The Separation of Powers in the United States Political System
In the 18th Century, the French philosopher Montesquieu, who had been
one of the inspirations behind the French Revolution, argued that
limitation would be necessary within government within government in
order to avoid tyranny. He identified the Executive, the Legislature
and the Judiciary as the four braches of government which needed to be
separated. To do this, he suggested the 'Separation of Powers', a
mechanism built internally into government where each branch would
have powers enabling it to limit those of another so no one branch
becomes too powerful.
The Founding Fathers of the American Constitution agreed with
Montesquieu's ideas and introduced a system of checks and balances
into the Constitution to support the Separation of Powers.
There are several ways in which Separation of Powers is achieved by
the Constitution. If we take the Executive and Legislature first, the
Executive in the US government is the Presidential Office and the
Legislature is the two Houses of Congress - the House of
Representatives being the Lower House and the Senate being the Upper
House. The Senate has the power to confirm all major presidential
appointments. The combined Houses of Congress controls the Executive
budget and appropriation (expenditure), passes/rejects all legislation
requested by the President and can impeach and remove the President
for 'high crimes and misdemeanours'. In addition, the Senate ratifies
foreign treaties signed by the President with a two-thirds majority.
On the other side, the Executive also has powers to limit the
Legislature and so complete the Separation of Powers. The President
can, for instance, propose Legislation. He or she can call special
sessions of Congress and can even veto bills passed by Congress. A
two-thirds majority in both Houses of Congress in turn can again
override this veto.
Now to take the Legislature and Judiciary, the Judiciary in the US
government is the US Supreme Court. The Senate, for example, must
approve all judicial appointments. Congress has the powers to create
new lower courts, change the number of judges and impeach/remove
judges for misbehaviour. On the other side this time, the Supreme
Court can rule an act of Congress as unconstitutional and interprets
the laws passed by Congress.