- Background Of The US Government
- Democratic Principles
- Individual Rights 1- Natural Rights
- Individual Rights 2- Bill of Rights
- United States Government 1- Federal, State and Local Government
- United States Government 2- Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches
- United States Government 3- Separation of Powers
- Formation of Political Parties- Federalists and Anti-Federalists
- Elections and Civic Responsibilities
- American Foreign Policy Since 9/11
GED Social Studies Practice Test: United States Government 3- Separation of Powers
Separation of Powers
After the American colonies rebelled and won independence from England, they never wanted to be ruled by a king again, A king, like a president, is the executive of a country. The founding fathers felt that king’s had too much power and didn’t act in the best interest of the people. Therefore, in making the United States Constitution, the founding fathers deliberately made it so that the executive (president) did not have too much power. Instead, the president would have to share their power with two other branches of the federal government: the Legislative and Judicial. This is known as the “separation of powers.”
|Executive (President)||Legislative (Congress)||Judicial (Courts)|
| || || |
Checks and Balances
Each branch of the federal government has different powers and abilities. This was done on purpose so that no one branch could become too powerful. The founding fathers clearly feared tyrant kings and dictators. Directly linked to the separation of powers is something known as Checks and Balances within government. The different branches are meant to put each other in check when one gets out of line, thus keeping a balance of power. It’s almost like a safety mechanism built into the government.
Example of Checks and Balances
For example, let’s assume that congress (Legislative Branch) wants to pass a law that the president does not like. The president can check the power of congress by using something called a veto. This gives the president the power to stop laws passed by congress. To check means to stop the actions of the opposing side. In this case the president showed that he/she has more power. However, Congress can then check the president’s veto if they can get even more congressional members to vote in favor of the law. In this scenario, there is clearly a balance of power as both sides can check the actions of the other. Furthermore, the Judicial Branch can check both sides by claiming that the law does not follow the U.S. Constitution. Any law that does not follow the U.S. Constitution must be terminated.
In the scenario just presented it could clearly be seen that passing a law can be a complicated process if all branches of government do not agree. This could make the law making process very long and frustrating. In the end, the law may never get passed. This process, however, is what makes the United States government stable. It prevents any one interest or branch of government from gaining too much control over the laws of the United States.
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Do you believe that the system checks and balances could ever break down? Explain your answer.
Like anything else, yes I believe that checks and balance could break down under certain circumstances. However, I do not believe that it would be a breakdown that couldn’t recover and return to a normal state. For example, during times of war the President of the United States sometimes gains and uses more power than the constitution allows him/her. Congress and the Judiciary branches may allow this because the country may be in a state of emergency and they need the president to play an ever more leading role. This was the case during World War I when President Wilson violated the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights by not allowing Americans to speak out against the war. The law was called the Sedition Act and violators could be fined or arrested for the offense. Wilson, however, should have been “checked” by the Judicial Branch as the Sedition Act violated the 2nd Amendment. After the war was over, the other two branches began to regain their powers and the system of checks and balances became stable again. If President Wilson had been unwilling to relinquish those unauthorized powers when the war was over, the Legislative and Judicial branches could have limited almost all of his powers or even kicked him out of office. Therefore, while it’s possible for the system of checks and balances to break down for a period of time, I do not believe that the breakdown would remain.
Directions: The following reflection questions are intended to reinforce the information within the section and develop critical thinking skills. Practice writing the answer on a sheet of paper.
Which branch of the federal government do you believe has the most power and why? Explain your answer.
Choose one branch:
Although the system of checks and balances was designed to distribute power among all three branches, overall I believe that the Legislative Branch has the most power. In this, I believe that most of their power rests in their ability to make laws. With this ability they can direct the United States in almost any direction they wish, within reasons of course. Although the president can veto their laws, they can override his/her veto by getting enough votes amongst themselves, thus passing the law anyway. They can even kick the president out of office. An example of this took place during the Reconstruction Period after the American Civil War. President Johnson refused to work with a dominating congress and would veto many of their laws. In retaliation, congress impeached the president on an very minor offense and were going to kick him out of office unless he complied with the laws they wanted to create. Johnson complied and was able to remain in office. The only branch congress would have a really difficult time getting around is the judiciary. In order to keep the judiciary at bay, congress would just have to make sure that their laws do not violate the U.S. Constitution as the Supreme Court can deem them unconstitutional.