The Importance of Separation of Powers & Checks and Balances

Checks and Balances

This concept is one of the most important parts of the American Republic. Under the American system, there is a legislature, and executive branch, and Supreme Court. Each branch of government keeps the other in check to ensure that no one branch becomes more powerful than another. With the events of recent months, IRS, Dept. of Justice, and drone program scandals, the issue of the power of branches of government has become a central issue at hand, whether it is specifically stated or not.

The power of the Executive Branch was severely criticized after the exposure of the Obama administration’s drone program to systematically kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. The IRS has allegedly abused its power as a tax agency to intimidate Conservative groups, and possibly even sway election results. The Attorney General’s office has been caught spying on reporters, threatening freedom of the press. Needless to say, the separation of powers between branches has become very slim in the past few years.

The term “separation of powers” originates to Baron de Montesquieu, a French Enlightenment philosopher. He used the models of ancient Rome and the British Constitutional system to theorize the ideal distribution of governmental powers between executive, legislative and judicial branches. The purpose of this is to ensure that no one party or belief can have more control over the government than another. History shows that when one group with the same ideology is in power, tyranny and mass slaughter soon follow.

The separation of powers creates unique roles for each branch of government. Here are some of the roles of each branch. In the legislative branch, the laws are created, budgets are passed, and wars are declared. The executive branch enforces, or vetoes the laws that the legislative branch creates, declares states of emergency, and appoints federal judges, cabinet advisors and heads of other department at the approval of the Senate. The judicial branch determines which laws apply to specific cases; reviews constitutionality of laws, and determine interpretations of laws.

These are supposed to be the roles of each branch, but what do the roles of each branch have to do with our freedom? Yes, the Constitution is the law of the land. However, it only continues to be so if elected officials choose to uphold rather than tear it down. The Constitution provides a method for change, as the Founders created it this way, should such an incidence require its modification.

However, let’s say that the legislative branch had the power to create any law it so desired. Any legislation could be passed, and there would not be a way to oppose it. However, there are two safeguards; if the executive branch disagreed with the law, it could be vetoed; or, if a lawsuit was brought against this law, the judicial branch could decide if the law was Constitutional or not. Both of the two other branches ensure that the legislative branch cannot pass unconstitutional or unethical legislation. Another example of preventing malicious or disagreed legislation/appointees is the filibuster. In March, 2013, Senator Rand Paul filibustered the vote for CIA head nominee John Brennan. This was due to Senator’s Pauls’ concern over Brennan’s involvement with the Obama administration’s controversial drone program.

Another example is if the executive branch appointed people to be judges and department heads, but either these people were not qualified, or had a record of corruption, the Senate could reject these appointments to ensure the integrity of the system. Another example of preventing malicious or disagreed legislation/appointees is the filibuster. In March, 2013, Senator Rand Paul filibustered the vote for CIA head nominee John Brennan. This was due to Senator’s Pauls’ concern over Brennan’s involvement with the Obama administration’s controversial drone program. This filibuster was an example of how the legislative branch keeps the executive branch in check.

This system seems flawless, but the problem with this system, as any system of government, is human nature. History shows us that when opportunity for power shows itself to a person or group, it is seldom that any resist. An example of how the balance of power became endangered was in the 2008-2010 years of President Obama’s first term. Both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party, as was the executive branch. What happened, as we all know, was the controversial “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” was created and passed, with little consideration for the harmful effects the bill would create.

There was still the option of the judicial branch saying the law was unconstitutional, but, as human nature is not constant, a traditionally Conservative judge, Chief Justice John Roberts voted in favor of the bill, surprising many. The passing of this law shows that even our highly sophisticated separation of powers, and checks and balances is not perfect. Recently, the very inflammatory IRS scandal brings up the question of if the executive branch used the IRS to intimidate the opposite party in the 2012 election. If the investigation proves that the 2012 election results were affected by the IRS scandal, a major invasion of separation of powers would have taken place.

Now that you have some perspective on how this system is supposed to work, do you wonder why the American way of life has been so great since its founding? Up until recent years, elected officials took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and they did; laws that were passed were, generally, for the best interest of the people. However, in today’s government, as wealth has increased in Washington, more and more people are simply interest in power and money rather than Constitutional service.

As Americans, we need to thoroughly investigate the candidates we vote for. Don’t just vote for someone because they are a Republican or Democrat; vote for them based on their service record, wants and desires, and ideological affiliation. Especially which ideology one adheres to is very important; one side seeks to radially transform our society into the European model, the other wants to keep the American way of life and government.

Remember that while there are three official branches, there is a fourth, which is the most important. That fourth branch is you, the citizens of the United States. You have a duty to vote for those who will uphold our Supreme Law. When history looks back at the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations, will they see these two as the epitome of America, or the ones who lost it? The choice is up to you.


12 thoughts on “The Importance of Separation of Powers & Checks and Balances

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