Balance of power is what we no longer have in the US government. The Constitution originally laid out an elegant and balanced system of government under which no one division of government could gain too much power. For example, the legislative branch needed the executive branch for approval of legislation. Both branches needed the judicial branch to rule on legislation. There was balanced interdependence of the parts of government. This is still the case to some degree; however, "innovations" like executive orders have allowed too much power to be transferred to the President. Furthermore, the practice of judicial review has been stretched to absurd proportions; the judiciary (primarily the Supreme Court) has been changing the law unofficially by means of this practice.

Balance of power has been greatly lost in other ways as well. For example, a major cause for the writing of the Constitution was that the states were too independent under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution set about to fix this by creating a stronger central government to balance the power of the state governments. Now, balance has shifted extremely far in the other direction. I would guess that somewhere around two-thirds of what the central government does is out of their proper jurisdiction.

A system of safeguards built into American government that makes sure that none of the three branches takes control. Arguably the force behind the creation of mindless bureacracy but also essential to make sure that we (those of us from the United States and also as peons) don't get run over by the runaway truck of politicians out of control. Another example of the deliberate complexity woven into American government which was intended to protect the average joe from tyranny but in the end may keep the average joe from having any direct effect on the body that governs him/her.

In short, these are the basic powers and checks for each branch of the government:

Executive Powers (Presidential)

Approves or vetoes federal bills
Carries out federal laws
Appoints judges and other high ranking officials
Makes foreign treaties
Can grant pardons and reprieves to federal offenders
Acts as commander in chief of the armed forces

Checks on Executive Powers

Congress can override vetoes by a two-thirds vote
The Senate can refuse to confirm appointments or ratify treaties
Congress can impeach and remove the president
Congress can declare war
The Supreme Court can declare executive acts unconstitutional

Legislative Powers (Congressional)

Passes federal laws
Establishes lower federal courts and the number of federal judges
Can override the presidents veto by a two-thirds vote

Checks on Legislative Powers

Presidential veto of federal bills
Supreme Court can rule laws unconstitutional
Both houses of Congress must vote to pass laws, checking power within the legislature

Judicial Powers

Interprets and applies the law by trying federal cases
Can declare laws passed by Congress and executive acts unconstitutional

Checks on Judicial Powers

Congress can propose constitutional amendments to over-turn judicial decisions. These require a two thirds majority in both houses, and ratification by three-quarters of states.
Congess can impeach and remove federal judges
The president appoints judges, who in turn must be confirmed by the senate

As all who have been schoolchildren in the United States should remember, the tripartite form of our federal government is supposed to provide that no branch can get out of control, because of the checks upon it by the other two.

In particular, the Judicial branch (the Supreme Court and inferior federal courts) is supposed to be the guardian of the Constitution. One problem with how they have chosen to do this is that they will only rule when a case is brought before them. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent them from simply observing, for example, the passage of a bill by Congress and immediately declaring it void because it flouts the Constitution, but they do not do so. I don't know if this was the first time, but there is a famous incident in which President Roosevelt asked the Supreme Court to tell him if an action he intended to take would be constitutionally permissible; they replied that they would not decide that question until after he did it, and even then, not unless someone squawked. As far as I know, the lesson was learned and Presidents since then have not asked. (Whether any of them would have anyway is a different question.)

This was a real problem when, on April 30, 1999, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by Representative Ron Paul and 16 other congressmen, charging that President Clinton was waging war in Yugoslavia in contravention of both the Constitution and the War Powers Act. The suit was thrown out by the court. The judges cited several (specious) reasons, with one overriding decision that the congressmen had no legal standing before the court, because Congress had not passed a resolution requiring the President to stop the hostilities.

This is patently ridiculous, in my opinion, (apart from the point that the question of legal standing should be moot because the court should have acted on its own), because what the court said, in so many words, is that a President can do anything he wants if two thirds of each House of Congress won't confront him about it. And there's not a darned thing that a Constitutionally minded minority of Congress can do about it.

Although the system seems complicated, and leaves much in the way for Bureaucracy to mess up, you must first understand where the Framers were coming from, what their mindset was when creating this system.

The problem is Power. According to John Locke's Social Contract, the people give their consent to the government to safeguard their natural rights. Therefore, you want a government strong enough to set things right and enforce laws.

The downside to this is that power is bad. If you give it to a person, it will turn them into a dictator eventually. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. Committees don't work, just read George Orwell's Animal Farm, as they begin to share the power only among themselves and not work in the public's best interest.

The government needs to have this power to function, but it's too dangerous to center anywhere, too dangerous for one to wield. The Lord of the Rings is an allegory of this symbolic power.

How to handle it? The Framers decided to spread it out. By stretching it among three branches, it's designed to give the government the necessary power, but it's stretched so thin, it's like a gossamer spiderweb. A single politician can't make any changes, but a team of them working together will bring about results.

Power is so dangerous that they spread it to these three branches. One branch can't be corrupted by the greed for power, and will be cut down to size by the other two branches. Each branch is monitored by the others, to keep stability.

The president can't just gain power, take it all away and hurt the citizens. Congress wouldn't support any of it, and the president is mostly powerless if the Congress is not on his side.

There have been cases where the checks and balances nearly failed, such as the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, the Line-item veto. George W. Bush came close by appointing cabinet members without consent of congress.

The Federal Government Provided for in the Original Constitution was Not too Powerful

Node your homework!

The federal government provided for in the original Constitution was not too powerful nor did it overwhelm the rights of the states. Though it was certainly much stronger than the one provided for under the Articles of Confederation, it was not too strong. Instead, the new government contained the perfect mixture of powers and checks needed to run an effective government.

The federal government created was not too strong because it was, and still is, a republican form of government guaranteed under Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution. Officials are elected by the people. This system helps to ensure that federal officials act responsibly. For example, if a Congressman votes for a law that his constituents disapprove of, he may well end up losing to the competition at the next election.

Another reason why the government created was not too strong is because it is a federal form of government. Though the central government has great power under the enumerated powers of the Constitution, some powers, such as intrastate trade are reserved for the states. Therefore, though the federal government is powerful, it is not all-powerful.

On the other hand, despite the powers denied to the federal government, it can still grow stronger by using the elastic clause. Under it, Congress can pass all laws "necessary and proper" for carrying out its delegated powers, such as creating a space agency. However, though this clause enables the government to grow in power, it does not make it all-powerful. The federal government is still denied certain powers, such as passing an ex post facto law or bill of attainder.

The federal government's design also prevents one person from gaining too much power and becoming a despot or king. Under the Tri-Partite government provided for under the separation of powers, federal power is divided into three sections: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. No one branch, in theory, can overpower the others and the state governments because of a series of checks and balances created in the Constitution. Every branch has the power to check the actions of another. For example, the Supreme Court, as head of the Judicial Branch, has the ability to nullify a law passed by Congress by declaring it unconstitutional. Furthermore, each branch is further divided: the bicameral legislature consists of a House of Representatives and a Senate, the President, as head of the Executive Branch, must work through his department heads, and there are several justices on the Supreme Court. Under this system, it is almost impossible for one person to gain too much power.

In addition, the original Constitution ensures that the Senate is more loyal to the states than the federal government. The legislatures of each state appoint Senators under the unamended Constitution. Therefore, the Senators must please their respective states in order to get reappointed. Though it is true that members of the House were, and still are, chosen through direct elections, both houses' consent is required to pass a bill into law. Furthermore, the Senate, as the upper house, has the sole power to ratify treaties and must confirm all Presidential appointments.

If one looks carefully at the facts, it becomes clear that the federal government created under the Constitution of 1787 was not too powerful. In fact, the opposite is true; the government was designed so that it could not grow too powerful and neither could one person become a monarch.

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