The Constitution of the United States established three branches of government and gave each branch separate powers to govern. Each branch can use its power to keep the other branches in check. This means that each branch can limit the actions of the other two. This ensures a balance of power.
The legislative branch of government is made up of the Congress and government agencies, such as the Government Printing Office and Library of Congress, that provide assistance to and support services for the Congress. Congress has two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The U.S. Congress is made up of two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Congress meets at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Its primary duty is to write, debate, and pass bills, which are then passed on to the President for approval.
The House of Representatives
In the House, representation is based on the number of people living in each state. There are a total of 435 representatives in the House. Each member represents an area of the state, known as a congressional district. The number of representatives is based on the number of districts in a state. Therefore, states with larger populations have more representation than states with smaller populations. Each state has at least one congressional district and therefore one representative in the House.
Each of the 50 states sends 2 people to the Senate, so there are a total of 100 senators. This means that each state has equal representation in the Senate. Each senator serves a term of 6 years. When their 6 year term is over, the people from that state may choose to elect a new senator or keep the same one. There is no limit on the number of terms a senator can serve.
More about the Legislative Branch
The Legislative Process Videos
The executive branch of Government makes sure that the laws of the
United States are obeyed. The President of the United States is the head of the executive branch of government. This branch is very large so the President gets help from the Vice President, department heads (Cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies.
President: Leader of the country and commands the military.
Vice President: President of the Senate and becomes President if the President can no longer do the job.
Departments and Agencies: Departments and Agencies advise the President on issues, help carry out policies, and provide special services.
The President of the United States
The President must be 35 years of age, be a natural born citizen, and must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.
The President is the head of the executive branch and plays a large role in making America’s laws. His job is to approve the laws that Congress creates. When the Senate and the House approve a bill, they send it to the President. If he agrees with the law, he signs it and the law goes into effect.
If the President does not like a bill, he can refuse to sign it. When he does this, it is called a
veto. If the President vetoes a bill, it will most likely never become a law. Congress can override a veto, but to do so two-thirds of the Members of Congress must vote against the President.
Despite all of his power, the President cannot write bills. He can propose a bill, but a member of Congress must submit it for him.
Other Presidential Duties
- Head of State (meets with the leaders of other countries)
- Commander in Chief (leader of the U.S. military)
More about the Executive Branch
The judicial branch of government is made up of the court system. The Constitution established
The Supreme Court. All other Federal courts were created by Congress. Courts decide arguments about the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether they break the rules of the Constitution.
Image by Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The Supreme Court hears cases that have made their way through the court system, but of the more than 7,500 cases that are sent to the Supreme Court each year, only about 80 to 100 cases are actually accepted. Once the Supreme Court makes a decision, it can only be changed by another Supreme Court decision or by amending (changing) the Constitution. This is a very important power that can affect the lives of a lot of people. Also, since the main power of the Supreme Court is to decide cases that challenge the Constitution, the Court must decide if the case they receive really challenges the Constitution.
The Supreme Court is made up of nine Justices. One of these is the Chief Justice. They are appointed by the President and must be approved by the Senate. Justices have their jobs for life, unless they resign, retire, or are impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate.
There are no requirements in order to be appointed a Justice, but all have been trained in the law.
More about the Judicial Branch
Information compiled from:
Supreme Court Images:
- Justices: http://commons.wikimedia.org/
- Supreme Court Building: Creative Commons Share-Alike License photographer,
Joe Ravi, CC-BY-SA 3.0