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Checks And Balances Essay, Research Paper

?Checks and Balances?

The doctrine of separation of powers developed over many centuries. This practice doctrine can be traced to the British Parliament’s gradual assertion of power and resistance to royal decrees during the 14th century. Political theorist, John Locke wrote about the concept of separation of powers in his Second Treatise of Government (1690). In the United States, the separation of powers is a fundamental constitutional principle. The framers of this Constitution saw the need to divide power within the government to prevent a single group from ruthlessly taking over the country. Articles I through III of the Constitution of the United States place each of the basic powers of government in a separate branch. This separation of power allowed each branch of government to ?check? each other and maintained a balance of power.

An important aspect of the separation of powers is that the power of one branch of the government would have no power over another branch. For example, a lawmaker may not also administer the laws. Another important feature of the separation of powers in the United States is judicial review. The courts, not Congress or the president, say what the law means when a case is before them. In some cases, the courts may even strike down a law enacted by Congress. They can also order the executive branch to halt enforcement of a law or government policy. But this is done only if they determine that the law or policy conflicts with the Constitution. But the Constitution is most of all a document of checks and balances: among the three branches of the federal government; and between the levels of government, nation and state. It insures that no branch of government would be able to abuse its power and take over. The legislative power is given to Congress, the executive power to the president, and judicial power to the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

The legislative branch, Congress, has the power to make laws valid for the whole country. Powers like the regulation of taxes, regulation of commerce between the states and with foreign countries, the power to declare war, and the power to impeach the President are some of the issues the legislative branch has to deal with. Congress has two chambers (or “houses”): the Senate and the House of Representatives (”the house”).

Executive power is vested in the office of the President of the United States. The President has the dual role of being the chief of state and the head of government. The President is also commander in chief of the armed forces. He issues executive orders, and appoints Supreme Court justices (with senate approval). The president is also called “the chief legislator” because he indirectly proposes many bills, considers all bills from Congress and signs them into law or vetoes them.

Judicial power is given to the Supreme Court. All nine federal judges are appointed by the President and serve “during good behavior,” usually meaning for life. The judges cannot be removed from office except for criminal behavior or malfeasance. This makes them less vulnerable to political pressure and outside influence. The main feature of the independent role for the courts lies in their power to interpret the Constitution. They review the “constitutionality” of laws and executive orders. There are also Inferior Courts: One hundred District Courts and thirteen Courts of Appeals, all of them are created by Congress, with judges appointed by the President (with Senate approval). All federal courts hear cases involving federal law, involving state laws whose constitutionally is changed, involving the U.S., involving two separate states, and involving citizens of different states.

This system of government is commonly referred to as “the system of checks and balances”. As mentioned earlier, it is designed to work so as to avoid placing too much power in only a few hands. The most powerful tool Congress has (most important “checks” on the power of the President) is the power to appropriate money (set aside money for some specific purpose). After both houses of Congress have approved the budget, it is sent over to the President. He has to sign the bill into law. Another major check on the power of the President is the Senate’s power of advice and consent. The President is obliged to ask for the advice and consent of the Senate on all major appointments (e.g. members of the president’s Cabinet, new justices of the Supreme Court, other federal judges, and members of administrative or regulatory agencies) and major foreign policy decisions he makes (e.g. when it concerns treaties). To declare war, the President must turn to both houses of Congress for their approval.

The president’s major countervailing power in the legislative process is the power of the veto. The President must sign any proposed legislation before it becomes law; his failure or refusal to do so can thus stop any bill. If the President returns a bill to Congress with a veto on it, the legislature has the power to override the President’s veto by re-passing the legislation by a two-thirds majority in both houses. Then the bill becomes law without the President’s signature. (If the President does not wish to be associated with a bill but does not feel that it is worthwhile to prevent it from becoming law, he can demonstrate this by using a so-called pocket veto: he simply lets it lie on his desk for ten days without signing it or vetoing it, in which case it becomes law without the President’s signature.)

The Congress has the power to impeach the President. (A complex matter that involves the House of Representatives and its Judicial Committee or a special ad hoc committee, the Senate, the Chief Justice of the U.S. (the Supreme Court)) Turning to the relationship between Congress and the Supreme Court, we find that Congress has the power to determine the construction of the Court (and its inferior courts). As mentioned before, the Congress has some say in whom will sit on the Supreme Court bench, in that the Senate must approve nominations made by the President.

But the three branches are not completely sealed off from each other. For example, the president shares the lawmaking power with Congress because the president can veto any law, although Congress may then override the veto with a two-thirds vote in each house. The major exceptions to separation of powers are federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, which can write regulations, bring lawsuits, and decide certain kinds of cases. The president’s power to issue executive orders in some areas is another major exception to the separation of powers because the orders do not need congressional consent, and they have the same effect as laws.

The framers of the Constitution intentionally created a complex and intricate system of government; and with good reason to. From my readings in the text book and other numerous resources, it is clear that the Constitution was written to limit and just about run our government. But the power given to the Supreme Court has allowed the Constitution to evolve and be interpreted over the centuries to fit the current time and conditions. It has allowed our democracy to grow and serve the needs of the nation better. This is evident in the past couple centuries with the rise of African-American and women?s rights. This is important to a nation that proposes to be ?run by the people?. Whenever a major issue comes about and causes conflict, it is almost insured that the government will take care of it. This is probably what the framers of the Constitution were visioning when they built our nation.

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