|Democracy in Action|
|The Who, What and Why of Oregon Law|
Americans experience a freedom that is unique in time and place. Our freedom is the result of the principles and processes of our constitutional democracy and is dependent upon the participation of a well-informed citizenry. The following information provides a general overview of Oregon lawmaking and how these laws are connected to Oregon’s Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution.
The Oregon Constitution was written in 1857 and has gone through many changes ever since. There are two ways the Oregon Constitution can be amended, both of which require the approval of Oregon voters. One way is when Oregon legislators refer an amendment (a referendum) to the voters. The other way is through the initiative process, which requires a petition signed by registered voters. For more information on these processes and voting, click here: Voting in Oregon.
Although voters can approve amendments to the Oregon Constitution, the amendments cannot violate the U.S. Constitution or any other provisions of the Oregon Constitution. The Oregon Constitution begins with a Bill of Rights, which says we all have certain "natural" rights. Included in the Bill of Rights are freedom of worship and religious opinion; freedom of speech and press; the right to a public trial by an impartial jury if accused in criminal prosecution; and the right of all citizens to receive equal and fair treatment. To view the text of the Oregon Constitution, click here: www.leg.state.or.us/conscont.html
As laid out in the Constitution, the justice system involves three separate and equal branches of government: the legislative branch, executive branch and judicial branch. Each branch has special roles and responsibilities to the people of Oregon.
The legislative branch consists of those people who make the laws. In Oregon, we elect people to serve in the Oregon Senate and House of Representatives, as well as representatives to serve us in the U.S. Congress. Most of the laws created by the legislature are called statutes. Statutes may not violate the U.S. Constitution or the Oregon Constitution.
The executive branch consists of those people who enforce the law. In Oregon, the governor has chief executive power and manages many state agencies. Administrative Rules are laws that are created by Oregon’s administrative agencies. Many times, statutes are general laws that are difficult to implement. Therefore, the administrative rules, which interpret the intent of the statutes, are created to be specific and easier to implement. Examples of agencies are the Department of Human Resources, Corrections, Employment and Oregon State Police. These agencies report directly to the Governor. Therefore the Governor has the power not only to veto bills passed by the legislature, as authorized by the Oregon Constitution, but he or she also must manage these and many more state agencies.
The judicial branch consists of those who interpret the meaning of the law in order to resolve disputes. This branch includes the court system. In Oregon, our courts deal with either criminal or civil law. The courts also interpret the Constitution and statutes to ensure that these laws are consistent with the Oregon Constitution. Our court system is designed to achieve justice for all through an independent judiciary, court procedures that honor constitutional rights, and the willingness of citizens to serve as jurors.
For more information on the three branches of government and the Oregon legislature, click here: Who Represents Your Interests in Government?
Oregon’s justice system is based on the premise that all people are equal before the law and that the justice system must be open and fair to all. A fair and open justice system requires the participation of citizens as voters – both in electing our representatives in government and deciding issues brought directly to the public – and as jurors.
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