The creators of the US Constitution should be considered a group of wise men.
But in today’s ideologically charged atmosphere, where political correctness and Cultural Marxism reign, historical revision and reinterpretation have reduced Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and the rest as the supreme oppressors of the world.
Even though they helped to create one of greatest documents known to human history.
One of the genius efforts in creating the constitution was the system of checks and balances, where each branch of government has the power to limit the other branches. Simply, this was built into the constitution to keep any branch of our government from becoming too powerful.
What a great Idea. The wisdom of this came from the experiences of the American Revolution in which the British government attempted to impose its will on the colonists. Some examples of what the British did were to dissolve colonial legislatures, restrict and even stop trade, and overtax the colonists.
This caused a lot of mistrust by the people of the 13 original states toward a strong central government, so when the constitution was written, the creators placed provisions to keep the US Government from attempting to do what England did just a few years before.
For nearly every power that each branch of government has, there is another branch that has a power that counters the power of the preceding branch.
Here are some examples:
1) Law Making:
The Legislative branch of our government (the House of Representatives and Senate) has the power to make laws. To counter this, the Executive Branch has the power to veto (or reject) a potential law.
A recent example took place when President Obama vetoed the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015, which would have repealed parts of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare).
This is where things can get complicated. The Legislative Branch can counter a presidential veto with an override vote. An override vote is when a potential law is sent back to the Legislative branch, after being vetoed, and is voted on again. This time, the Legislative Branch must have a minimum of two-thirds (2/3) majority for the override to be successful. That way, the Legislative Branch overrode the president’s veto, and the bill becomes law.
Just last month, congress overrode President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), enabling the families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian Government.
But we’re not finished yet. The Judicial Branch also has a say in the process of making laws. The Supreme Court has a power called Judicial Review. This power counters the Legislative Branch by being able to declare a law unconstitutional. No, not just any law that the Supreme Court wants to call unconstitutional, but rather a law that violates the constitution.
An example from way back in 1991 was when President GHW Bush helped in pushing a crime bill through congress that would have given law enforcement the power to search for contraband without a search warrant. This directly violates the 4th Amendment right against searches and seizures. The Supreme Court struck it down by a 5-4 vote.
2) Presidential Appointments
The Executive Branch has the power to appoint judges to the federal court system. To counter this, the Legislative Branch gives its approval or disapproval on a judge.
The latest example is happening right now, although the Senate is lagging in its vetting process. Judge Antonin Scalia passed in February, opening up a seat on the Supreme Court. President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat. To this point, however, Garland has not been approved.
3) Making Treaties
The Executive Branch has another power – to make treaties with other countries. And again the Legislative Branch has the authority to say yes or no.
One of the best examples goes all the way back to World War I. President Woodrow Wilson had the idea of creating the League of Nations in the attempt to make war illegal in the treaty negotiations after the war. However, his grandiose ideal wasn’t accepted by the US Congress (Legislative Branch). Even though Wilson signed the Treaty of Versailles, congress didn’t want to give up American sovereignty to a world governing group. The US signed a separate, more agreeable, treaty in 1921.
The Judicial Branch can interpret a treaty similar to the way it interprets laws. If a part or parts of a treaty violate the constitution, it cannot be accepted. Kind of like a Judicial Review of treaties.
Another example of the checks and balances system gives the Legislative Branch the power to impeach and convict the president. The House of Representatives does the actual impeaching while the Senate can convict the president. Remember, President Clinton was impeached in 1998, but the Senate did not convict.
And as American citizens, we have power within this system, by voting and using our right of free speech to protest.