”Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A wise man that Lord Acton

Given the recent debates over whether to go to war in the first place over what seems to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction and intelligence that was either manipulated or highly questionable, the ensuing Valerie Plame/Scooter Libby Affair and whether Karl Rove had his fingers in the cake or not, the whole House of Representatives Majority Leader Republican Tom DeLay and the alleged money laundering scheme, the Harriet Miers non appointment to the Supreme Court because of her lack of qualification and experience, Senate Majority Leader Republican Bill Frist and allegations of insider trading, Republican Representative Randy Cunningham’s recent bribery conviction with certain defense contractors, the whole fiasco about whether to renew the Patriot Act or not, and now, the revelation that President Bush authorized the spying on American citizens on numerous occasions (30) in response to the attacks of 9/11 despite not having a court ordered warrant to do so, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the three branches of government and see who could do what to who in terms of abuse of power.

Why don’t we start with the Legislative Branch, otherwise known as the House of Representatives and the United States Senate or as a whole, the Congress?

There’s probably a whole school of debate over which of the following is the most important power that the esteemed members of the Legislature might hold. In my ever so humble opinion, that power ranking probably shifts as events and circumstances dictate.

When it comes to the Legislature, the following are the checks in place to keep the Executive (Presidential) Branch from getting their way all of the time.

  • Impeachment power. The power to begin impeachment proceedings falls at the door of the House of Representatives. Should they vote to impeach, any trial proceedings are taken up in the Senate.

  • In the slim chance that no candidate for President receive a majority of electoral votes, the selection of the President would fall to the House. The Senate gets to select who the Vice President will be.
  • Both the House and the Senate can override a Presidential veto but it takes a two thirds majority of BOTH bodies in order to do so.
  • The Senate must approve any appointments to departmental positions.
  • The Senate also gets to chime in on any treaties and the appointment of ambassadors.
  • Should the Vice President fall on hard times and resign or die, both the House and the Senate participate in the approval of a new one.
  • These days, the power to declare war must go through the House and the Senate.
  • Nobody likes taxes but the power to enact them or roll them back belongs to both of them as does the power to allocate funds to various departments.
  • They also have the power to demand that from time to time, the President must keep them informed about the State of the Union. In modern times, the President will address the entire nation and deliver a speech but he/she really doesn't have to. They could just write a letter.

    The Legislative Branch also has some control over the Judicial Branch too.

    • Probably the most important is that the Senate must approve all judges appointed at the federal level.
    • They also have to power to set the jurisdiction of the courts themselves.
    • And this is a little known one, they also have the power to alter the size of the Supreme Court itself.

    Since the House and the Senate are two separate bodies, they can also police themselves by ensuring that any Bills introduced must be passed by both houses of Congress before they make their way to the Executive Branch. Further, any bill being introduced must be done so in the House of Representatives.

    To make sure that nobody sneaks out of town under the cover of darkness, neither house may adjourn themselves for more than three days without the other ones say so.

    Last but not least, all journal records of both Houses of Congress are to be published and made available to each of the bodies.

    Next up in line is the Executive (Presidential) Branch. In order to keep Congress from running amok and the Judiciary from going crazy, the President is authorized to do the following:

    • The President can veto any legislation put in front of him that was passed by both Houses of Congress.
    • If there is a tie for a vote on the floor of the Senate, the Vice President acts as the Presidents right hand man and casts the deciding vote.
    • The President acts as the Commander in Chief of the United States Military.
    • If both the House and the Senate are in recess, the President can make what is known as “recess appointments in their absence.
    • Should certain circumstances dictate, the President can call an emergency session of one or both houses of Congress.
    • If debate in either house is too spirited and they cannot agree to adjourn, the President is the one who gets to call a time out.
    • The power to appoint judges lies with the President.
    • The power to grant certain individuals a get out of jail free card also belongs to the Executive Branch.
    • Last but not least, there’s a check on themselves. Should the Vice President and members of the Cabinet decide that the President is no longer able to fulfill the duties of the office, they can vote him out. (For as long as I live, I’d don’t think I’ll ever see the day.)

    Last on the agenda is the Judiciary Branch. While the Legislative Branch enacts a law and the Executive Branch enforces it, the Judicial Branch is charged with interpreting it. This cuts them a pretty wide swath that often gets called into question about whether they are interpreting it correctly or making up laws of their own. They also have the power to declare laws unconstitutional and they are appointed to a life time term unless they decide to resign ala Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. That’s to ensure that they are not subject nor will their votes be influenced by the shifting of political winds.

    So there you have it folks. I’ve tried to cover the more basic aspects of the system of checks and balances to prevent any abuse of power by either of the three governing bodies. I’m sure there are plenty more but my civics 101 memory only goes back so far.

    On an unrelated side note, today President George W. Bush decided to conduct one of his rare press conferences and field questions about events of the day. Being the good citizen that I am, I attempted to watch it in the break room where I work or to watch highlights of it on the news at noon. My co-workers voted me down. Apparently, The Price is Right was just too compelling.

    And we wonder, just what is wrong the America?

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