In this essay I will give a short history of the government in United States ofAmerica (U.S.). Then I will describe each of the three branches of government inthe U.S. and the relationship between them. In principle, the U.S.
is ademocratic republic, they govern themselves by choosing their leaders by secretballot, and these leaders in turn make the rules. Americans started”governing themselves” as a nation on July 4th, 1776, when theDeclaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia by representatives of thethirteen British colonies in North America. These states joined togetherformally in 1781 under a first “constitution,” the Articles ofConfederation. That loose union of the states was replaced by the Constitutionof the U.S. in 1789. This document (amended 26 times) is still the politicalfoundation 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 rightsof free speech, a free press, freedom of religion etc. the first ten amendments,called the “Bill of Rights” were adopted in 1791.
There are threelevels of government in the U.S. Local government (city/county), stategovernment, and federal government. Here I will pay most attention to thefederal government. Many of the concepts of the U.S.
government can be traced toprogressive 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 (SupremeCourt).
The Constitution is most of all a document of checks and balances: amongthe three branches of the federal government; and between the levels ofgovernment, nation and state. The legislative branch (Congress) that has thepower to make laws valid for the whole country. Powers like the regulation oftaxes, regulation of commerce between the states and with foreign countries, thepower to declare war, and the power to impeach the President are some of theother matters the legislative branch have to deal with. Congress has twochambers (or “houses”): the Senate and the House of Representatives(“the house”). The Senate consists of one hundred senators: Twosenators 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 responsibilityconsists of to approve major presidential appointments, and approve majorforeign 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 thousandinhabitants). The districts are reapportioned every ten years.
Therepresentatives serve in two-year terms, and all of them are elected every twoyears. All tax legislation must start in the House. Executive power is vested inthe office of the President of the U.
S. The President has the dual role of beingthe chief of state and the head of government. The President is also commanderin chief of the armed forces; he issues executive orders, and appoints SupremeCourt justices (with senate approval). The president is also called “thechief legislator” because he/she indirectly proposes many bills, considersall bills from Congress and signs them into law or vetoes them. The President iselected by “the whole country” for four years. He/she is assisted bythe Cabinet and its departments, the White House staff, and some independentadministrative agencies. The Supreme Court: “The Judicial power of the U.S.
shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts as theCongress from time to time may ordain an establish.”(The Constitutionstates). All nine federal judges are appointed by the President and serve”during good behaviour,” usually meaning for life. The judges cannotbe removed from office except for criminal behaviour or malfeasance.
This makesthem less vulnerable to political pressure than they would be if they had todepend upon politicians or the voters for new mandates. The main feature of theindependent role for the courts lies in their power to interpret theConstitution. They review the “constitutionality” of laws andexecutive orders. The number of justices is decided by Congress, and they can beimpeached by congress. There are also Inferior Courts: One hundred DistrictCourts and thirteen Courts of Appeals, all of them are created by Congress, withjudges appointed by the President (with Senate approval). All federal courtshear cases involving federal law, involving state laws whose constitutionally ischanged, involving the U.S.
, involving two separate states, and involvingcitizens 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 powersis designed to work. The system of government is commonly referred to as”the system of checks and balances”. It is designed to work so as toavoid placing too much power in too few hands.
The most powerful tool Congresshas (most important “checks” on the power of the President) is thepower to appropriate money (set aside money for some specific purpose). Afterboth houses of Congress have approved the budget, it is sent over to thePresident. He/she has to sign the bill into law. Another major check on thepower of the President is the Senate’s power of advice and consent. ThePresident is obliged to ask for the advice and consent of the Senate on allmajor appointments (e.g. members of the president’s Cabinet, new justices of theSupreme Court, other federal judges, and members of administrative or regulatoryagencies) and major foreign policy decisions he/she makes (e.g.
when it concernstreaties). To declare war, the President must turn to both houses of Congressfor their approval. The president’s major countervailing power in thelegislative process is the power of the veto. The President must sign anyproposed legislation before it becomes law; his failure or refusal to do so canthus stop any bill.
If the President returns a bill to Congress with a veto onit, the legislature has the power to override the President’s veto by re-passingthe legislation by a two-thirds majority in both houses. Then the bill becomeslaw without the President’s signature. (If the President does not wish to beassociated with a bill but does not feel that it is worthwhile to prevent itfrom becoming law, he can demonstrate this by using a so-called pocket veto:he/she simply lets it lie on his/her desk for ten days without signing it orvetoing it, in which case it becomes law without the President’s signature.) TheCongress has the power to impeach the President. (A complex matter that involvesthe House of Representatives and its Judicial Committee or a special ad hoccommittee, the Senate, the Chief Justice of the U.S. (the Supreme Court))Turning to the relationship between Congress and the Supreme Court, we find thatCongress has the power to determine the construction of the Court (and itsinferior courts).
As mentioned before, the Congress has some say in whom willsit on the Supreme Court bench, in that nominations made by the President mustbe approved by the Senate. I have already touched the “checks” betweenthe Supreme Court and the President. Just as the President may be impeached bythe Congress, so may justices of the Supreme Court (indeed, all civil officials,except members of Congress) be removed from office by impeachment. The singlecountervailing “arrow” of power aimed at Congress by the Supreme Courtis the comprehensive power of judicial review (As mentioned earlier on in theparagraph about the Supreme Court). This review of laws by the courts is not an”automatic” part of the legislative process, but the specific lawshave to be brought before the courts for a decision about theirconstitutionality. If Congress finds that the Supreme Court has interpreted theConstitution in a way which disagrees with its own fundamental views (or for anyother reason), then Congress can initiate the process of amending theConstitution. A majority of two thirds of both houses of Congress must pass theamendment.
As soon as three quarters of the states (thirty-eight of them) haveratified the proposed amendment it becomes a part of the Constitution. In allthese ways the Constitution checks the unrestricted exercise of power by eachbranch and balances of the powers of the branches against each other.BibliographyT. Sirevåg, American patterns, Ad Notam Gyldendal, Oslo D. May and J.Oakland, American civilization, Routledge, London/New York B. O’Callaghan, AnIllustrated History of the USA, Longman, Essex G.
T. Kurian, A Historical Guideto the U.S. Government, Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford L.
Berlowitz,D. Donoghue, and L. Menand, America in theory, Oxford University Press, NewYork/Oxford D. J. Boorstin, The Americans, The Democratic Experience, RandomHouse, New York D. S.
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