When the Framers of the Constitution set out to create a government, they made sure that one of the fundamental principles underlining the government would be the separation of powers. This separation of powers outlines the numerous powers and functions of the government by dividing them into separate independent levels and branches of the federal government. The Founders believed that by creating separate branches of government, it would help limit the powers of the national government and prevent tyranny. Therefore, the legislative branch has power, under the Constitution, to make laws.
The executive branch, headed by the President, executes or carries out laws. Last but not least, the Constitution established the Supreme Court to head the judicial branch, which interprets and applies the law in federal court cases.
The principle of separation of powers, as implemented in drafting the Constitution, was based on several values generally held: the separation of government into three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial; the idea that each branch performs its own unique and identifiable functions that are appropriate to each; and the limitation of the personnel of each branch to that branch, so that no one person or group should be able to serve in more than one branch simultaneously.
Since the judicial, executive, and legislative branch of the government all held power, the framers began to develop a system of checks and balances to guarantee that governmental power would not be conducted in an abusive manner. However, the constitution went much further than the mere separation of powers. It also established an elaborate system of checks and balances. The framers believed that in order to steer clear of a monarchy such as the one they had been used to under Britain’s rule, they would have to come up with a system of checks and balances which still prevails to this day.
By implementating this system of checks and balances, they would ensure that each branch would prevent the other from abusing their powers. This theory of checks and balances began from the underlying idea of separations of power. Madison and the other Framers considered separation of powers essential in order to avoid a tyranny. The framers came to the conclusions that there was a desperate need for the Constitution to execute a set of checks and balances. Under this system, each branch has the obligation and power to make decisions on certain issues.
However, each branch will still require voluntary support from the other branches if its initiatives are to be successfully implemented. By successfully separating the power that each branch holds, the framers would be able to guarantee a practical balance of power amongst the different branches of government. The operation of checks and balances in the federal government is spelled out in the Constitution. The two houses of Congress legislate separately, and this legislation is subject to presidential veto; however, Congress, by a two-thirds vote of each house, can override a presidential veto.
The judicial branch, in determining cases, may declare legislation unconstitutional, but the judiciary itself is subject to executive and legislative checking through the appointment of judges and the passage of legislation governing organization, procedure, and jurisdiction of the courts. There also is a possibility of amendment of the Constitution to reverse judicial determinations. Other constitutional checks are the possible legislative removal of the president and of judges by impeachment as well as approval by the Senate of treaties and major presidential appointments.
From this we can conclude that the Framers implemented this system of checks and balances because it was viewed as extremely necessary in maintaining a balance of power among elected officials. It would prevent any one particular group from obtaining a majority influence is essential when having a government that is ruled by the people. Checks and balances and the separation of powers are vital mechanisms to ensure the smooth running of democracy.
This complex system is extremely necessary in a democratic system because it promotes equality. Equality is the foundation of a democracy and the purpose of American independence. The goal of American politics is to have a government that is successfully ruled in the interest of the people. To have our countries leaders immune to the same laws that they pass for the citizens contradicts the very democracy that they uphold. Checks and balances function to guarantee that no one body or group of people ever are able to have so much power that they are able to unreasonably influence the legal system or law making of a country.
Ensuring that any new law has to go through a system of intense scrutiny, for example, is one way of helping to ensure the long and successful life of democracy. I think something often overlooked in the United States government and the checks and balances provided for by the founding fathers is the people. The final check and balance is the American public who can vote individuals into or out of political positions. It paves way to democracy because voters are given the power to elect official out of office if they are not doing their job.
There are also critics who are against the separation of powers and checks and balances concepts. They pointed out that such arrangements make policy making more cumbersome and time consuming than it needs to be and that in fact it can result easily in a deadlock in which government is unable to take any action at all. Moreover, it is also said to be undemocratic, in that it places barriers to the absolute power of the majority to determine public policy by imposing on majorities the need to bargain with minorities that have managed to gain disproportionate influence on one or another branch or level of the federal system of multiple governmental institutions.
For these reasons, political thinkers who see government as the primary instrumentality for the community to successfully combat or adjust to an on-going series of emergencies that have no other possible remedy tend to be very suspicious of such decentralized power arrangements. On the other hand, political thinkers that see society and the economy as largely self-regulating organisms that need relatively little in the way of new policy initiatives from government for their successful functioning tend to take a more favorable view of checks and balances.
The press has also been described as the fourth check on power because of its considerable influence over public opinion in which it exercise by widely distributing facts and opinions about the various branches of government. Public opinion in turn affects the outcome of elections, as well as indirectly influencing the branches of government by, for example, expressing public sentiment with respect to pending legislation. An example of the press checking abuses of power was Watergate scandal; where two Washington Post reporters exposed government corruption and cover-up at the highest levels.
This exposure caused many individuals to resign, be fired, or prosecuted. The impact of Watergate on American Politics was felt on multiple levels. The most elemental of these was how the news media evolved into the fourth check on the government. From Watergate, politicians understood that the media could be strong enough to bring down a government. Essentially, Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting took down a sitting President.
Through Watergate, the office of the President, and all politicians, understood the power of the media. Another impact of Watergate was that it was living proof that no politician could operate for a prolonged period of time above the law. Power could not save President Nixon and his cabinet from facing impeachment, and eventual resignation/ prison terms. The Constitution’s belief of equality before the law was affirmed through Watergate. The last impact of Watergate was that politicians understood the value of judicious conduct.
Courtney from Study Moose
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