Balancing Power in the Branches of the United States Federal Government
The earlier articles presented the lessons on the formation of the Constitution and the Amendments. The Constitution established the formation of the Federal Government and three branches, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial, that check and balance each other.
This lesson will discuss how the three branches use their powers to maintain balanced power through the checks and balances established by the Constitution.
The Struggle for a Bill to Become Law
In order to protect the power of the states and the freedoms of the people, the checks and balances in the federal branches of the government were established to prevent one branch from becoming more powerful than the others. However, the Executive office of the President appears to be more influential because the President is the more recognizable figure of the federal government, but upon return to Washington D.C., the Office of the President is still continually kept in check by the other two branches.
The Executive Branch can veto any bill that the Legislative Branch wants to build into a law. When a Bill is vetoed, it is blocked into becoming law. However, the law does not die there, because the Legislative branch can keep the law alive with a two-thirds majority vote. The Supreme Court can also declare the law unconstitutional, but remember that the Supreme Court Justices are appointed by Presidents during their tenure in office, but the justices must be approved by the members of Congress.
The checks and balances have had times of difficulty and times of prosperity. There have been over 9,000 proposals to amend the Constitution, but only 27 of those amendments have been ratified. They include:
The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote
The 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms
The 26th Amendment changing the voting age to 18
The three branches have battled each other to maintain the checks and balances so that the laws they propose are really the best for the country.
The Legislative Branch, the Senate, and House of Representatives includes men and women who were elected to represent the people in their constituencies. The House of Representatives and the Senate were a part of the Great Compromise so that no state had more power than any other. Each state has at least one representative, based solely on population which is determined during the census that is conducted every decade. Representatives are elected, but the United States territories including Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, have different rules on their representatives. The House does most of the debating and voting and their most important role is to introduce spending bills for the government. People who want to be a representative must be at least 25, a citizen for at least 7 years, and live in their elected state.
The Senate is the other part of the Legislative Branch. Each state has two Senators who are elected on a six-year cycle, with two Senators elected on different cycles, and this was also designed with the Great Compromise. The Senate is responsible for accepting or rejecting treaties and government officials that the President nominates. To be a Senator, candidates must be at least 30, a citizen for 9 years, and a resident of the represented state.
Creating a Bill and Making It Law:
The branches of government need to work together to maintain the proper checks and balances with each other. This happens when the senators and representatives are ready to propose a bill with the hopes of becoming a law.
When a congressman wants to develop a new law, they have to first create a bill. Both chambers of government must pass the same Bill or it cannot become a law. The House of Representatives is the only section of the Legislative Branch that can suggest bills regarding budget and taxation issues.
A legislator must draft a Bill and regardless of the legislator, the Bill must go through the same checks and balances. It must first go through a committee to be sure the Bill is worth spending time debating on the floors of the Senate or the House. If they committees do not deem a Bill worthy, it is tabled; otherwise, it goes to the floor of either side to be debated.
If a Bill passes from one side, it is then sent to the other. If there are issues with the Bill, a joint committee made up of members of the House and Senate must discuss the issues. If they both agree, the Speaker of the House and the Vice President, who leads the Senate, must sign it before it moves on to the President. A Bill could be altered in a variety of ways before it even gets to the President. There are thousands of Bills that make it to the floors of Congress, but the President sees very few of them.
But wait, there's more!
The Legislature's checks and balances reside at the desk of the President where the Bills can be vetoed or signed into law. The President can return the Bill to Congress with a veto, which prompts Congress to debate it more and make changes, or they can try to override the veto with a two-third majority vote. If Congress does not get a two-thirds vote, then the Bill dies. The President can also choose to ignore the Bill, which turns the Bill into Law after sitting on the President's desk for 10 days, as long as Congress is in session. The opposite can happen, if the President does nothing and the Congress is NOT in session, the Bill is automatically "pocket vetoed" after 10 days. Many Bills have gone back and forth between the two branches of government, which really does show the balances of power at work.
The Legislative Branch also has a strong power that is always at their disposal: the authority to impeach the President. This happens when the President does not properly maintain the duties of the office or abuses the power of the Office. The House of Representatives can impeach the President by charging the President with abuse of powers or of misconduct. The majority of the House must vote in favor and once this occurs, the Senate is responsible for holding a trial to investigate the charges. Once the President has been tried, the Senate has to have a two-third vote before the President is removed from the Office. The impeachment charge prohibits the President from holding any government office in the future.
To keep even more balances, the President has the duty to appoint judges to the Judicial Branch of the federal government.
The Executive and Legislative Branches are tasked with turning Bills into laws, along with many other responsibilities, but the Judicial Branch interprets those laws. The President has the job of appointing judges, but Congress must approve those appointments. Congress can disagree with the Judicial Branch's interpretations and Congress can also make changes to fix the flaws the judges find. Judges can also have a significantly different interpretation than the President involving more checks and balances; judges usually use the statutes established by previous courts and presidents.
The Office of the President, the Cabinet, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court work together to keep an even distribution of power through a serious of well-planned checks and balances. The legal system uses thousands of employees to manage the responsibilities of the branch of government. The system may not be completely perfect, but it does maintain the freedoms of the people in this great land.
About the Contributors: Aaron Schulman, a web developer, educator, song writer and acoustic guitar reviews researcher and writer accompanied Sylvia Rausch owner of Fraley Cooper (Court Reporters Columbus Oh) to contribute this third article lesson in a 3-part article series for Garden Of Praise. They hope you enjoy learning about the history and great effort that was invested in building the freedoms for men, women and children through the Constitution and the United States system of law and government.