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Three Branches of Government Summary

A general overview of the three branches of the U.S. government.
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Articles one through three of the U.S. Constitution make provisions for three separate and independent branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. Each branch has its own set of powers and responsibilities, yet many of thepowers and responsibilities overlap. The framers of the Constitution believed that this separation of powers would protect individuals' rights and liberties and prevent the government from abusing its power. A system of checks and balances enforces the separationof powers.

Before considering how the system of checks and balances works, it is important to understand the role of each branch.

Executive Branch

The President heads the Executive Branch. He oversees his cabinet, which includes the secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation,Education, Energy, and Veterans' Affairs, and the Attorney General. The President's responsibilities include enforcing and carrying out laws passed by the legislative branch, appointing or removing cabinet members and officials, negotiating treaties, and actingas commander in chief of the armed forces and head of state.

Legislative Branch

The two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, make up the Legislative Branch. Congress has the power to levy and collect taxes, borrow money, regulate commerce, coin money, declare war, raise and support armies, and make laws.There are 100 senators and 435 representatives. Senators serve six-year terms, and representatives serve two-year terms. Each state is allotted two senators, and the number of representatives is determined by each state's population. For example, Californiahas many more representatives than Rhode Island.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court heads the Judicial Branch, which interprets the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws, upholds the laws, or invalidates them. There are eight associate justices and one chief justice. The President nominates the justices to theSupreme Court and the Senate approves them.

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