The United States government has three separate branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Each one has control of a different element of the government. The nation's founders established the government this way to make sure it never became authoritarian; the three branches are set up to limit each other's power through a series of restraints known as checks and balances.
The executive branch is the most visible branch of the U.S. government. The president, vice president, Cabinet and Executive Office of the President make up the executive branch, and it is their responsibility to enforce the country's laws. The Cabinet includes 15 departments, each overseeing a particular issue for the nation, and the Executive Office of the President is composed of the president's senior staff. The president, as the head of state, is responsible for appointing the heads of each of the 15 executive departments, signing bills or vetoing them after they have been through Congress, appointing members of the judicial branch, and commanding the armed forces.
The legislative branch of the U.S. government is the Congress, which writes the country's laws. It includes the Senate and the House of Representatives, and both of these houses of Congress must pass a bill before the president can sign it into law. The Senate includes two representatives from each state, while the House of Representatives includes 435 people, divided between the states according to their populations. This is to ensure that everyone is represented as fairly as possible. In addition to writing laws for the country, the Senate is responsible for confirming the president's appointments to the judicial branch.
While the legislative branch writes the laws and the executive branch enforces them, the judicial branch interprets them. Federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and it is their responsibility to determine how the law applies to controversial cases by interpreting the Constitution. When the Supreme Court, the highest branch of the judiciary, makes a decision, it becomes the legal precedent for all future cases. After such a decision, all the other courts in the country must treat the Supreme Court's interpretation as law.
Checks and Balances
Establishing the government with three branches like this ensured that no one person or group of people had all the power. The president appoints people to high offices, but Congress has the power to reject those appointments. Congress creates the nation's laws, but the president can veto them. The Supreme Court decides what is legal and what isn't, but the president appoints its members and the Senate confirms them. Separating the powers of government into three bodies like this ensures that no one has unilateral control over any aspect of state.
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Stockbyte/Getty Images Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images