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What are Checks and Balances?


Checks and balances are features in the US Constitution that ensure that no branch of government has complete authority.

What are Checks and Balances?

A system of checks and balances can be used in any organization, although it is most commonly used by governments. The creators (commonly known as the Founding Fathers) of the United States Constitution incorporated various checks and balances. To control each other, they spread power over three branches. These measures are intended to prevent any individual or branch from concentrating too much power. They aid in the prevention of corruption and the enforcement of government accountability. Each of the three parts of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) has certain powers within the system of checks and balances. Yet, in addition to these capabilities, each branch is overseen by the other two branches.

Impeachment is another crucial check on our system of checks and balances. It is one of the checks and balances provided by the Constitution to Congress. When the House of Representatives votes to impeach the president, but only the Senate may remove him or her from office, this unusual scenario shows a system of checks and balances that occurs only inside the legislative branch.

The working principles of checks and balances

The checks and balances system exists to allow each component of government to restrict the authority of the other branches. The creators designed the system in such a way that no branch would grow overly strong. They realized the danger and despotism that may emerge from the concentration of power in one hand and wished for the United States to escape such abuse by the government.

The United States government is divided into three branches. The Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which comprise the legislative branch. Congress is charged with several duties. They draft and enact legislation, make rules, and oversee federal spending and loans. They are also the only branch that is permitted to ratify treaties and approve expenses.

The President and the administration, which comprises several agencies, comprise the Executive branch. The Executive branch is in charge of enacting and executing legislation established by Congress. This branch is also in charge of the armed forces and has the authority to issue orders and appoint several federal officials.

Since the writing of the Constitution, the executive branch’s powers have grown dramatically. For example, the President’s powers are not defined in the Constitution as executive orders. Therefore, the president doesn’t have the authority to establish laws or allocate finances. Yet, it is the responsibility of the courts to guarantee that the President acts within the scope of his authority.

The Supreme Court and lesser courts compose the judiciary. This office’s mission is to interpret the laws established by Congress, apply them in court, and ensure that each act is in accordance with the Constitution. The Constitution delegated certain powers to several branches of government. He also discusses the means through which each branch might challenge the authority of other branches under the system of checks and balances.

Checks and balances: nowadays examples

The US Constitution has several checks and balances that allow distinct departments of government to limit the authority of other branches. Here are some of the current checks and balances:

  • The presidential bill may be rejected by Congress, and the President may veto it if it’s approved by Congress.
  • Several of the president’s powers are only exercised with the assent of the Senate (international treaties);
  • The Supreme Court has the authority to overturn both congressional laws and executive branch actions.

Checks and balances: pros & cons

James Madison argued in the Federalist Papers that you “must first let the government control the governed, and then make it control itself.” A system of checks and balances, according to Madison, guarantees that the government regulates itself.

After understanding the consequences of power concentration, the writers of the Constitution intended to ensure that no single individual or branch of government became unduly dominant. This is the most major advantage of the US checks and balances system.

For example, the separation of powers prohibits any president from acting as a tyrant. Bills can be passed by Congress, not the president. While the president has the authority to issue executive orders, the court has the authority to cancel them if they go beyond what the president has approved.

The most major benefit of checks and balances usually causes the most serious drawback. The United States government’s structure ensures that no individual or body of government may make decisions without the oversight of other branches. This lack, particularly in times of divided administration, can lead to a deadlock with little change. Major policy reforms may take years, if not decades.

But, there might be an issue in the opposite direction. When one political party controls all three arms of government, the system of checks and balances is unlikely to be as strong as it would otherwise be.

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