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20 September 2014
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The President
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Checks and Balances

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Reference - Federal government legislative branch - the congress
The House and Senate can veto each other’s bills.
Congress can override the Presidential Veto.
Congress approves presidential nominations and approves the budget.
Congress has the power to impeach the President.
Congress has the power to impeach Judges.

executive branch - the president
The President has the power to recommend legislation to Congress
The President may veto legislation approved by Congress.
The President appoints Supreme Court Justices.

judicial branch - the courts
The power of Judicial Review allows the Supreme Court can declare Acts of Congress or presidential acts unconstitutional.

The Legislature (Congress)

Checks by the Legislature on the Judiciary (Supreme Court)

1. The power to either confirm or reject appointments to the court

2. The congress decides how many justices make up the court. They could pass a law to require a president to increase the number and therefore allow an incumbent president extra influence on the balance of thinking in the court.

3. The power of impeachment.

4. The power to initiate constitutional amendments allows the congress to overturn decisions of the court. Recently, however, attempts in the congress to overturn the court's decisions in area such as abortion, school prayers and desecration of the American flag (the court decided this was protected under the right to free speech) have all failed.

Checks by the Legislature on the Executive (the President)

1. Congress can amend and reject legislation supported by the President. A recent example of this check was the Senate's refusal in the closing days of 2005 to extend certain provisions of the anti-terror Patriot Act and make most of it permanent.

2. Congress can override the President's veto by gaining a two thirds vote to do so in both Houses.

3. Congress has the ‘power of the purse' which means it must vote to approve spending on policies approved by the President. Withholding approval of a president's financial requirements is a major check.

4. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. Congress declared war on Japan in 1941 though since then it has been mainly content to force presidents to seek specific authorisations for the deployment of troops abroad

5. While the president has the responsibility to negotiate treaties, it is the Senate that has the power to ratify (confirm, and make legal) them.

6. The Senate has power over the confirmation of the president's appointments to the senior posts in the executive branch of government (such as ambassadors, the Cabinet and heads of the CIA and FBI), and to the federal judiciary, especially important here are the appointments to the Supreme Court.

7. Congress has the power of investigation into the policies or actions of any member of the executive branch. Congress closely examined George W Bush's performance on national defence issues before and after the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001.

8. The House of Representatives has the power to impeach (to accuse) any member of the executive, including the president is a major check. If an impeachment process is begun it can lead to removal from office. If the House has a simple majority for the articles of impeachment, then the Senate begins a trial. A verdict of guilty by two thirds of the Senate is required to remove a president from office. The president has no comparable power in relation to the Senate.

The Executive (The President)

Checks by the Executive on the Legislature (Congress)

1. The president has the power to recommend legislation to Congress. This happens each year in January's televised State of the Union Address to the nation.

2. The president also has the power to veto bills passed by Congress

Checks by the Executive on the Judiciary (the Supreme Court)

1. The power to nominate justices.

2. The president has the power of pardon

3. A president can openly support or criticise the court, and therefore seek to influence the way its decisions are received.

Other checks include the limitations on the way the court operates. For example, it has no power to begin an examination on any particular constitutional issue, it may only decide on cases it receives from lower courts.

Importantly, the court has no power of enforcement. It both relies on other agencies to ensure its decisions have effect, and acceptance of its decisions by the public.

The court also has to consider its legitimacy in the eyes of the public and make decisions that have credibility. Its decisions cannot too regularly contrast with public opinion if they are to have widespread support and acceptance.

The court can amend or overturn as unconstitutional the decisions of earlier courts.

Finally, the Constitution itself checks the court by being unambiguously clear in certain areas, allowing no room for a reinterpretation based on any contemporary ideas of the supreme court.

The Judiciary (The Supreme Court)

Checks by the judiciary on the legislature (Congress)

1. The power of Judicial Review This refers to the power of the Court to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional and therefore unlawful. In this role the court has taken on the responsibility of interpreting the meaning of disputed sections of the constitution. Essentially, the Supreme Court decides the current meaning of a document written well over two centuries ago. As a result, the court has a great deal of power in areas of national disagreement and dispute. This means it has a clear political role in deciding on the rights of Americans in such disputed areas as, for example, freedom of speech, abortion, gun control, capital punishment and the rights of racial minorities.

Checks by the judiciary on the executive (the President)

1. The power of judicial review is equally important as a check on the power of the executive. Any action of members of the constitutional branch can be declared unconstitutional

In late 2005, and very unusually, two federal level courts challenged the legality of the President's actions in relation to his approval of unauthorised spying on American citizens since 9/11, and his Administration's attempts to change the status of a prisoner accused of being involved in terrorist offences. The court rulings were rare and severe rebukes of the executive.


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