The Basics on the Balances of Power in the Federal Government

We take for granted the balance of power that our fore fathers place into the United States Constitution, but without them, we could very well be living in a society ruled by a dictator. Imagine a state where the “President” had the right to fire all of his opponents? Where would there be room for democracy? This is why the checks and balances in the Constitution have worked well for over two hundred years. Here is how it works:

The Executive Branch is the President. He is responsible for speaking for the nation and setting the course of action for the legislative branch. He can not make the laws, but as the chosen representative of the people, he sets the agenda for the lawmakers in the legislative branch. If the lawmakers do not follow his agenda, he has the power to veto them. A veto will send the law back to the legislative branch where they would need 2/3 vote to overrule the veto. It is difficult to get that many votes against the President but it has been done before, and there is the balance of power. 

The President also has the power to appoint Supreme Court Justices, but they must be approved by the Senate. In this way, the President has the power to put either a liberal or conservative judge into the highest court of the nation.  Since Supreme Court Justices are lifetime seats, the President has a major influence on the justice system. To balance this power, the Senate must approve all of the President’s appointments or firings. Therefore, the President can not fire all of his political enemies. 

The Legislative Branch is the House of Representatives and the Senate.  They create laws. They also hold the power of the treasury and must approve the spending of tax dollars. They have the power to impeach the President or Supreme Court Justices who they believe have acted in an illegal way. If impeached by the House of Representatives, the case is tried within the Senate. There have been two impeachments in U.S. history, and surprisingly President Nixon was not involved since he resigned first. President Andrew Johnson was impeached due to his lack of support of laws to protect freed slaves during the Reconstruction after the Civil War, and President Clinton who was accused of obstructing justice during the investigation of his relationship with an intern. Both were acquitted in the Senate.  

The Supreme Court must ensure that the laws created by the legislative branch are constitutional. Therefore, even if a law is passed by the legislative branch and approved by the executive, it may not pass the constitutional approval in the Supreme Court. For example, President Obama’s health care law mandating people to have medical insurance or face a tax was found to be constitutional by the high court. 

Our government seems very complicated with all of these rules, but without them, too much power could occur. The Constitution has stood the test of time, and although there has been some bad laws, and decisions by the court, there has not been a dictatorship in the United States.