General Political & Government Information

This section is wide in scope and should be able to lead a researcher to almost any political and government related information.

This section contains the subsections:
Branches of Government
Government Portals
Private Search Engines & Directories
Local Search Engines & Directories

··· Branches of Government ···

Executive Branch (based on information from the Executive Branch and Cabinet pages of whitehouse.gov.

The power of the executive branch is vested in the President, who also serves as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. The President appoints the Cabinet and oversees the various agencies and departments of the federal government.

The tradition of the Cabinet dates back to the beginnings of the Presidency itself. One of the principal purposes of the Cabinet (drawn from Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution) is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of their respective offices.

The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments-the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General. Under President George W. Bush, Cabinet-level rank also has been given to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of the National Drug Control Policy, and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Legislative Branch (based on information from the Legislative Branch page of whitehouse.gov).

The legislative branch consists of the Congress, which is divided into two chambers — the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each member of Congress is elected in state elections. The House of Representatives, with membership based on state populations, has 435 seats, while the Senate, with two members from each state, has 100 seats. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two-year terms, and Senators are elected for six-year terms.

Also see Legislative Branch Resources on GPO Access and the Federal Legislative Branch page of usa.gov).

Judicial Branch (based on newsgroup post by attorney Mark Eckenwiler. Also see the Judicial Branch page of whitehouse.gov.)

District Courts

District courts are the lowest tier of federal courts. They hear both criminal and civil cases. Each district covers all or part of a state and may have several judges. There are regular service and senior status judges who both have life tenure. Senior judges have been on the bench for at least ten years, are at least 65 years old, and may have lighter dockets (caseloads) because they can choose the types of cases they hear.

District Court judges are often assisted by Magistrate Judges who are auxiliary officers that handle certain tasks delegated by District Judges. Magistrates may take "not guilty" pleas in felony criminal arraignments and frequently handle discovery disputes, misdemeanor trials, settlement negotiations, and hearings to calculate damages. Their orders are generally appealable to the District Judge from whom the matter was referred.

In addition to the District Courts, there are trial-level federal courts with limited subject-matter jurisdiction, including the Court of Claims and the Court of International Trade. There's also a system of federal Bankruptcy Courts that's staffed by judges who, like magistrates, are auxiliary officers appointed for a limited term.

Federal Appeals Courts

Above the District Courts are the 13 Circuit Courts of Appeal (1st-11th Circuits, plus D.C. and the Federal Circuit.) With one exception, these courts hear appeals from District Court decisions within their individual geographical regions. For instance, the Second Circuit presides over the four federal Districts in New York state (EDNY, SDNY, WDNY, NDNY), and the Districts of Connecticut and Vermont.

The exception is the confusingly named Federal Circuit, a special court for patent appeals, which reviews District Court decisions in this area from all over the country. As for the other Circuits, the frontispiece map in recent volumes of the Federal Supplement or Federal Reporter will show which states are in each Circuit.

Almost all District Court orders are appealable to the Circuit Court. However, except for a few specific types of orders (such as those granting or denying preliminary injunctions), most orders are not immediately appealable. Instead, parties must usually wait until the entire case has been disposed of in the District Court, and then raise all of their appeals at a single time.

Like District Court Judges, Circuit Judges have life tenure. Unlike District Court Judges, who preside alone over their cases, a panel of three judges presides over each Circuit Court case. In rare circumstances, a majority of the judges in the Circuit may sit "en banc" (also known as "in banc", or "in bench") on a single appeal in order to clarify or review a 3-judge-panel decision.

Circuit Court decisions are binding on the district courts within that circuit. This fosters uniformity of law within each circuit, although the circuits themselves may disagree strongly on points of law.

The Supreme Court

The highest court is the United States Supreme Court, which hears appeals from the Circuits Courts, from the highest courts of the respective states (when a federal issue is involved), or rarely, from a District Court decision. The Court also occasionally acts as a trial court over certain constitutionally defined categories of cases, such as lawsuits between states.

In its appellate capacity, the Court is not obliged to entertain any given case. Rather, the Justices vote on whether or not to "grant certiorari"; by tradition, a vote of 4 in favor is sufficient to qualify the case for a hearing. In the vast majority of cases, the Court declines to hear the appeal ("denies cert."). A denial of certiorari has no precedential effect, and is not to be taken as a reliable indicator of the Court's views on the merit of the appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court decides only 100-150 cases each term, out of the 6000 petitions for certiorari annually.

The highest ranking Justice is the Chief Justice of the United States (*not* the "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court"). The Chief Justice, who must be confirmed to that position even if s/he is already an Associate Justice when nominated, has special administrative and ceremonial functions and has the power to select who will write the opinion for the side on which the Chief Justice votes in a given case. When the Chief Justice is in the majority, s/he may write the Opinion of the Court himself/herself, or may assign it to another Justice on the same side.

When a Justice retires, s/he may continue to serve actively as a judge, but not at the Supreme Court. Retired Justices are often invited to sit on Circuit Court panels.

··· Government Portals ···

Major Resources in This Section
USA.gov — formerly FirstGov — is probably the most complete "portal" to government related information. FedWorld was the precursor to FirstGov and appears to serve the same purpose as USA.gov, but may still be useful. The Federal Consumer Information Center offers telephone assistance for government related questions and a list of frequently asked questions.

"As the U.S. government's official web portal, USA.gov makes it easy for the public to get U.S. government information and services on the web. USA.gov also serves as the catalyst for a growing electronic government."

"The FedWorld.gov web site is a gateway to government information...managed by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) as part of it's information management mandate. In 1992, FedWorld was established by The National Technical Information Service (NTIS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to serve as the online locator service for a comprehensive inventory of information disseminated by the Federal Government. This service assisted agencies and the public in electronically locating Federal Government information, both information housed within the NTIS repository and outside of NTIS."

The National Contact Center (NCC) of USA Services responds to thousands of requests every business day about federal programs, benefits, and services. They either provide information directly or locate the source of assistance. Their website provides the toll-free number and email address of the NCC. For finding an answer on your own, you could use their knowledgebase.

··· Private Search Engines & Directories ···

This section only includes websites that are not run by the government.

Search Systems claims "We were the first and continue to be the largest collection of free public records on the internet." They provide searchable, public record databases in the categories U.S. Nationwide, U.S. by State, U.S. Territories, Canada Nationwide, Canada by Province, Worldwide, and Outer Space.

USAsearch.gov "is the U.S. government's official web portal...Web results by MSN Search."

Google has a special search engine that can help you find government documents on state and federal websites.

The Internet Public Library lets you search for websites by using the subject list on their home page or their search engine. You can also get personalized assistance from a human by using their Ask a Question form.

The link hierarchy for navigating to their Politics section is Home > Subject Collections > Law, Government and Political Science > Political Science > Social Sciences > Politics.

Over all, the Internet Public Library is an excellent resource, but the use of text like this makes the left menu difficult to read.

There are also several signs of sloppy graphic work on parts of the page, including lack of anti-aliasing, anti-aliasing with the wrong background color, and two blue sections of a column being different widths.

··· Local Search Engines & Directories ···

The Open Directory Project (ODP) is "the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors."

The following are links to sections that are somewhat politically oriented. Some sections include links to other sections in the hierarchy that have a more narrow focus. Those links will appear on top of the page, before the broader list of websites. Websites listed in more focused sections usually are not included in the broader, parent section.

Business:International Business and Trade
Business:Investing:Socially Responsible
Health:Occupational Health and Safety:Emergency Preparedness
Health:Occupational Health and Safety:Government Agencies
Health:Public Health and Safety:Organizations
Health:Public Health and Safety:Policy and Regulation
Home:Consumer Information:Advocacy and Protection
Home:Emergengy Preparation
Home:Home Improvement:Energy Efficiency
Home:Homeowners:Homeowner Associations
Home:Personal Finance:Philanthropy
Home:Personal Finance:Tax Preparation
Kids and Teens:Teen Life:Issues
Kids and Teens:Teen Life:Volunteering and Service
Kids and Teens: News
Kids and Teens:People and Society
Kids and Teens:School Time:Reference Tools
Kids and Teens:School Time:Social Studies
Recreation:Guns:Regulatory and Legal
Recreation:Living History
Recreation:Scouting:Resources:Social Issues
Science:Anomalies and Alternative Science
Science:Biology:Genetics:Eukaryotic:Animal:Transgenics and Cloning
Science:Earth Sciences:Atmospheric Chemistry
Science:Earth Sciences:Natural Disasters and Hazards:Preparedness
Science:Earth Sciences:Publications:Journals:Environmental Geology
Science:Science in Society
Science:Social Sciences
Science:Technology:Aerospace:Aeronautics:Safety of Aviation
Science:Technology:Chemical Engineering:Health, Safety, and Environment
Science:Technology:Food Science:Government Agencies
Science:Technology:Military Science
Science:Technology:Safety Engineering
Science:Technology:Space:National Space Agencies:Military
Shopping:Niche:Green Living

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