Over two hundred twenty years ago our great fathers brought forth a nation built on the ideal that freedom is meant for all mankind. Although their actions may have been flawed, the proposed idea was profound and beautiful in nature. In 1776 the United States of America had succeeded from Great Britain and thirteen years later our constitution went into effect (Rodgers 109). This incredible and inspiring piece of writing is much more than a piece of parchment with ink scratched across its length.
The Constitution of our United States is a symbol, and even more than that, it is law. It was written to be the supreme law of the land and still is, despite the few amendments that have been made in order to specify the rights of the people. Our fore-fathers recognized the importance of limiting the power of government. After all, they had witnessed firsthand what a tyrannical leader is capable of when his or her power is too much. With that in mind, they set out to write the constitution that would lay the foundation for the fastest growing and most powerful nation known to man.
A nation governed by the people, for the people. Fresh out of a war with a country which was led by a single man, the writers feared the possibility of one man again rising to power, and in the first three articles of the Constitution, took precautions in order to insure that this would not happen. The solution – a separation of powers. An idea that dates back to the ancient Roman Empire. A system of checks and balances that would ensure that no one branch of government would grow to become too powerful or, in other words, corrupt.
When this was written into the constitution it immediately declared to the rest of the world that the United States would be a land governed by the people, and by free men. The process would give what was meant to be equal power to the Judicial, Executive, and Legislative branches. The notion that governing powers should be evenly distributed was an early demonstration that our nation’s government would be balanced and was meant to last. I believe the separation of powers is the most important provision our fore fathers took in laying the foundation of this great country.
The primary initiative of our government is to propose and write bills, decide if they are in accordance with the Constitution, turn them into law, and carry out those laws. A separation of powers is extremely crucial in this matter. As for the United States, the Legislative branch or congress is presented thousands of bills in the span of a year and very few ever become law (Tauberer). The small number of bills that see action are then passed to the Executive branch (our president) where he/she has the ability to veto the bill or choose to move it to the next step in the lawmaking process.
The third and final step in this simplified explanation entails the Judicial branch, a group of nine Supreme Court justices, finalizing the bill by declaring whether the content proposed truly abides by the guidelines laid forth inside of our constitution. Were these steps able to be bypassed, the threat of biased, harmful, or unconstitutional bills being made into law would drastically increase as politicians and individuals in positions of power would use this lack of checks and balances to impose their agendas (right or wrong) upon the nation as a whole.
While these steps and precautions help prevent the making of improper laws it cannot completely satisfy everyone. In my lifetime I have seen a loophole be exposed and this system be bypassed. After the terrorist attacks of September 2001 the congress passed a Military Commissions Act which “deprived the Supreme Court [power] to hear claims particularly habeas corpus,” which is questionably abusing their legislative power (Scribner 90-162).
Despite instances such as this, the amount of times the process of checks and balances associated with a separation of powers has prevented the allowance of an unconstitutional law being put into effect far surpasses the latter. Without a separation of powers it becomes very easy for laws to be stripped away and new laws that are intrusive and unconstitutional to be put in place. Its importance in the lawmaking process cannot go unnoticed and makes our governing body different from many others around the world.
Thinking about this topic brought me down many different paths and I believe one very important, yet unseen, result of a separation of powers is that the people do not fear their government. In many countries the citizens live in fear every day because the government is able to oppress them in any way they see fit. A radical leader can come into power and without a system of checks and balances their agenda cannot be stopped without an uprising of the people.
For instance, civil unrest spreads across the Middle East after decades of a suppressive dictatorship government in places like Egypt and Libya. The reason being is that the people have no say. The people have no elected governing body that can oppose the leadership and ideals of a tyrannical leader backed by the force of a nation’s military. These people are forced into risking their lives in order to fight for a chance to see a democracy built in their home land. Unlike in these places, our president, while he is the Commander in Chief of our armed forces, does not have the only say.
The process to declare war and/or take military action must first be brought forward through the Congress and then approved by the President, just like any other bill. This however, brings up many debates. The President is given power to retaliate to an immediate threat without going through the entire process of declaring war (Avalon Project). Nowhere in the Constitution does it say we must have a formal declaration of war and this led to a few problems including Nixon’s continued involvement in Vietnam despite the repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.
In order to stop something like that from happening again, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (Christopher). This law would be passed with the intention being that from that point on the president would have to consult the congress within 48 hours of sending armed forces to a location and they would be required to withdrawal in no more than 60 day’s time. This act clearly shows the process of checks and balances being used in the effort to prevent unwanted involvement in foreign affairs or otherwise unwanted militaristic involvement.
Despite the occasional abuse of Executive power (Reagan in ’81 and Clinton in ’99 both sending military forces without congressional consent) the checks and balances are necessary and go along the same lines as the saying “better safe than sorry” (Grenwald). The last very important role separation of powers is involved in that I would like to point out takes place in the spending and budgeting process. Congress must write and approve a budget for each fiscal year. The process can be painstaking and on occasion is not completed in time. As important as it is that it be completed on time, it is even more important that it is done correctly.
Correctly meaning constitutionally sound and with no agenda other than what is truly right for the country. Without the extensive research, debate, and checks that go into the development of our budget, rash decisions could be made and a biased, unconstitutional budget could be approved. The same could be said if a nation was governed by one man or a small group of elitists. If one man were in charge of all of a nation, the chance of the money and power “going to their head” is high and makes it very likely. A nation must spread its spending plan to cover not only things that concern one man, but the nation as a whole.
This is why being able to count on a three branched government to propose and carry out a spending plan is much easier than trusting a nation’s wealth to one powerful man, even if it doesn’t always come on time, or just the way you may have wanted it. The power to govern is not meant for one man. I believe the first three articles of our Constitution have and will prove to be the most important provision taken for time to come. Without a sound government comprised of checks and balances the people have no rights. Without someone standing in your corner when a leader or group becomes too powerful or too corrupt a democracy fails.
The people’s rights must come first, and I believe that is exactly what this provision ensures. We live in a land free of tyranny that prospers and many would and do risk their lives to achieve this. When the Framers of the constitution wrote these precautions into law they insured that no one man could ever take what belongs to the people – their rights, they insured that any steps the government takes – they must be constitutional. It may not be perfect, and it may not last forever, but thanks to a separation of power and a system of checks and balances, our government is able to work through most problems without much trouble.
The notion that governing powers should be evenly distributed was an early demonstration that our nation’s government would be balanced and was meant to last. This is why I believe the separation of powers is the most important provision our fore fathers took in laying the foundation of this great country. Works Cited Avalon Project, The. http://www. yale. edu/lawweb/avalon/debates/817. htm. 13 February 2008. 12 February 2013. Grenwald, Glen. "www. Salon. com. " 25 June 2011. http://www. salon. com/2011/06/25/libya_12/. 12 February 2013. Paul, Christopher.
"US Presidential War Powers: Legacy Chains In Military Intervention Decisionmaking. " Journal Of Peace Research45. 5 (2008): 665-679. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Feb. 2013. Rodgers, Paul. United States Constitutional Law: An Introduction. Mcfarland, 2011. Scribner, Heather P. "A Fundamental Misconception Of Separation Of Powers: Boumediene V. Bush. " Texas Review Of Law & Politics14. 1 (2009): 90-162. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Feb. 2013. Tauberer, Josh. "http://www. govtrack. us/blog/2011/08/04/kill-bill-how-many-bills-are-there-how-many-are-enacted/. " 4 August 2011. www. govtrack. us. 9 February 2013.