US Constitution

The separation of powers was is a framework or model in the governing of states enjoying democracy. It was conceptualized and created by the ancient Greeks and included the model in their constitutions of their democratic states. It became widespread when it was used by the Romans in the governance of the republic. As illustrated and explained in the model, the state has a division of three branches and each branch has separate, independent and distinct powers and areas of responsibility. The divisions of government were called the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Those who advocated for the separation of powers believe that the separation would prevent the rise of tyranny and it would also protect the democracy of the state. The Constitution of the United States stipulates this separation of powers among the three branches of government. The United States government is divided into three branches namely the judicial, legislative and the executive branches of government. The founding fathers of the constitution established this to create a check and balance system in the government.

They wanted a strong and powerful government but they also desired protection for individual freedoms and protect the government from abusing its power and authority. They didn’t want an executive branch to have too much power that was vulnerable to abuse with the passage of time. The United States has suffered enough under colonial rule of King George III. It was under this colonial rule that taxes were excessively imposed upon the citizens of the United States by Parliament and implemented by King George III.

With this in mind, the forefathers designed the constitution and the structure of the government to have these checks and balances. Through this division of power in government, no single branch will have too much power while the every branch will maintain control over the rest of the branches. The checks and balances system that is outlined in the constitution states the unique powers of each branch of government. These powers were designed so that none can be too powerful. For every unique power of one branch, it is capable of acting as a watchdog or to check the exercise of

power of another branch. In an ideal situation, every member of the branches of government will stick to the rules given but in situations where they don’t follow, the system of checks and balance is there to resolve the matter and put everything in order. To prevent the supremacy of one branch of government and to encourage other branches to unite and cooperate, the separation of powers is usually accompanied by the checks and balances system. It refers the different rules and procedures that permits one branch to restrict another branch of government.

An example of a check and balance system is the sole authority and power of the president to veto the legislation submitted by Congress or the power of Congress to change or amend the jurisdiction and authority of the federal courts. The checks and balances system not only provides protection against the abuse of power by a certain branch of government but the system also aids in maintaining the stability and the current status of the society in America. If the system is more balanced, the required changes will become less abrupt and dramatic.

With the absence of balance, everything else is in chaos. The United States is usually put into the category of a democracy but its accurate description of its government would be that the country is a constitutional federal republic. The government of the United States is based on the constitution and it is the primary and powerful law of the country. As it is designed by the founding fathers, it is stated in the Constitution the provision of framework for the structure and establishment of the branches of government.

The constitution also states the limits of power that these branches of government have. The supreme and ultimate power of the United States’ system is on the shoulders of the people. The power of the people is exercised through free elections in which voters select from the candidates to the President, Congress members and different local operations of government. The powers of the executive branch include the approval of laws and in some instances, the branch has the power to veto laws.

When a law is passed by the legislative branch, the executive branch enacts that law that was approved for implementation. Only the executive branch can appoint the federal court judges and Supreme Court justices. The branch could also negotiate treaties with other countries. The legislative branch can check on the executive branch through an override of the vetoed law in Congress by a two thirds vote. The treaties negotiated by the executive branch needs to be approved by the Senate to be accounted for. Congress is the only one tasked to approve the federal budget prepared by the executive branch.

The legislative body has the power to remove or impeach the President if certain circumstances arise. The legislative branch passes bills into laws. It also approves appointments to top government positions made by the executive branch. It has the power to approve the declaration of war by the executive branch. The executive branch checks on the legislative branch by vetoing the legislation passed by Congress. The judicial branch can also check on the legislative by declaring the law passed as unconstitutional.

The powers of the executive branch include the interpretation of the laws passed by the legislative body and approved by the executive branch for implementation. It can also declare the law to be constitutional or unconstitutional. The checks for the judicial branch include the power of the President to decide who to appoint to the courts, The legislative body can also impeach or remove federal judges from the judicial branch. If the Supreme Court rules that a law is unconstitutional, the Congress can pass an amendment to the constitution.

The independence of the executive and legislative branches in theory is partially maintained by the separate election of those involved in the branches of government and are directly responsible for their actions to the general public. The existence of judicial restrictions regarding the interference and involvement in one another’s affairs is also provided. The judicial branch of government enjoys its independence because judges are appointed to the federal courts for life with the option of voluntary retirement and a high tolerance from removal of office by Congress.

There have been allegations that the power to interpret the law is being abused by some federal judges. The judicial branch has the power to declare a law or a bill as unconstitutional. The legal procedures restraining the authority of the three branches of government relies greatly on the sentiment of the public. It is a usual assumption that support by the majority establishes the legitimacy of the actions and paves the way for the execution and exercise of legal power. The separation of powers has been most endangered in situations of national crises like civil wars.

The system of checks and balance has also the aspect of reinforcement. The threat of abuse of power may be deflected and prevented. The legality and the existence of tyranny may be obstructed by the other two branches of government to take necessary corrective action. However, it has been noted that it is impossible to assign to each branch of government equal powers of defense. Some criticisms have emerged regarding the separation of powers in the divisions of government.

In some countries that adopted this system, they have experienced insurgency, dictatorships and civil unrest. Since the executive branch has been given strong powers, it can possibly encourage political instability because it is not dependent on the opinion of the majority as opposed to the parliamentary system. It also encourages the elite in politics and the public to exercise their influence on the leader. When instability arises, political parties with vested interests in the office of the president can become obsessed an driven to gain control of the executive power.

Under a system of government where presidents are elected, only one winning political party is allowed while others completely fail in their endeavor. In a parliamentary system, political groups can share in the power to control the executive by engaging in activities of the coalition.


Manin, Bernard, Principles of Representative Government, Cambridge University Press, 1997 Vile, M. J. , Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers. 2nd edition, University of Michigan