Critically examine the characteristics, tactics, opponents and policy impact of any one national interest group operating in the USA today.
In the United States of America (USA) which claims to be one of the most modern democracies, interest groups play an important role in its political culture. They represent diversity and have an important influence on policy making, which is enhanced through the relative weakness of the political parties. Instead of wide party ideologies, interest groups concentrate only on one special “interest”. The federalist system encourages interest groups because it offers multiple access points. Citizens come together on specific interests on local levels and then later expand with the help of the media and the Internet onto national levels. Additionally, the strong and independent judiciary enhances the power of interest groups (see website 1). Freedom of speech and freedom of the press guarantee interest groups the right to publish their interests according to their means.
Though direct democracy adds to the health of a democratic system, sceptics criticise that interest groups are supported mainly by the educated and wealthy elites for they are more likely to raise money and thus find attentive ears. The most powerful “pressure groups in Washington” (see Fortune Magazine 2001) are the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), the American Association of Retired People and the National Federation of Independent Business but there are other interests groups like the single-issue interest group National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) on which this essay will focus. Their aim is to abolish the death penalty throughout the USA.
The USA is one of the very few countries, which still allows the sanction of the death penalty in 38 of its 50 states by the US Military and the Federal Government. With the 1000th execution of Kenneth Boyd in North Carolina on December 2, 2005, and the new Supreme Court’s judge Samuel Alito’s first vote on a death penalty issue, it was in the centre of public discourse again.
The death penalty has repeatedly been challenged as being a cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. In 1972 the death sentence was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court until it was re-enacted in the Gregg vs. Georgia ruling in 1976 (see Bedau 1982, p. 271). Michael Morales is one of many death row inmates who argue that the progression of drugs used in executions causes pain and suffering that violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment (see Mercury News 2006). The Supreme Court now examines if the execution by lethal injection is a cruel and unusual punishment. Alito’s appointment to the Supreme Court will shift the balance more to the right, which predicts a rejection of Morales’ case against the lethal injection. Another debate arose at the beginning of 2006 when new bills on the death penalty were introduced. The bills, supported by Senator Hank Sanders, would “prevent judges from overriding jury recommendations on death penalty cases, authorize DNA testing for death row inmates, ensure that mentally retarded inmates are not executed and impose a three-year moratorium on executions while a special committee examines Alabama’s capital punishment system” (AP 2006).
 Amendment VIII: Ratified on 12/15/1791: Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
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- Katrin Schmidt (Author), 2006, Critical examination of the characteristics, tactics, opponents and policy impact of a national interest group operating in the USA today, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/94214