The framers of the Constitution had a vision for a new nation, and a new government to regulate it. They saw the conditions in which England existed under the monarchy, and decided to construct a different kind of government in which no one faction could hold too much power. Thus, they developed a system of checks and balances to prevent any one of the three separate branches of the government from becoming dominant.
Today, the three branches still remain intact, and no single branch has enough power to completely nullify the decisions and rulings of the other two. However, even though the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches are fundamentally comparable in their command of the nation, today the Legislative branch exercises the greatest extent of power. Each of the three branches serves a different function. The Legislative branch, which consists of Congress, makes laws for the nation to follow.
Congress also creates federal programs and agencies, and appropriates funds to carry them out. The Executive branch, composed of the President and Vice President, most accurately carries out the laws of the nation. This branch is responsible for appointing Supreme Court Justices and other federal judges. The Judicial Branch is made up of the Supreme Court and other federal courts, and is responsible for interpreting the laws passed by Congress.
This branch is endowed with the power to declare laws and other executive actions unconstitutional. The Legislative branch has the upper-hand from the beginning of the process, due to the fact that Congress develops and passes laws initially. Congress does not have free reign to pass any laws it pleases, however, because the President has the power to veto a Congressional bill before it becomes a law. Many presidents have used their veto power to prevent the passage of bills which they did not like, whether for moral reasons or for personal convictions. One example of a president using this power was during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Jackson vetoed a record twelve acts of Congress during his presidency, at the same time setting an example which other presidents would follow.
The veto is where a large part of the President’s power lies. However, even if the President vetoes a bill initially, that does not mean the bill cannot become a law. This is because Congress has the power to override a veto with a two- thirds majority vote. A good example of this occurred in 1973, when Congress passed the War Powers Act over a presidential veto. This act placed limitations on the President’s ability to use military force.
Another important power of the Legislative branch is Congress’s ability to impeach the president, and possibly have him removed from office. A famous example of this power was the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1973. Nixon resigned to avoid almost certain impeachment by Congress, concerning his involvement in the Watergate scandal. A more recent example was the 1998 impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton. President Clinton endured the impeachment proceedings and Congress voted not to remove him from office. The Judicial branch’s power lies within its ability to declare laws and executive decisions unconstitutional.
This power allows the federal court system to nullify certain decisions made by the other two branches. However, it is clear that the Judicial branch does not exercise the greatest extent of power due to the fact that it is not directly involved in the creation and passing of laws. It can only deal with them if a situation arises after they have already been set in motion by the Executive and Legislative branches. Individual judges within the Judicial branch may appear to be above the law in many ways, in that they are appointed for life and are above executive control. However, this is not the case. Congress has the ability to impeach federal judges just as it can impeach a President.
In fact, fifteen federal judges have been impeached by Congress up to date. Also, the very structure of the federal court system makes it extremely difficult for the Judicial branch to enforce its decisions in many cases. It has no armed forces or police at its disposal, so Judicial decisions are sometimes simply ignored. For example, school systems throughout the country remained segregated long after the courts had ruled segregation to be unconstitutional. In closing, it can clearly be seen that while the three branches of the United States government are essential equal in power, the Legislative branch has the ability to use the powers it has most effectively.
Congress gives birth to new ideas and laws constantly, and while the Executive checks protect against the passing of outrageous laws, they still cannot prevent the passage of laws in every case. Yet, even though the Legislative branch does exercise the greatest extent of power, it is far from in control of the government system. The checks and balances included in the Constitution ensure that the government will never become too centralized. Thus, it is obvious that the very foundation upon which our nation was constructed, the Constitution, blocks any of the three branches from dominating the other two.
And while it is true that government has become more centralized than the framers of the Constitution had probably planned, it is still far from the monarchy of England. For in truth, Congress relies heavily on the general populous for its decisions. Public opinion will always have a major impact on the way our government runs. So long as the government is working for the people, as it is now, it is in line with the original vision of our nation which was developed by the founding fathers.Bibliography: