Explanation of common terms in law with example - Travel Pakistan

Aug 20, 2003

Explanation of common terms in law with example

 Bicameral legislature

It refers to a particular body of government that consists of two legislative houses or chambers. Simply bicameral means; consisting of two chambers, houses or assemblies.  In most part of the world, the legislative bodies are divided into two groups, one represents the people and the other represents the central government or it is not based on the representation of the people.
In Pakistan, the legislatures are divided into two groups; Senate and the National Assembly. Senate is the upper house that is not elected or selected on the basis of population. Every province has equal representation in the Senate. But in the National Assembly, the legislatures are directly elected by the people and here the representation is based on the population i.e. the province having more population will have more representation. 

Block grant

Block grant is the package or budget allocated by the federal government to the state or the local governments for use in social welfare programs like poverty, education, community development, health services and other programs etc. It has no restriction and it is a flexible package i.e. the local or the state government can use the fund where it wants without any decree from the federal government.
In Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts is providing a grant to the Canadian publishers to foster the production and enjoyment of the arts in Canada. This program is starting in April 2017 and the council has displayed the eligibility criteria and grant amount on its website.
Categorical grants
It is the package or the budget allocated by the federal government for the state and local governments with strict limitations and restrictions how and where to spend the money.
Such kind of grants is provided in United States Congress for specific projects like the improvement of highways and repair of bridges etc. The money of the grant can only be received if the state or the local government complies with their rules accordingly.


Centralist is the advocacy of the centralization of the power of the central government or a central authority or in a central person. In simple words, it is the group of people or a person who advocates the accumulation of power to a central authority.
Latin American politicians were centralist who wished to create strong, centralized national governments with broad powers; often supported by politicians who described themselves as conservatives. In the summer of 1835 Mexico choose to abandon the federal form of government and replaced it with a central government.  The unitary regime was formally established on December 30, 1836, with the enactment of the seven constitutional laws. The centralist Republic lasted for almost eleven years. 

Checks and balances

It is a system or principle in which different parts of organizations [like government] has the power to prevent or veto actions by the other branches. It is to make sure that no one branch of government would become too powerful. 
The United States constitution divides the national government into three branches legislative, executive and judicial.  These three branches, while independent, have actions that they can take to ensure that the other two branches are not misusing their power. In other words, each branch has powers that it can use to check and balance the operations and power of the other two branches.

Commerce clause

The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, and Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.”
A New York beverage distributor wishes to enter into an agreement with a Canadian beer company to distribute their beer throughout the U.S. This agreement between a U.S. company and a Canadian company is subject to federal law because it is commerce with a foreign nation. While there may be various New York statutes which apply to the company for a variety of purposes, these statues must not infringe on the area belonging exclusively to federal law.

Concurrent powers

Concurrent powers are the powers which are shared by the state, provincial or local government and federal government i.e. both can exercise the power at the same time at the same location.
In the USA either of the federal government or the state government has the power to tax, have a military, convict people of crime and holds them in jail, build and maintain roads and hold elections.


When a group of people or nations form an alliance, it is called a confederation, allowing each member to govern itself but agreeing to work together for common causes. In confederation vast majority of power rests with the local governments or the sovereign states if confederation is formed by the combination of sovereign states and the central government has very less power.
Few examples of confederation are Canada, European Union, and Switzerland etc. The European Union is a sole example of confederation which is formed by the joint alliance of 28 sovereign states. The European Union has a common currency, policies, and people can freely travel, work and live without any border restriction.


Decentralist is a person who advocates the decentralization and the decentralization is the process in which function and powers are dispersed from the central authority to the local government and masses. It is also known as the bottom-up approach in which power is exercised at the lowest level of government. It has three types; political, administrative and fiscal decentralizations.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon 15 January 1809 – 19 January 1865 was a French decentralist, federalist and anarchist who advocated the ideology of decentralization

Direct Democracy:

Direct democracy is the form of democracy in which common masses rather than elected representatives hold the authority to regulate the law and order and formulate the policies.  Unlike “representative democracy” the power is in the hands of common people who can implement the law and order at country and city level.
The ballot initiative is the common example of the direct democracy. In some cities of the United States and Switzerland, they have direct democracy. People in some districts of Switzerland gather at open places on a scheduled day to decide and the poll the laws of their community.

Elastic clause

It is the Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States, which lists Congress' powers. According to this clause the power of the government is flexible i.e., it changes with time, therefore, this rule will allow the government to use the power with the passage of time. As it is flexible and allows the government to change and grow the government i.e. why it is known as an elastic clause.

In the USA by using this government can levy taxes, declare war, and coin money, among other things. These are called the government's enumerated powers, also called expressed powers or delegated powers.

Enumerated powers

It means the expressed, given or delegated powers to the government of the United States which consist of three tiers: legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. It is written in the article 1 section 8 of the constitution.
Using this power the Congress of United States can lay and collect taxes; it can coin money, declare war, make rules for military conduct, and raise and maintain armies and navies.


Federalism is a system of government in which entities such as states, provinces or counties share power with a national government. In most part of the world, federalism is observed with little or no difference.
Pakistan is an example of a country where federalism is observed. Pakistan consists of four provinces and the relations between federation and provinces are defined in Part V (Articles 141-159) of the constitution. The article 142 states that Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) and a Provincial Assembly shall have the power to make laws with respect to criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence.

Dual Federalism:

Dual Feudalism is when state and federal government work separately sharing the supreme power over the specific area and individuals.   The aim of this kind of government is to create a balancing of power between the Federal and State.
The ultimate example of dual federalism is the United States, as the constitution of United States gives an authority to the Federal government to preserve the chain of the right of American citizen ensuring that the specific rights are not violated.

 Cooperative Federalism:

Cooperative federalism is a kind in which State government possesses the boundless authority and power and forces the government which comes under its domain to implement the national policies.
The famous example of cooperative federalism is the construction of interstate highways in the USA, during which federal government utilized monetary means to gain their personal interests.

New Federalism:

New federalism in the United States is the political belief of transition of power from Federal government to the States to resolve the communal issues by means of Federal monetary resources. 
Nixon Administration is the example of new federalism in which authority was divided in between the states and National government.

Federalist papers

The Federalist, commonly known as the Federalist Papers, is a collection of 85 articles and essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison between October 1787 and May 1788 promoting the ratification of the United States Constitutions. The essays were published anonymously, under the pen name "Publius," in various New York state newspapers of the time.
These essays were written in the United States by the authors: Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, among them Alexander Hamilton is known as the author of the majority of the essays. These papers were published primarily in two New York state newspapers: The New York Packet and The Independent Journal. They were reprinted in other newspapers in New York State and in several cities in other states.

Formal amendment

Amendment in the constitution of the United States can be done by a formal way or process which is outlined in the Article V of the constitution. 
The formal amendment is a process which is or which can be carried out in the United States.  Article V of the Constitution lays down two ways in which an amendment can be proposed and ratified.  In the first method of proposing an amendment, two-thirds of both houses of Congress adopt a proposed amendment. The alternative is for two-thirds of the state legislatures to request that Congress call a Constitutional Convention; this method has never been used. To ratify a proposed amendment, three-fourths of the state legislatures must ratify it or ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states must approve it. As it is a lengthy process and difficult to carry out therefore of the 27 amendment of the constitutions the process has used only once: the 21 st amendment, which became part of the Constitution in 1933.

Implied powers

It is not that easy to list every power of the state that the government would exercise to maintain law and order in the constitution. The power which is not expressed, delegated or enumerated in the constitution but are no less real, or important is known as implied power.
The United States Congress is given the power to 'To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes. Here the statement is clear.  But what, exactly, is commerce and what does it mean to regulate is not mentioned in the constitution. It means if there comes new issues or new ways to deal, the Congress will use the implied powers i.e. it is not expressed or delegated but it will be exercised when needed.

Indirect democracy

In an indirect democracy, people elect representative members for the formulation of laws on their behalf. This is also known as representative democracy. It is opposite of the direct democracy is in which common masses rather than elected representatives hold the authority to regulate the law and order and formulate the policies. 
In most part of the world, this kind of democracy is practiced. Like in Pakistan people elect the representatives for the national assembly through the first-past-the-post system under universal adult suffrage, and they formulate laws on the behalf of common people.

Inherent powers

These are powers held by a sovereign state. In most part of the world, the government head i.e. president or the prime minister is inherited with a special power which they can use when they want to veto or implement the issues even if other tiers of the government has not reached a consensus.
The executive power of the president in the United States of America is the ultimate example of the inherent powers.  Article II of the Constitution specifies about the role of the president in the United States. Obama using his executive power raised the minimum wages $7.25 to the $10.10 an hourly which is now legally mandated for all private sector workers.
Inherent amendment
It means few statements once amended or once put in the constitution cannot be amended further. Or there would be no amendment in these statements because it is inherited to the constitution.

According to the inherent amendment mentioned in the constitution of United States no person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some another person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Judicial review

It is a process by which the actions or the legislation done by the executive branch is subject to the review of the judicial branch. Judicial review is actually a kind of check and balance in which a court with judicial review power may invalidate the primary legislation or the administrative act. Also, it can be carried out by general or specialized courts.
In different parts of the world judicial review is implemented with little or no differences. Czechoslovakia now the Czech Republic and Slovakia was the first country to introduce the system of the judicial review by a specialized court. This system was later used by the Austria after dissolution and was known as the Austrian System.


It is a term with wide and multiple meaning. It has different meanings in international law, criminal law, magazine, politics, theology and trade union etc. In politics, it is the authority granted by an electoral district to act as its representative. In simple words, the mandate is one which the political parties or person vows to deliver if they win the election.
Best examples of the mandate are Roosevelt's Mandate and Reagan's Mandate in the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt won a record four presidential elections in the US because of his good mandate. He introduced a massive series of government programs in order to end the Great Depression.

Marbury v. Madison

It was of the most important cases in the history of the United States which prompted the basis for the application of the judicial review.  The landmark case in 1803 helped in forming and defining the boundary and the roles of the judiciary and executives.
The case was actually the result of the appointments by the leaving president John Adams who had appointed a large number of justices of the peace for the District of Columbia whose commissions were approved by the Senate, signed by the president, and affixed with the official seal of the government. But when the newly elected president assumed the office he ordered his secretary James Madison not to deliver them the commission.  William Marbury, one of the appointees, then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, or legal order, compelling Madison to show cause why he should not receive his commission. Since then the case is commonly known as Marbury v. Madison

McCulloch v. Maryland

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) was a monumental and landmark case in the history of the United States in which the decision of the Supreme Court expressed the implied powers of the government. The court made it clear that the powers not enumerated in the constitutions can be exercised and legislation can be done by the state to exercise or enforce any kind of power in favor of the government and any state cannot impede the government in doing so.
This case came into consideration when the state of the Maryland placed a tax on the Second Bank of the United States, a state-owned bank, which was in the name of the cashier of Baltimore Branch James W. McCulloch. When he found that tax was placed on the bank he appealed to the Supreme Court. 
Chief Justice John Marshall refereeing to the Article I, Section 8 of the constitution opined that state has the power to exercise implied or enumerated powers. So the placing of tax by the state was illegal and against the authority of the state.

Police powers

Police power in the United States means the inherent or states’ constitution granted power to exercise the reasonable control over persons and property within its jurisdiction in the interest of the general security, health, safety, morals, and welfare except where legally prohibited.
According to the tenth amendment of the constitution of the United States, the powers which are not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people. Using the police power the government of the states enforces and enacts the laws at the state level.

Popular sovereignty

It is a kind of democracy in which the ultimate power lies in the people. It also means that government can only exercise the power if the people have given them the permission because the representatives in the government are their servant, not their master, monarch or supreme leaders.
By knowing the fact that popular sovereignty is the solution of the slavery the people of the America, now United Sates, ousted the King George III from the power and established a popular sovereignty.

Reserved powers

These are the powers which are not enumerated, expressed or delegated in the constitution of a state but they can be exercised or enforced by the state government or the federals government. As w know that it is not possible to list down the every detail of the powers in the constitution so these powers can be exercised by any government which varies in the world.
In Canada, the reserved power can be exercised by the federal government but in the United States, it can be exercised by the respective states.
In the United States some reserved powers to the state government are:  power to coin money, commerce with foreign nations, interstate commerce, establish post offices, punish crimes committed on the high seas, establish import duties and tariffs, fix standard weights and measures, raise and maintain the armed forces, declare war and peace, enter into treaties with foreign powers and call out the militia to deal with insurrections etc.
In Bermuda, the reserved power means the governor has the power to deal external affairs, internal security and police and he/she is free to carry out these duties without any consultation with the central government.
Separation of powers
Separation of powers or the Trias Politica is a system of governance in which the power of a state is divided into three forms: the legislature, executive, and the judiciary.  It is practiced in the most part of the world though names could be different. Historically the separation of powers dates back to the ancient Greeks.
The United Sates is a perfect example of this model. The structure of the government is separated into three groups know as Legislative (Congress), Executive (President) and the Judicial (Supreme Court). This ensures the check and balance that powers are not misused or overused.

 Shays' Rebellion

It was an armed uprising in the United States during 1780s (86, 87) due to the economic crisis, injustices, and suspension of civil rights. The rebellion was the flagship of a veteran former captain of the Continental Army that is why it is known as Shays Rebellion.
During the 1780s the region was hit by economic crisis and farmers were one of the severely affected groups among all.  Although the situation was not better all over the United States but the scenario in the Massachusetts was aggravated badly due to the failure of the state government. Farmers were unable to repay the debt and many of them were sent to prison. When the situation became tense and there was nothing left to hope for, the farmers organized a rebellion in the summer of 1786 and attacked courts and librated the imprisoned debtors.


It is a term having multiple meanings, but in politics or the governance, it means the process of approval of a proposal or legislation which requires greater than the threshold of one-half of support used for the majority.  Common supermajorities include three-fifths (60%); two-thirds (66.666 %) and three-fourths (75%).
Supermajority rule is used all over the world to approve legislations, override the veto, for bringing the amendment in the constitution or suspending the rules.
In Japan, for barging the amendment in the constitution it requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of the National Diet and a simple majority in a referendum.
Unicameral legislature
The unicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of only one chamber or house. It is the antonym of the bicameral in which the legislature consist of two houses or chambers, upper and the lower house.
About one-third of the world’s states have the unicameral legislature; including the world biggest country in term of population i.e. China and the smallest county Vatican City.
At the national level, the state of Nebraska in the United States and all the legislative assemblies of the provinces of Canada have a unilateral legislature. 


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