Politics on Point: Branches of Government.

This week we elected a brand new president, and, while a lot of bold claims were made
on the campaign trail, it’s important to remember that the new president, like all
presidents before him, is not able to act alone when it comes to making new laws, or
waging war, or building walls along the border – and that’s by design.

See, when the founding fathers designed this country, they had just fought for
independence from a king – and they knew they did not want to establish another
government ruled by a king. Instead, their main goal was to set up a government that did
not allow one person to have too much control.

With this in mind, the framers wrote the Constitution to provide for a separation of
powers, or three separate branches of government. Each has its own responsibilities
and at the same time they work together to make the country run smoothly and to assure
that the rights of citizens are not ignored.

The legislative branch is also called Congress – that’s the branch that makes laws –
Congress is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Many people
think this is the most important branch because the founding fathers wrote this branch
into the Constitution first.

The judicial branch evaluates laws and is made of the Supreme Court and other Federal
Courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court in our country, and they settle disputes
that state courts can’t decide and they determine if laws are constitutional – or, allowed
by the Constitution.

Finally, the executive branch carries out laws – this is where the President fits in, along
with his Vice President, and Cabinet.

The president is the head of state, head of the U.S. government and the commander-inchief
of the U.S. military, so, he is very powerful, but the branches of government ensure
a system of checks & balances. A branch may use its powers to check the powers of the
other two in order to maintain a balance of power among the three branches of

For example, the president may veto – or reject -- a law passed by Congress. But
Congress can override that veto with a vote of two-thirds of both houses.
It might make it harder to get things done, but our system of checks and balances
ensures that many different groups of people have to put their stamp of approval on new
laws, appointments, or actions. As they say: “teamwork makes the dream work.”

Instructional Links

Website Article & Poster: Kids.gov, Three Branches of Government 


Website Article: Ben's Guide to Government, Checks and Balances 


Game: Sheppard Software, Branches of Government Game 


Video: PBSLearningMedia, Crash Course Government and Politics, Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances 


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