The United States of America is a quite famous country due to its Constitution being not only one of the oldest in the world but also famous for its fairness and some ground-breaking principles. One of such principles introduced in the document is the separation of powers, which is known as the system of checks and balances. The paper provides an overview of how the system of checks and balances works in the United States and the role of the US Constitution in controlling the three branches of power.
The principle of separation of powers was invented thousands of years ago. In fact, it is based on the idea that was first introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In the 18th century, the French philosopher Montesquieu proposed the main development of the principle. In his view, freedom, which is the right to do anything that is not prohibited by law, can only be achieved in a state where power is divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. In the context of the democratic regime of government, each has certain autonomy and is balanced by other authorities. The competence of each body is determined in order to prevent its domination over other bodies. This is one of the most important safeguards against arbitrariness.
The US Constitution is one of the oldest and most stable in the world. In the United States, the political power is divided into three branches as opposed to parliamentary democracies, where it is concentrated in the hands of a single supreme legislative body. According to Articles 1 to 3 of the Constitution, the executive, judiciary powers and power of the legislature belong to the President of the United States, US Supreme Court and lower courts, and the US Congress respectively (Mason and Stephenson 31). Along with the three branches on the national level, the political powers are divided between the national and state governments; thus, the power is even more dispersed between different bodies. Each of the US states has its courts, legislation, and government. According to the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution, state governments together with federal government have significant power (Tushnet). This power is executed on the states territory and may not include international relations or territories of the other US states. This is different from most European countries, where power is concentrated in the hands of the national government.
Each of the three branches of US national power, the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court, has the opportunity to act independently while remaining within the framework of the US Constitution. Such a principle of separation of powers became known as the system of checks and balances. While this system stands in the way of innovation, it also hinders usurpation of power by one of the branches. The Constitution prescribes that branches should be separated from each other and interdependent as well as both autonomous and interactive.
The principle of separation of powers is supported by all relevant provisions of the Constitution (Mason and Stephenson 77). Still, the system of governing bodies initially did not rely on the electoral body to the full extent. Most of the federal institutions are not elected by universal and direct suffrage. The President gains power as a result of indirect elections; in the initial period, the President is rarely determined by direct elections. The Senate, the upper house of Congress, consisted of members that were also elected by state legislatures and the Supreme Court until 1913, and appointed body still remains. Only the House of Representatives has been formed by direct vote since 1789 (Tushnet).
The actual relationship between the three main organs of government, the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court, are constantly changing, but the principle of separation of powers remains unchanged. The legal means of presidential influence on Congress is the right to veto laws adopted by the latter. The bill returned by the President to Congress, which can override the veto by a two-thirds vote in each house. The President also has so-called pocket veto. The procedure consists of the fact that his disapproval of Congress, President expresses in no written prohibition, and that leaves a bill unsigned before the Congress session break; when a break occurs before the expiration of 10 days provided by the Constitution the deadline for signing by the President (Mason and Stephenson 86). In this case, Congress must again pass a bill in the next session. The President is not obliged to give reasons for the veto. The veto applies to the entire bill, even if the head of state did not agree with some of its provisions. In other words, if they do not want to promulgate, which means post adoption and approval of the law in the official gazette, any part of the bill, they must reject the whole act. The veto can be applied to any bill, other than amending the Constitution. The adoption of the amendments by the Congress, more precisely, amended proposal, to the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the houses in order to override the President's veto.
Most of the powers listed in the Constitution are submitted to the Congress conduct, whereas the competence of the President of the US is described much less. Legislation is the sphere of the power of Congress. It passes laws, possesses the exclusive right to adopt the budget, and establishes taxes. Houses of Congress have broad supervisory powers, may establish special investigative committees. In addition, the Senate approves the country's top officials appointed by the President, including ministers and Supreme Court judges, and authorizes the President to ratify international treaties. Congress may impeach (House of Representatives) and judge (Senate) the President, Vice-President, and other US officials.
In order to govern the country, the President should work with Congress, which has the last word in case of disagreement. In general, Congress rightly personifies the United States. When making decisions by the Supreme Court in which the Congress is a party, that party is determined by the term the United States. In addition, the President has no right to early dissolve Congress. In other words, the President is influential, but Congress is very powerful having a dramatic impact on the means of the executive branch. The mechanism of power exercise is based on the fact that the legislative and executive branches can influence each other. They are forced to adapt to each other, to seek mutually acceptable solutions in the foreign literature sometimes, and those are called democracy of compromise.
The US courts provide the interpretation of laws passed by Congress. The US judiciary system consists of the Supreme Court and federal courts of lower levels. While interpreting a law, the court may conclude that a particular law, including those adopted by particular states, violates the Constitution. Since 1803, the Supreme Court of the United States, other than those specified in the Basic Law of powers, has appropriated this right of constitutional review, in othe words, the right to decide on the constitutionality of the acts of Congress, the President, and the bodies of state power. As far as interpreting the constitutional norms is concerned, the judges of the Supreme Court as well as other vessels exercising such control in the United States determine the fate of the legislation.
Congress determines the number of the members of the Supreme Court, but since 1869, their number has remained the same, nine members (Tushnet). Candidates are appointed by the President, and then, they must be approved by the Senate. Membership in the Supreme Court is for life, but a judge may resign, retire, or be removed from office. The President can supervise the judiciary branch. For example, they can appoint judges and pardon convicted criminals. Legislative institutions may also supervise the work of the judiciary power. Congress appoints federal judges and may remove judges from office; it can amend the Constitution, change the size and structure of the lower courts, and set court budgets.
The system of checks and balances is deeply rooted in the US power structure, and the Constitution strongly supports it. The example of the United States Constitution shows that the theory of separation of powers is not simply the result of lawyers theories. Instead, the strict separation of powers into branches is the result of centuries of the statehood relentless search for the efficient mechanisms to avoid the instances of power abuse. In the end, when one body has all state power, there is a chance that the governmental body will become uncontrollable and despotic.