Give Me Three Minutes, and I’ll Give You The Three Branches of Government!

The 2008 Presidential election cycle brought us a new leader and new Congressmen. Many new laws and policies have been implemented. The public is asking, “Does the government have the power to control health care, car manufacturers and financial institutions?” Has the government overstepped the powers of limited government in the Constitution?

Any discussion of the limited power of government must begin with a list of the 3 branches of government. Then we can define limited government in light of delegated powers of the Constitution.

The three USA branches of government are Legislative, Executive and Judicial. The Legislative branch is mentioned first in the Constitution, and is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. House members (known as Congressmen) are elected to two-year terms, and the number of them is related to population. Each state, regardless of population, gets two Senators. Senators serve six-year terms.

The Founders envisioned the Legislative branch to be the most powerful, so it is mentioned first in the Constitution. The Legislative branch makes law. Among the types of law that this branch may pass are tax laws, laws governing citizenship, impeachment, and the power to declare war. The fact that power is enumerated, or specified, is an example of limited government. Congress can only exercise power specified in the Constitution.

Since a Congressman must stand for election every two years, he must think very carefully about a decision to raise taxes on the people. All tax laws must originate in the House. The President and the Supreme Court cannot propose tax bills. The Founders established the limited power of government to protect our liberty.

The Framers gave us a safeguard against a poorly-behaving president. A sitting President can be removed by a process known as impeachment. The House must bring charges of impeachment, but the Senate must conduct the trial, and vote to convict and remove him. If the House lodges unnecessary impeachment charges, they will likely be punished at the next election. As the more deliberative body, the Senate conducts the trial. Being elected every six years insulates the Senators from the “passions of the people.” These different roles in the impeachment process are a definition of limited government power.

The President and his cabinet make up the Executive Branch. The Executive branch is tasked with carrying out, or executing, laws passed by Legislators. Since we are a republic, not a democracy, our President is actually elected by the Electoral College, and not by the popular vote. The purpose of  the Electoral College is to prevent “intrigue and cabal” when choosing the Executive. Voters vote for electors, and the electors vote for the President. Power is separated, and there is a check within the three branches of government.

The Judicial is the last branch on the list of the 3 branches of government. It was intended to be the least powerful, so it is mentioned last. Jefferson cautioned that creating a Supreme Court would deprive the other two branches of government some of their delegated powers. His cautions seem important now, as the Court often strikes down state and Federal laws, even those passed by popular initiative. Some assert that these decisions violate limited government in the Constitution.

The President appoints Supreme Court justices to lifetime terms. Senators must confirm the appointees through a hearing process. The only way to unseat a justice is to impeach them under our definition of limited government. This almost never happens. On the other hand, if it were too simple to impeach a justice, the justices may spend more time worrying about making popular decisions than making sound legal rulings.

Answering the question about the government’s proper role in our lives requires an understanding of the three branches of government. The Framers instituted a structure of limited government in the Constitution because they feared the tyranny of old Europe would sprout up in the New World. Each of the branches of the US government as some power that checks a power held by the other two. Our liberties are protected by these checks and balances. Americans for limited government want their Constitutional liberties preserved.

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