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Branches Of The Government

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Branches of Government

The wording of the Constitution is general, necessitating interpretation, and any short summary is only rough and approximate. From its very beginnings, the Constitution has been subject to stormy controversies, not only in interpretation of some of its phrases, but also between the loose and strict constructionists. The middle of the 19th century saw a tremendous struggle concerning the nature of the Union and the extent of states' rights. The Civil War decided the case in favor of the advocates of strong union, and since that time the general tendency has been toward the centralization and strengthening of federal power.

Our forefathers contemplated a democracy where government was to serve the people, not rule them. In order to achieve this, government was to be divided up into three branches. Each branch would have the ability to supervise and regulate the other two. This system was to be known as the checks and balance system. On September 7th 1787, as a result of winning the Revolutionary War. We were blessed with leaders who were absolutely brilliant, drafted our Constitution. America was an infant nation and we were determined to be the first nation dedicated to the proposition that all power and authority comes from the people, and that the government is created only to serve the people.

The first three articles set up the threefold separation of powers, says to have been modeled on Montesquieu's study. In actuality this separation has been weakened by granting greater powers to the President and his administrative agencies, which now have legislative and judicial as well as executive functions.

Article One

Article One provides for the establishment of the bicameral Congress composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The various powers of the Congress and the respective houses, together with their methods of election, are enumerated in the article. The Seventeenth Amendment, passed in 1916, instituted the direct popular election of Senators and removed the power of their election from the state legislatures as had originally been provided in Article One.

Section 4 of Article One gives the states power over the conduct of federal elections but permits the Congress to alter such regulations at any time. In 1842 the Congress imposed the district system on the United States. In 1962 the Supreme Court dealt with proper apportionment of election districts and its decision in Baker v. Carr allowed voters to go into a federal court to force equitable representation in a state legislature. This decision was, however, based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Later, the court ruled (1964) that state legislative apportionment must reflect the one-person one-vote principle.

As a legislative body Congress has certain inherent powers. Among these is the power to investigate pursuant to legislative needs. Congressional investigations have led to a great many court decisions concerning the right of a witness before a Congressional committee to refuse to testify even when granted immunity from prosecution.

Section 8 of Article One lists the enumerated powers of the Congress. The clause of this section, the "commerce clause," which grants the Congress the right to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States," has, in the 20th century been used as a strong argument for the expansion of government power. Since the historic case of Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), the commerce clause has been the battleground over which much of the struggle for and against increased federal regulation of private enterprise has been fought. Until the late 1930s Congress exercised its powers under the clause solely with reference to transportation. But after a series of dramatic reversals by the Supreme Court, Congress began to enter areas that had previously been controlled only by the states. The commerce clause is now the source of important peacetime powers of the national government and an important basis for the judicial review of state actions (

Besides it is enumerated and inherent powers, the Congress has implied powers under Article One "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the enumerated or expressed powers. Sections 9 and 10 of Article One contain guarantees of the writ of habeas corpus, prohibit bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, and also improve certain limitations on state power (

Article One establishes the legislative branch of government, U.S. Congress, which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Article establishes the manner of election and qualifications of members of each House. In addition, it outlines legislative procedure and indicates the powers of the legislative branch. Finally, it establishes limits on federal and state legislative power (

The Legislative Branch is the Congress, made up of the House and the Senate. The House is made up of representatives from states proportional to the population of the states. The Senate has two representatives from each state. Together, they pass the laws that the executive branch has to enforce and the judiciary has to uphold.

Article Two

Article Two describes the presidency (the executive branch): procedures for the selection of the president, qualifications for office, the oath to be affirmed, the powers and duties of the office, and procedures for selection. It also provides for the office of Vice President of the United States, and specifies that the Vice President succeed to the presidency if the President is incapacitated or resigns. The article nominally makes the Vice President the presiding officer of the Senate, but in practice the Vice President only serves as such under limited circumstances. Article Two also provides for the impeachment and removal from office of civil officers (the President, Vice President, judges, and others).

Article Two creates the executive branch of government headed by the President, elected, along with the Vice President, for a term of four years. The Twenty-second Amendment (1951) provides that no person may be elected President more than twice. The Twenty-third Amendment (1961) permits District of Columbia residents to vote in presidential elections. Since the adoption of the Constitution there have been two conflicting views of Article 2. The first is that the powers of the President are limited to those enumerated in the article. The opposite view is that the President is given executive power not limited by the provisions of the rest of the article. Every President has had to make the choice



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