Separation Of Powers: A System Of Checks And Balances

Separation of Powers: A System of Checks And Balances

To ensure that no one person or branch of the government could ever become overly dominant, the separation of powers principle was inserted into the U.S. Constitution. It is upheld by numerous checks and balances.
The system of checks and balances is specifically designed to prevent fraud, ensure that no branch or department of the federal government exceeds its authority, and enable prompt correction of mistakes or omissions. 
In fact, the system of checks and balance balances the authority of each branch of government by acting as a sort of sentry over the separated powers. 
In actuality, one department has the power to carry out a certain action, while another is in charge of determining if that activity is suitable and legal.

The History Of Power Separation

James Madison and other founding fathers were painfully aware of the risks of unbridled authority in government. "The truth is that all men with power need to be mistrusted," said Madison himself.
Madison and the other founding fathers therefore supported the idea of establishing a government that was run both by and for humans, saying that "you must first allow the government to rule the governed, and in the next place, require it to control itself." 
The term "trias politics," which refers to the division of powers, first appeared in the classic "The Spirit of the Laws" by French social and political philosopher Montesquieu in the 18th century. 
The United States Constitution and France's Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen are both thought to have drawn inspiration from "The Spirit of the Laws," which is regarded as one of the finest works in the history of political theory and jurisprudence.
According to Montesquieu's model of government, the state's political authority was split between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. He argued that maintaining the separation and independence of the three powers was essential to liberty. These three branches of American government, together with their respective authorities, are:
1.    The branch of government responsible for enacting legislation
2.    The executive branch, which puts legislation passed by the legislative branch into action and upholds them
3.    The judicial branch, which applies its interpretations to legal disputes involving the laws and the laws, interprets the laws in light of the Constitution.
The idea of the separation of powers is so widely accepted that it is outlined in the constitutions of 40 US states, each of which has a separate legislative, executive, and judicial branch. 

Three Branches, Each Equal But Separate

The Constitution's three branches of government were included to reflect the three parts of government that the authors believed would ensure a stable federal government through a system of checks and balances.
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judicial in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison in Federalist Paper No. 51, which was published in 1788.
The power of each arm of the American government is restrained by the power of the other two in a number of ways, both in principle and in practice. For instance, while the United States President (head of the executive branch) has the authority to veto laws approved by Congress (head of the legislative branch), Congress has the power to overrule such vetoes with a two-thirds majority in both houses.
Similar to this, by declaring laws passed by Congress to be illegal, the Supreme Court (judicial branch) has the authority to void them.
The Supreme Court's power is, however, restrained by the need that its chief justices be chosen by the president with Senate approval.
The precise authority each branch possesses to show how it counterbalances the others is listed below: 

The legislative branch is balanced by the executive branch:

Separation of Powers: A System of Checks And Balances
•    The President is able to veto laws that Congress has passed.
•    Can suggest new legislation to Congress
•    Sends the House of Representatives the federal budget.
•    Government authorities are chosen to carry out and enforce legislation.
•    Checks and balances for the executive branch Justice Department
•    Judges for the Supreme Court are proposed.
•    Judges for the federal court system are proposed.
•    People who have been convicted of crimes may receive a pardon or amnesty from the president. 

The legislative branch balances and checks the power of the executive:

•    Using a two-thirds majority in both chambers, Congress can override vetoes from the president.
•    The Senate needs a two-thirds majority to reject proposed treaties.
•    Federal officials and judges can have their presidential nominees rejected by the Senate.
•    The president may be impeached and removed by Congress (House serves as prosecution, Senate serves as jury).

The judicial branch is balanced and checked by the legislative branch:

•    Lower courts may be created by Congress.
•    Nominees for the Supreme Court and federal courts may be rejected by the Senate.
•    To overturn Supreme Court rulings, Congress can amend the Constitution.
•    Judges of the lower federal courts may be impeached by Congress. 

Judicial Branch Checks and Balances 

•    The Supreme Court can declare laws unconstitutional using the judicial review power.
•    Supreme Court has the authority to declare presidential actions unconstitutional by using the judicial review process.
•    The Supreme Court has the authority to declare treaties invalid using the judicial review power.

Are The Branches Actually Equal, Though?

The executive branch has made several controversial attempts throughout the years to increase its control over the legislative and judicial branches.
Following the Civil War, the executive branch worked to broaden the president's constitutionally mandated authority to command a standing army. Other more recent instances of the executive branch's largely unchecked power include: 
•    Having the authority to issue executive orders
•    the authority to declare regional and governmental crises
•    the authority to assign and remove security designations
•    the authority to pardon federal offenders under presidential order
•    the authority to make presidential comments about bill signing
•    Executive privilege allows information to be withheld from Congress.
Some claim that the legislative branch of government is subject to stronger restrictions or checks than the executive and judicial branches. For instance, the laws it passes may be overruled or declared invalid by the executive and judicial branches. Although technically correct, it is how the government was meant to function when it was founded. 


The Founders' understanding of a republican form of government is reflected in our system of checks and balances, which enables the separation of powers. The legislative (lawmaking) branch, which is the most powerful, but also the most constrained, which is how it does this.
Federalist No. 48 by James Madison stated that "The legislative derives superiority from its constitutional authority and is greater and less subject to precise limitations. Giving each [branch] an equal [number of checks on the other branches] is not possible. 
Currently, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of state governments are each given a separate constitutional provision in the constitutions of forty American states. The California Constitution, which exemplifies this strategy and its inherent division of powers, specifies that "The powers of state government are legislative, executive, and judiciary. Except as provided by this Constitution, no person charged with exercising one authority may exercise the other.
Although the division of powers is essential to how the American government operates, no democratic system has complete separation of powers or total lack of it. Governmental duties and powers purposely overlap because they are too complex and intertwined to be neatly segregated. 
As a result, there is a natural level of rivalry and conflict between the several parts of government. Predominance among the governmental branches has fluctuated over the course of American history. Such encounters imply that the distribution of power is a function of evolution.

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