The word “government” is very often associated with the White House and the President, but these are merely two pieces of the power puzzle. In order to understand clearly how power is divided in the USA, it is important to recall that when the American Revolution ended, Founding Fathers did not want to establish another country ruled by a monarch. They believed that their newly founded country was in need of a strong and fair national government which would protect freedom of every citizen and would not be able to abuse its power. That is how a three branch system was created and the system of checks and balances was shaped. This paper will attempt at having a closer look at identifying legislative, executive and judicial branches of government as well as functions they are supposed to perform. It will also explain a possible reason for development of such an authority system and how its every part affects other ones in regard to checks and balances.
The Constitution of 1787 spawned a separation of powers and formation of a checks and balances system (Welch, Gruhl, Thomas & Borrelli, 2013). Legislative, executive and judicial authorities were to work together, run the country, and set guidelines for the citizens to follow. American system of government was created in such a way that neither of branches would be more powerful than the other. The Constitution authorized three coequal branches of the federal government – the legislative, the executive, and the judicial –for specific functions to perform and restricted powers to exercise. With an intention to make it more complicated for the national government to use its power arbitrarily, powers were divided among three branches. The legislative branch creates the laws, while executive enforces them and judicial – interprets (Welch et al., 2013). In theory, the smoothly coordinated functioning of these three branches, each vigorously pursuing justice and the welfare of the citizens, is a sufficient guarantee of the rights and liberties of the states, the citizens, and all nations and parties who rely on the promises of the United States. Depending upon circumstances, anyone approaching the federal government must deal with one or more of these branches (Welch, et al., 2013).
The legislative branch of the government is primarily responsible for making the law. Its key players are 100 senators and 435 representatives, who constitute a bi-cameral Congress (Gershman, 2008).The US Congress consists of the Senate, with two senators from each state, and the House of Representatives, chosen based on the population of every particular state. Politicians elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate decide which laws to make and change. In the House of Representatives, all states are represented and the number of representatives is determined by that state’s population. The principal role of the House of Representatives is to introduce national legislation that encompasses the entire country. The House of Representatives is sometimes referred to as the “lower” House of Congress, in contrast to the Senate, which is the “upper” House. The House and the Senate share equal responsibility for lawmaking (Gershman, 2008). Citizens vote for these representatives and their job is to exercise the will of their voters. Some of the most important functions performed by legislative branch are: introducing and collecting taxes, declaration of war, trade regulation, giving support to the army and making laws that would make it possible to execute everything mentioned above (Gershman, 2008). This branch of government is also responsible for passing the national budget, use of the Treasury, establishment of inferior courts, approving federal judges and justices, provide for general welfare and common defense. It may as well impeach government officials if there are grounds for that. The Senate is a court when the impeachment goes to trial. The Senate can remove an official from the office. It also investigates the matters of national interest, like Watergate break in, Vietnam War and organized crime. The main function of the Senate is to supervise decisions of the President .The Senate must approve treaties and agreements of the President with other countries so they become legally effective (Gershman, 2008).
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The executive branch of the government is responsible for the execution of the law. The leaders of this branch are the President and the Vice-president (Dirk, 2007). The former represents the USA to all other countries and speaks for all its citizens. The president is primarily responsible for enforcing the laws that Congress adopts. He is also the leader of all military forces and therefore is named Commander in Chief of the US Military (Dirk, 2007).The President is also in charge of making treaties with foreign nations with advice and consent of the Senate. He is to appoint all civil officers and government officials of the USA, in particular executive department heads and Supreme Court judges. Commanders of the armed forces are also selected by the President. This main representative of the executive branch works closely with a group of advisors known as the Cabinet. Its members assist the President in making important decisions within their area of expertise such as the defense, the treasury, and the homeland security (Dirk, 2007).
Judicial branch of the government is responsible for making decisions about the law and cases of its violation. It is comprised of all the courts of the land, from Federal District Courts to the US Supreme Court (Hargrowe, 2000). They are primarily obliged to interpret the law in a just and fair way and punish those who do not observe it in a proper way. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all federal laws passed by the USA Congress, treaties made by the executive branch, all trials involving public ministers, maritime affairs, all trials where the USA is a party and controversies involving two or more states. The Supreme Court settles disputes between states, hears appeals from state and federal courts, and determines whether federal laws are constitutional. There are nine justices in the Supreme Court and all of them are appointed for life or for as long as they want to stay (Hargrowe, 2000).
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The Founding Fathers invited several parts of the government to struggle against each other and to limit one party’s ability to dominate the rest. The founders hoped for a “balanced government”. Checks and balances are written into the Constitution. They give each branch powers over the other two branches so that each branch can help check or prevent the other two from establishing complete domination in the government. For instance, the President can appoint Supreme Court justices, but the Senate has the power to confirm or reject the President’s appointments. Thus, the President cannot control the Supreme Court by appointing his friends and making the court automatically support anything he wants to do. (Welch et al., 2013)
Each branch performs its own functions and checks the other branches’ performance in different ways, and they all have mutual influence. The principle of separation of powers gives every branch its own sphere of authority, but the system of checks and balances allows each of them to intrude into the spheres of other branches. For example, because there is separation of powers, the Congress makes the laws; but because there are checks and balances, the President can veto them and the courts can rule them as unconstitutional. In this way, all three branches are involved in legislation (Welch et al., 2013). Fragmentation of power prevented many abuses of power, although it has not always worked. During some wars, for example, one branch – the presidency – exercised vast power while the others acquiesced (Welch et al., 2013).
To conclude, the Constitution was made as a framework for the federal government of the US with an aim to separate it into three branches. They all perform different functions and performance of one of them strongly depends on the other. At the same time, they limit the abuse of power and possible law violations with the help of the checks and balances system. Like a mechanical device which operates only when all of its parts function in harmony, the system moves only when there is consensus or compromise. Consensus is rare in a heterogeneous society, compromise is common, but it requires more time, as well as realization by competing interests that they cannot achieve much without it.