Checks and Balances

Principles of American Democracy


The ideals of Checks and Balances have existed through many different forms throughout the century. The definition of Checks and Balances seen by some individuals is said to be described in this way. The American Government is made up of three separate branches which are judicial, legislative, and executive. The Judicial is composed of the federal and Supreme Courts and they could try federal cases and interpret the laws of the nation in those cases; the power to declare any law or executive act unconstitutional. The Legislative is composed of the house and senate and they could pass all federal laws; establishes all lower federal courts; can override a Presidential veto; can impeach the President. The Executive composed of the President, Vice-President, and the Departments and they could veto power over all bills; appointment of judges and other officials; makes treaties; ensures all laws are carried out; commander in chief of the military; pardon power. To make sure that these branches are co-equal there has to be a system of Checks and Balances. If any of the branches feel as if the law the other branches make is not constitutional, the other branches could veto the law. “Each of these branches has certain powers, and each of these powers is limited, or checked, by another branch. For example, the President appoints judges and departmental secretaries. But these appointments must be approved by the Senate. The Congress can pass a law, but the President can veto it. The Supreme Court can rule a law to be unconstitutional, but the Congress, with the States, can amend the Constitution.”

Here are some of the effects of the branches on each other. The Legislative Branch checks on the Executive and has impeachment power, trial impeachments, may override Presidential votes, and power to declare war. The Checks on the Judiciary are that the Senate can approve federal judges, power to set jurisdiction of courts, power to alter the size of the Supreme Court, and power to initiate constitutional amendments. Checks on the Legislature include all journals to be published, house must originate spending bills, and bills must be passed by both houses of Congress.

The Executive Branch’s checks on the Legislature hold Veto power, Recess appointments, and compensation cannot be diminished. The Checks on Judiciary include power to appoint judges and pardon power. The Checks on the executive is that the Vice President and Cabinet can vote that the President is unable to discharge his duties.

The Judicial Branches Checks on the Legislature does Judicial Review, Seats are held on good behavior, and Compensation cannot be diminished. The Checks on the Executive include Judicial Review and Chief Justice sits as President of the Senate during presidential impeachment.

“As you can see there are many ways that the Constitution balances power. Real life conflicts that test the system have occurred throughout history. These checks and balances are used on a regular basis.”

After the Civil War President Andrew Johnson vetoed over 20 bills.

After the Civil War Congress overrode over 20 Presidential vetoes!

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan appointed Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, his nomination was defeated.

In 1935 and 1936 the Supreme Court declared the NIRA and then the AAA (two New Deal programs passed during the Roosevelt administration) unconstitutional.

“A government is said to have an effective system of checks and balances if no one branch of government holds total power, and can be overridden by another. Each distrusts the others to a degree to improve accountability to the public as a whole.”

All of these Checks and Balances are somewhat inefficient but, this is the way it was designed. By forcing the branches to become liable to the others, no branch could seize enough power to become more dominant than the other branches.

“This unique system was seen by the Founding Father’s for the prevention of the majority from dictating its thoughts and ideas at will to a minority.”(Wood)

This is simply saying that the Checks and Balances system was seen by the Founding Father’s for the prevention of the greater amount of people who are most likely to be in charge speaking out their thoughts and ideas at force to a minority or a person that thinks differently from the majority. Using the