Explaining the United States

“I was reading your first post and found it very interesting, but I don’t know much about the US Government, could you do a post about it please?”


“It matters enormously to a successful democratic society like ours that we have three branches of government, each with some independence and some control over the other two. That’s set out in the Constitution.”

Sandra Day O’Connor

Today’s post comes from someone who contacted me asking me to explain the United States government in more detail after they had read my post examining the current case at the UK Supreme Court. This post won’t be an extremely in depth post, it will be an overview. If there is a wish for a more in depth look at the three branches I will write follow up posts on the three.

The United States is ultimately governed by their supreme law, the constitution, there it sets out how the federal government of the United States works and the powers they shall have. The framers of the constitution decided to spilt the power between three co-equal branches of government the President (Executive), Congress (Legislature) and Supreme Court (Judiciary). Each branch designed to fiercely guard the power it had while equally keeping the other two in line, it is important to understand the framers feared tyranny so did all that they could to prevent a single person holding it all.

Established in article 1 of the constitution, Congress’ role is to make laws. Representatives from the states to meet and to approve or deny new laws for the whole country. Congress can be broken down into two, first the House of Representatives and second the Senate. The House of Representatives is made of 435 members (+3 shadow members from Washington DC) and each state has its number of representatives determined by its population, the smallest state only having 1 and the largest California having 53. The House has the ultimate responsibility for the budget among other powers. The Senate is the upper house with each state being given two Senators making 100 Senators in total, the Senate has the responsibility for ratifying all treaties and executive appointments.

Established in article 2 is the executive, better known as the President is charged with the responsibility of enacting all laws passed by Congress. In addition to this the President is the Commander in Chief of all the United States’ military. This means that the President’s powers are considerable when it comes to foreign policy but limited by Congress with domestic powers. After the passing of the 22nd amendment the President is limited to a maximum of two terms in office. (There are some exceptions but that requires in depth discussion of the 22nd amendment.)

The final branch of government established in article 3 is the Supreme Court. Ultimately a body established to be the highest court in the land, it was the weakest branch of government (some believe it still is), until it in Marbury vs Madison (1803) it granted itself the power of judicial review, better known as the power to declare something unconstitutional. Whenever the executive and the legislature end up in conflict, it will fall upon the Supreme Court to sort it out, a classic example of a case being United States vs Richard Nixon (1974).

This is a quick run down of the three branches of government and an overview of their powers. If you wish for me to go into any further detail on anything I have covered in this post please get in touch.

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