Definition of sovereignty

Sovereignty is a political concept that refers to dominant power or supreme authority. In a monarchy, supreme power resides in the “sovereign”, or king. In modern democracies, sovereign power rests with the people and is exercised through representative bodies such as Congress or Parliament. The Sovereign is the one who exercises power without limitation. Sovereignty is essentially the power to make laws, even as Blackstone defined it. The term also carries implications of autonomy; to have sovereign power is to be beyond the power of others to interfere.

Beyond lawmaking power, two other (often contentious) aspects of sovereignty are eminent domain (the right of the sovereign to take private property for public use) and sovereign immunity(which offers the sovereign protection from lawsuits).

What is sovereignty?

Sovereignty “comes down to two words: Who rules?” said Hudson Institute scholar John Fonte. “Is it the people? Is it a foreign power? That’s what the president is saying when he’s talking about sovereignty. He’s talking about people ruling — and each nation ruling — themselves.”

In the U.S., this concept dates back to the nation’s founding. The Declaration of Independence asserts that governments derive just powers “from the consent of the governed.” In the U.S., voters elect leaders to whom they grant these powers. The people can also take away that authority.

President Abraham Lincoln called this “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the German Marshall Fund in 2018 that while nations may join international organizations that address common objectives, “nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests.”

Sovereignty issues arise if those organizations usurp the powers of self-governing nations. The International Criminal Court, for example, has attempted to assert jurisdiction over citizens of states that never agreed to the court’s statute. This is one reason why President Trump told the U.N., “We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy.”

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