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US Government - Checks And Balances

"There is no more important function for all of government to define the rights of its citizens." (Norman Dorsen)

In this essay I will give a short history of the government in United States of America (U.S.). Then I will describe each of the three

branches of government in the U.S. and the relationship between them.

In principle, the U.S. is a democratic republic, they govern themselves by choosing their leaders by secret ballot, and these leaders

in turn make the rules. Americans started "governing themselves" as a nation on July 4th, 1776, when the Declaration of

Independence was signed in Philadelphia by representatives of the thirteen British colonies in North America. These states joined

together formally in 1781 under a first "constitution," the Articles of Confederation. That loose union of the states was replaced by the

Constitution of the U.S. in 1789. This document (amended 26 times) is still the political foundation of the U.S. Being based on a

written constitution, the U.S. government is committed in principle to the rule of law. To guarantee the rights of free speech, a free

press, freedom of religion etc. the first ten amendments, called the "Bill of Rights" were adopted in 1791.

There are three levels of government in the U.S. Local government (city/county), state government, and federal government. Here I

will pay most attention to the federal government. Many of the concepts of the U.S. government can be traced to progressive thinkers

of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, e.g. Locke, Spinoza, Blackstone, and Montesquiueu. Out of some of their thoughts the

U.S. government system with the three branches were made: A legislative branch (Congress), an Executive branch (President), and

a judicial branch (Supreme Court). The Constitution is most of all a document of checks and balances: among the three branches of

the federal government; and between the levels of government, nation and state.

The legislative branch (Congress) that has the power to make laws valid for the whole country. Powers like the regulation of taxes,

regulation of commerce between the states and with foreign countries, the power to declare war, and the power to impeach the

President are some of the other matters the legislative branch have to deal with. Congress has two chambers (or "houses"): the

Senate and the House of Representatives ("the house"). The Senate consists of one hundred senators: Two senators from each of

the fifty states. The senators serve for six-year terms. One third are elected every two years. The Senate's area of responsibility

consists of to approve major presidential appointments, and approve major foreign policy steps. The House of Representatives has

their 435 members (called "congress-men/women/people/persons") chosen from districts (the U.S. is divided into 435 districts

containing some five hundred thousand inhabitants). The districts are reapportioned every ten years. The representatives serve in

two-year terms, and all of them are elected every two years. All tax legislation must start in the House.

Executive power is vested in the office of the President of the U.S. The President has the dual role of being the chief of state and the

head of government. The President is also commander in chief of the armed forces; he issues executive orders, and appoints

Supreme Court justices (with senate approval). The president is also called "the chief legislator" because he/she indirectly proposes

many bills, considers all bills from Congress and signs them into law or vetoes them. The President is elected by "the whole

country" for four years. He/she is assisted by the Cabinet and its departments, the White House staff, and some independent

administrative agencies.

The Supreme Court: "The Judicial power of the U.S. shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the

Congress from time to time may ordain an establish."(The Constitution states). All nine federal judges are appointed by the

President and serve "during good behaviour," usually meaning for life. The judges cannot be removed from office except for criminal

behaviour or malfeasance. This makes them less vulnerable to political pressure than they would be if they had to depend upon

politicians or the voters for new mandates. The main feature of the independent role for the courts lies in their power to interpret the

Constitution. They review the "constitutionality" of laws and executive orders. The number of justices is decided by Congress, and

they can be impeached by congress. There are also Inferior Courts: One hundred District Courts and thirteen Courts of Appeals, all

of them are created by Congress, with judges appointed by the President (with Senate approval). All federal courts hear cases

involving federal law, involving state laws whose constitutionally is changed, involving the U.S., involving two separate states, and

involving citizens of different states.

Having presented the three branches of U.S. government in broad strokes, I will now turn in to how the separation of powers is

designed to work. The system of government is commonly referred to as "the system of checks and balances".

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