The Branches of Government

Constitution Articles 1, 2, and 3

Article 1: The Legislative Branch

The legislative branch in the United States is called Congress. Congress is divided into two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate.


The Two Houses


The House is made up of 435 representatives. Representatives for the House are determined by proportional representation. The higher the population of the state the more representatives in the House. House Representatives must be at least 25 years old, and serve two-year terms.


The Senate is made up of 100 representatives. Each state has two Senators based off of equal representation. Senators must be at least 30 years old, and serve six-year terms. One-third of the Senate comes up for election every two years.


Powers


Congress makes the laws and controls how much money the government spends. For a law to be created, it must be voted for in each house of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate). Congress also has the power to declare war.


The House of Representatives can impeach, or charge with a crime, the president. The Senate can then remove the president from power. The president cannot declare war with out approval from Congress. Congress also approves treaties created by the executive branch, and approves judges selected by the president to serve on the Supreme Court.

Article 2: The Executive Branch

The executive branch is made up of the president, vice-president, and the president's top advisers (called the Cabinet).


The President


The president carries out the laws of the country with the help of many agencies and departments. The president has many roles. As the Chief Diplomat the president deals with other countries and negotiates treaties. As the Commander in Chief the president uses the military to solve conflicts. As the Head of State the president acts as the face of the country. As the Legislative Leader the president can encourage and ask Congress to pass certain laws.


The Vice President and the Cabinet


The president selects heads of major departments that advice the president on many issues. This group of advisers is called the cabinet. The Constitution does not give the Vice President a specific role. The vice president does serve as the President of the Senate, but only votes in the case of a tie. It is up to each individual president to decide what the role of the Vice President will be.

Article 3: The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch decides the meaning of laws. The judicial branch is made up of the Supreme Court and lower level courts. Article 3 of the Constitution says very littler about the role of the judicial branch, but it gave Congress the power to define the role of this branch. In 1789, Congress passed the Judiciary Act which created the model for the United States judicial branch.


The Supreme Court


The Supreme Court is made up of nine judges that are known as justices. These justices are selected by the President, and approved by Congress. Supreme Court justices serve for life. Congress has the power to make the number of justices that appear on the Supreme Court large than nine or less than nine.


During the case Marbury v. Madison, the Supreme Court was given the power of judicial review. Not included in the Constitution, this is the most important power that the Supreme Court has. Judicial review is the power to say whether laws created by Congress or decisions made by the president are Unconstitutional, or illegal.

Checks and Balances


By creating three branches of government, the delegates built a "check and balance" system into the Constitution. This system was built so that no one branch of our government could become too powerful.


Each branch is restrained by the other two in several ways. For example, the president may veto a law passed by Congress. Congress can override that veto with a vote of two-thirds of both houses. Another example is that the Supreme Court may check Congress by declaring a law unconstitutional. The power is balanced by the fact that members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president. Those appointments have to be approved by Congress.

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