Our federal government consists of three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. They are all described in the United States Constitution. These three branches all hold certain powers, and each branch “checks” the others. This means they restrict each others’ abilities to abuse their powers. This allows for oversight and debate at all times.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is established by Article I of the Constitution and consists of 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.
The president’s check on the legislature is with a presidential veto, which blocks any bill passed by Congress and requires two-thirds of both the Senate and House to override. The legislature’s control over presidential appointments is their check on the presidency, allowing them powerful oversight capacity over the executive branch.
The Executive Branch
The executive branch is established by Article II of the Constitution. The president is primarily responsible for enforcing laws passed by Congress and appoints the heads of many federal departments to help manage the government. The Senate must approve these heads that officially make up the president’s Cabinet. The president also appoints federal judges that must also be approved by the Senate, which serves as a check against the judicial branch.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch is established by Article III of the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the most powerful institution in the judicial branch, which currently has nine justices. 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’s power to interpret the constitutionality of federal law gives it a check over both the legislative and executive branches. It is meant to be a nonpartisan branch of government. Over time, this branch has also become very politicized, and the judicial branch is considered extremely important to have control over for both conservatives and liberals.