committed before passage of the laws are unconstitutional


States may return fugitives to a state from which they fled to avoid criminal prosecution at the request of the state’s gov

Federal budget

Amount of money the federal govt expects to receive &authorizes govt to spend for a fiscal (12 mo.) year


Powers that are shared and divided among federal and sub-divisional government (state/local)

Federalist Papers

Written by Hamilton, Jay, & Madison to support ratification of the U.S. Constituiton


Supported a strong central govt &expanded legislative powers

Federal system

Power is divided between the states &the fed. govt


A lengthy speech designed to delay or kill the vote on a bill; used only in the Senate

Fiscal federalism

National govt’s use of fiscal policy to influence states through the granting/withholding of appropriations

Fiscal policy

The policies of taxation &spending that comprise the nation’s economic policy

Fiscal year

A 12-month pd, October through Septmeber, for planning the federal budget

Floor leaders

Direct party strategy &decisions in the House of Representatives &Senate

Franking privilege

Privilege that allows member sof Congress to mail letters &other materials to constituents postage-free

Free Exercise Clause

Congress may not make laws restricting/ prohibiting a person’s relgious practices-1st amendment

Freedom of expression

Freedom of speech/right to petition the govt for redress as 1st amendment right


Choosing an early date to hold the primary election

Full Faith &Credit Clause

States are required to recognize the laws &legal documents of other states-Article 4 for Federalism!


Media executives, news editors, &prominent reporters who decide what news to present &how it will be presented

General election

Voters choose officeholder form among all the candidates nominated by pol. parties/running as independents


Drawing of congressional districts to favor one pol. party/group over another


A compaign near the end of an election to get voters out to the polls


The formal &informal institutions, people, &processes used to create &conduct pulbic policy


Programs, money, &resources provided by the fed. govt to state &local govts to be used for specific projects &programs


Avg voter at the local level


When opposing parites &interests often block each other’s proposals, creating a pol. stalemate/inaction btwn the esecutive &legislative branches of govt

Hatch Act

Prohibits govt employees from engaging in pol. activities whle on duty/running for office/seeking poli. funding while off duty; if in sensitive positions, may not be involved w/ pol. activities on/off duty


Democracy seen as a system of many groups pulling govt in many directinos at the same time, causing gridlock ineffectiveness


A consistent set of beliefs by groups/individuals


Bringing charges of wrongdoing against a govt official by the House of Representatives

Implied powers

Not expressed, but may be considerered through the use of the Necessary and Proper (elastic) Clause


Refusal of the president to spend money Congress has appropriated


Application of portions of the Bill of Rights to the states under Amend. XIV

Incorporation doctrine

The Supreme Court ruling that most guarantees in teh Bill of Rights are applicatable to the states through Amend. XIV


Small changes in policy over long periods of time; usually in reference to budget-making–that th ebest indicator of this year’s budget is last year’s budget plus a small increase

Incumbency effect

Tendency of those alrady holding office to win reelection due to advgs b/c they already hold the office


The person currently holding office

Inherent powers

Powers that exist for the national govt b/c the govt is sovereign


Allows voters to petition to propose legislation &then submit it for a vote by qualified voters

Interest group

A group of private citizens whose goal is to influence &shape public policy

Interstate compacts

Agreements btwn states to work together on common issues

Iron triangle

Alliance- agencies, interest groups, &congressional committees/subcommittees (also known as sub-governments)

Issue network

Individuals in WA–located w/n interest groups, congressional staff, think tanks, universities, &the media–who regulary discuss &advocate public policies

Joint committee

Committee made up of members of both house of Congress-housekeeping issues decided

Judicial activism

The Court should play an active role in determining national policies

Judicial restraint

Holds that the Court should avoid taking the initiative on social &pol. questions, operation strictly w/n the limits of the Constitution

Judicial review

Authority given the courts to review constitutionality of acts by the executive/state/legislature; est. in Marbury v. Madison


The authority of the courts to hear &decide issues in certain cases

Legislative courts

Courts created by Congress for a specialized purpose w/ a narrow range of authority

Legislative veto

To reject the actions of the president/executive agency by a vote of one/both house of Congress w/o the consent of th epresident; ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Immigration &Naturalization Service v. Chadha

Lemon test

Lemon v. Kurtzman to measure the constituionality of state laws in regard to establishment clause (3 pronged test)


A person whose views favor more govt involvemnt in business, social welfare, minority rights, &increased govt spending

Limited govt

Basic prinicple of U.S. govt that each person has rights that govt cannot take away

Line item veto

The president can reject a par tof a bill while approving the rest; declared unconstitutional


Attempting to influence policymakers though a variety of methods


Uses pol. persuasion to influence legislation &benefit his/her org.


The exchange of pol. favors for support of a bill

Loose constructionist

broad interpretation of the Constitution

Maintaining elections

Traditional majorty power maintains power based on voters’ party loyalty

Majority leader

The elected leader of the party with the most seat in the House of Representatives/Senate

Majority-minority districts

Drawing district boundaries to give a minority group a majority

Majority opinion

The majority of justices agree on the decision &the reasons for th edecision


Requirements imposed by the national govt on state &local govts to comply w/ fed. rules &regulation

Mandatory spending

Required govt spending by permanent laws

Marbury v. Madison

Judicial review!


Rewrite of a bill after hearings have been held on it (happens in sub-committee)

Mass media

All forms of communication that reach a large portion of the public

McCulloch v. Maryland

Supreme Court decision upholding the supremacy of the national government over the states/implied powers clause also strenthened-national bank established because this supported power to tax

Media event

A speech or photo opporutnity staged to give a politician’s view on an issue

Miranda v. Arizona

Right to be told what you are being held for.


Person whose views are between conservative and liberal and may include some of both ideologies

Monetary policy

controlling the money supply-Federal Reserve (independent agency)

Motor voter law

register to vote when you update your license (1993)

National chairman

Appointed by the DNC or the RNC as head of the party

National debt

Amount of money owed by the government

Natural rights

Basic rights that are guaranteed to all persons; basic rights that a government cannot deny-Locke-life, liberty, property

Necessary and Proper Clause

Gives Congress the powers to pass all laws necessary to carry out their constitutional duties; "elastic" clause (Art. I, Sec 8, clause 18)

New Deal coalition

Alliance of southern conservatives, religious, and ethnic minorities who supported the Democratic Party for 40 years

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Created to allow the free movement of goods between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. by lessening and eliminating tariffs

Off-year election

An election taking place in a year when no presidential elections are occurring; midterm election-common for sitting president’s party to lose seats in Congress

Open primary

registered voters can vote in either primary-do not have to register with any party.

Opinion leaders

Those individuals held in great respect becasue of their position, expertise, or peronsality, who may informally and unintentionally influence others

Orignial jurisdiction

Court hears and decides a case for the first time


Congress monitors policies of the executive branch (money, hearings, investigations)-checks and balances


A convicted person is exempt form the penalities of a crime

Plessy v. Ferguson

The Supreme Court case that upheld separate-but-equal segregation in 1896

Pluralist theory

interest groups compete in the political arena with each promoting its own policy preferences through organized efforts-everyone gets a piece of the pie-a marketplace of ideas, compromise happens-positive view

Policy adoption

The approval of a policy by legislation

Policy evalution

Determines if a policy is achieving its goals

Policy formulation

The crafting of a policy to resolve public problems

Policy implementation

Carrying out a policy through government agencies and courts

Political action committee

Extention of an interest group that contributes money to political campaigns-financial arm of the interest group

Political agenda

Issues that merit action, as determined by the public or those in power

Political culture

A set of basic values and beliefs about one’s country or government that is shared by most citizens and that influences political opinions and behaviors

Political efficacy

Belief that a person can influence politics and public policymaking-vote makes a difference

Politcal ideology

A consistent set of beliefs about politics and public policy taht sets the framework for evaluation government and public policy

Political party

Voluntary association of people who seek to control the government through common principles, based on peaceful and legal actions such as the winning of elections

Political socialization

Complex process by which people get their sense of political identity, beliefs, and values (family, school, media, religion, national events-all help to socialize)


Method of maintaining, managing, and gaining control of government (who gets what, when, and how)

Popular sovereignty

people are the source of all govermental power

Pork barrel legislation

Legislation giving benefits to constituents through sometimes unnecessary of unwise projects within a state or district, to enhance a memeber’s chance of reelection


Standards or guides based on prior decisions that serve as a rule for settling similar disputes

Presidential preference primaries

Voters select delegates to the presidential nominating convention

President pro tempore

Serves as president of the Senate in the absence of the VP; chosen by the majority party

Primary election

Nominating election held to choose party candidates who will run in the general election

Prior restraint

Censorship of information before it is published or broadcast (unconstitutional in most cases)

Privileges and immunities

States are prohibited from unreasonably discriminating against residents of other states (article 4)

Procedual due process

Method of government action, or how th elaw is carried out according to the established rules and procedures

Public opinion

A colleciton of shared attitudes of citizens about government, politics, and the making of public policy

Public policy

The exercise of government power in doing those htings necessary to maintain legitmate authority and ocntrol over society

Pure speech

Verbal communication of ideas and opinions


Ideological view that favors rapid funamental change in teh existing social, economic, or political order


Method of enacting a constitution or amendment into law


Ideological view that favors a return to a previous state of affairs


A shift of voting patterns to form new coaltions of party support


Redistribution of the congressional seats among the states after the census determines changes in population distribution


Special election initiated by petition to allow citizens to remove an official from office before his or her term expires


Procedure whereby the state submits legislation to its voters for approval, allowing citizens to vote directly on issues

Representative democracy

Citizens choose officals (representatives) who make decisions about public policy

Reserved powers

Powers belonging specifically to the states and the people because they were not delegated to teh national government nor denied to the states

Revenue sharing

Giving money back to the state and local government with no strings attached


An addition of amendment added to a bill that often has no realtion to the bill but that may not pass onits own merits (senate only)

Rule of four

Requirement that a case can only be heard by the Supreme Court if four justices vote to hear the case

Rules committee

Determines the rules of debate for bills in the House of Representatives-also known as the calender committee

Runoff primary

When no candidate receives a majority of votes, an election held betweent eh two candidates who received the most votes in the primary


Using a represenative cross-seciton of the general population chosen at random in the polling process

Sampling errors

Percentage of possible erros in teh polling process

Select committee

Committee selected for a specific purpose-investigation-hearing


Accusing oneself or giving evidence that may prove oneself guilty

Senatorial courtesy

The practice of allowing senators form teh president’s party who represent the state where a judicial district is located, to apporve or diapprove potential nominees for the lower federal courts ONLY

Seniortiy system

System in which the chairmanship of a committee is given tot eh member with the longest continuous service

Separation of powers

Practice by which power is separated among three branches of government; each branch has its own powers and duties and is independent of and equal to the other branches

Single-member districts

Only one representative is chosen from each district

Social contract theory

A voluntary agreement between the government and the governed

Social insurance programs

Programs to help the elderly, ill, and unemployed if the claimant has paid into them

Social welfare policy

Government program to enhance quality of life

Soft money

Money distributed form a national political party organization that wasn ot regulated by law; restricted by the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002

Sound bite

A brief statement on TV or radio

Speaker of the House

Leading officer in the House of Representatives, chosen by the majority party

Speech plus

Verbal and symbolic speech used together

Split-ticket voting

Voting for candidates form more than one party in the same election

Standing committee

Permanent committees in the House/Senate-every represetative and every senator is appointed to 2 or 3.

Stare decisis

Let the decision stand; decisions are based on precedents from previous cases

Straight-ticket voting

Voting for candidates all of the same party on the same ballot-creates the coattail effect

Straw poll

Early form of polling that asks the same question of a large number of people

Strict constuctionist

Narrow interpretation of the Constitution

Substantive due process

the law itself is fair or unfair-not the procedures-but the law


The right to vote


Party officials in the Democratic Party who attend the national convention without having to run in primaries or caucuses

Super Tuesday

Day when several states hold their presidential primaries (usually the second Tuesday in March)

Supremacy CLause

Ntional law supersedes all other laws passed by states (Art VI)

Symbolic speech

Using actions and symbols rather than words to convey an idea

Three-Fifths Compromise

Agreement that each slave counted as three-fifths of a person in determining representation in the House for representation and taxation purposes (negated by the 13th amendment)

Traditional democratic theory

Government depends upon the consent of the governed

Trial balloon

Tests the public reaction to policy or appointments by releasing information to the media and gaugin public reaction


After listening to constiutents, elected representatives vote based on their own opinions

Two-party system

Several political parties exist, but only two major political parties compete for power and dominate elections

Unfunded mandates

Federal government requires the states to enforce legislation without the funding necessary

Virginia Plan

Madison’s plan for a bicameral legislature, whith the executive and judiciary chosen by the legislature

War Powers Act

Limits the ability of the president to commit troops to combat-48 hours to tell Congress when and why the troops were sent, they have 60-90 to bring them home if they disagree


Break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate building in 1972 that resulted in a cover-up and the subsequent resignation of Nixon

Writ of certiorari

Order by the Supreme Court directing a lower court to send up the records of a case for review

Writ of habeas corpus

right to be told what you are being held for and shown evidence against you-used in death penalty case appeals.

red tape

complex rules and procedures that must be followed to get something done (agencies-bureaucracy)

Trustee/Delegate-roles Congressman play

trustee–do what is best regardless of voter opinion; delegate–do what the voters want

pocket veto

DIES-sits on desk-10 days go past-Congress adjourns within the 10 days.

OMB (Office of Management and Budget)

1921) to prepare estimates of how much will be spent by federal agencies, to negotiate and to make that legislative proposals of these other departments jive with the president’s program.

Speaker of the House

decides who willbe recognized to speak- rules whether motions are relevant to the business at hand; decides which bills where the bills will go (committees)-influencial as to what bills are brought up for a vote-appoints members to special and select committees


assistant to the floor leaders, keeps a head count of votes, rounds up members for important votes

Congressional caucuses

association of members created to support a political ideology or regional economic interest (black caucus, women’s caucus…)

General Accounting Office (GAO)

performs routine financial audits of money spent by the executive departments and investigates agencies


unfair proportional distribution of representatives to a legislative body

majority/minority districts

those with a majority of residents who are part of an ethnic minority

soft money

political parties solicit unlimited funds from individuals, corporations, spend on voter registration campaigns and get-out the-vote drives and "not on behalf of specific candidates"

Civil Service

hiring government employees on the basis of merit. Also refers to government employees outside the military.

Circuit Courts

Part of federal court system-13 federal circuit courts: one for the D.C. and 12 for the rest of the country. Also called "courts of appeal"

Council of Economic Advisors

established by Employment Act of 1946- advise the President on economic policy- 3 members, appointed by President and approved by Senate,

EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

INDEPENDENT agency created in 1964-works to eliminate employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, age or other criteria unrelated to job performance.

EOP (Executive office of the President)

name for the group of agencies, councils, and staff members which advise the president and help run the federal bureaucracy-was established by an executive order from FDR

Grand Jury (5th amendment)

ranges in size from 6 to 23, depending on the state, and functions to determine whether there is enough evidence available against a person accused of a crime to justify a trial.


pertaining to a governor

Joint Chiefs of Staff

high-ranking military officers who represent the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines. They assist the civilian leaders of the Department of Defense-advise the president on security matters.

Lame Duck

person holding office after his or her replacement has been elected to the office, but before the current term has ended.

PAC (Political Action Committee)

an independent organization established by interest groups, political candidates, and people who hold office. PACs serve to raise and contribute money to the political campaigns of individuals whose platforms agree with the aims of the PAC.


Written statement of criminal charges brought against a defendant

Shield law

Law guaranteeing news reporters the right to protect the annonymity of their sources. States have passed this–not the federal government.

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