Our federal government is made up of three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. They are all described in the United States Constitution. These three branches are all equal to each other and each one has some authority over the other. This creates a check and balance system, and should make sure that no one branch of the government ever becomes too powerful.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is established by Article I of the Constitution and includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives is based on the population in each state, while the Senate consists of two senators from each state, no matter the size or population.
For a law to be passed, both houses have to agree and the president has to sign it. The power of Congress is checked when either the president vetos – or refuses to sign – a bill into law or when the judicial branch rules a law unconstitutional.
The Executive Branch
The executive branch is established by Article II of the Constitution. The president is the head of this branch. The president is responsible for enforcing laws passed by Congress and appoints the heads of many federal departments, including judges. The check on the president’s power is that the House can impeach and the Senate convict if the president commits a crime. Another check is that the Senate must confirm any presidential appointments before they take office. Also, the Supreme Court can rule a presidential action unconstitutional and block it.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch is established by Article III of the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the most powerful part of the judicial branch. There are nine justices on the Supreme Court. These justices serve for life and can choose to take up cases appealed through the federal court system.
The judicial branch also consists of district courts and appeals courts. Smaller courts also have judges appointed by the president and approved by the Senate and serve for life or retirement just like Supreme Court justices. The judicial branch has a lot of power to determine what laws and actions are constitutional. The checks on the judicial system are that judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.