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The HarperCollins Dictionary of American Government and Politics

The HarperCollins Dictionary of American Government and Politics

by Jay M. Shafritz
A quick and easy reference for locating important facts, figures, and definitions relating to government and politics in the U.S..


A quick and easy reference for locating important facts, figures, and definitions relating to government and politics in the U.S..

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A comprehensive and up-to-date reference on the concerns of US governance. Some 5,000 encyclopedic entries (from "abdication" to Zorach v. Clauson) define and describe Supreme Court cases, laws, political slang, federal agencies, personalities, and terms from such related fields as sociology, history, and economics. Quotations and anecdotes are incorporated into many entries, and excerpts from a variety of sources add depth to the definitions. Illustrated with photos, cartoons, charts, and diagrams. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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ABA See american bar association.

ability to pay 1. The principle of taxation that holds that the tax burden should be distributed according to wealth. It is based on the assumption that, as a person's income increases, that person (whether an individual or a corporation) can and should contribute a larger percentage of income to support government activities. The first major analysis comes from Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776): "The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state." The progressive income tax is based on the ability-to-pay principle. 2. A concept from labor relations and collective bargaining that refers to an employer's ability to tolerate the costs of requested wage and benefit increases.

Abington School District v Schempp See school district of abington township v schempp.

Ableman v Booth (1859) The Supreme Court case that held that a prisoner in federal custody could not be released by a writ of habeas corpus issued by a state court. This case helped establish the independence of the state and federal courts from each other by asserting that no judicial process can have any authority outside its own jurisdiction.

abortion The artificial termination of a pregnancy. This is the single most emotional issue in American politics today because opponents associate it with murder while proponents associate itwith women's rights. In 1973 the Supreme Court in roe v wade made the option of abortion a constitutional right during the first trimester of pregnancy and a limited right during the second trimester. Ever since, as the Court has grown more conservative, this right to abortion has been increasingly curtailed. Finally in Webster v Reproductive Health Services (1989), the Court stopped just short of reversing Roe v Wade when it held that states could regulate or abolish a woman's right to have an abortion. Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the Court's opinion in Roe v Wade, wrote a stinging dissent in the Webster case. He said the Court "casts into darkness the hopes and visions of every woman in this country who had come to believe that the Constitution guaranteed her the right to exercise some control over her unique ability to bear children."
The Webster decision suddenly made abortion the issue of state politics. Now many candidates for a governorship or state legislature must take a stand. This is vexing for politicians of both parties because abortion is not clearly an issue of the left or right. Nevertheless, during the 1992 presidential campaign abortion was a central issue. The Republican Party candidate, President George Bush (running for reelection) was opposed to abortion while the Democratic Party candidate, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, believed abortion was a choice that each woman had to make for herself. Immediately after his inauguration in 1993 Clinton reversed federal restrictions on abortion counseling and on abortion services at military hospitals.
See also boycott; pro-choice; pro-life.

Abrams v United States (1919) The Supreme Court case that upheld the federal government's authority, under the Sedition Act of 1918, to restrict the circulation of pamphlets, during World War I, calling for munitions workers to strike. In doing this, the Court invoked the "bad tendency" rule, which holds that free speech and other First Amendment rights can be curtailed if their exercise might lead to such evils as sedition, riots, or rebellion. In a famous dissenting opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. argued for the "free trade of ideas." He said "that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market." It was in a previous decision, Schenck v United States (1919), that Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, enunciated his famous clear and present danger doctrine. Compare to gitlow v new york.

abrogation 1. The repeal of a law. 2. The termination of an agreement by the mutual consent of the parties involved. 3. The unilateral termination of a formal agreement. The founders of the United States abrogated their formal ties to England when they stated in the Declaration of Independence "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved."

abstention 1. The policy of the federal courts of withholding jurisdiction, even though it may lawfully be claimed, until a state court has rendered judgment of those aspects of state law that bear on the case. Compare to comity. 2. Refraining to vote when one is entitled to do so. This is often a diplomatic expedient, especially in the United Nations. While Article 27 of the UN Charter holds that Security Council decisions "shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members," the Charter does not deal directly with abstention by those five permanent members who must concur. However, over time an abstention has been interpreted to be neither a veto nor a bar to the passage of a proposal.

abstraction 1. Something that exists only as an intellectual construct. Political scientists often use abstractions such as systems theory, the balance of power, or deterrent effect to explain the behavior of political actors. 2. Taking something, usually illegally, as in the phrase "abstraction of funds."

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