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Why were the different branches of the United States government structured the way they are in the Constitution?

We can talk about the First and Second Amendments all day long, but what I think is the most important thing about our Constitution is in the main document itself- between the Preamble and the signatures and that is the whole idea of division of powers.

Our founders didn't trust government, or more to the point, the individuals who would take up positions in government. Most of our founders were elected officials and knew what they were referring to. So in essence they didn’t trust themselves.

Most of the other countries on earth have a more parliamentary system where if the legislatures lost faith in their leader they simply call for a new election and the legislative branch would just elect a new executive. I think we see this a lot in Great Britain for instance. So the executive is a creature of the legislature. There’s never a dispute between the two.

What makes us different is a president- elected in a completely different manner. Our electoral college elects a president with each state having a say. Elected officials are banned from serving as electors. The Constitution reads:

”Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress: but no senator or representative or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall be appointed an elector”

This removal of elected officials is a division of power. It provides that no elected official may serve as an elector. They must be private citizens. This can't be emphasized more: the president and Vice president are elected separately. The president serves all the people whereas representatives and senators don’t. The representatives represent the people and the senators the states. Both branches have different duties. All taxing authority is the House of Representatives where those bills have to originate. The Senate has advise and consent powers over treaties, judicial appointments, and even members of the President's cabinet. The power to create law rests in all these branches: the combined Congress and then the approval of the executive.

Our founders spent most of their time in convention debating between representation by state, versus population and wealth. In the end, they chose to do both. It’s called the grand compromise. This separation of powers is what’s made our constitution so strong. The power to declare war with the legislature and that of commander and chief with the Presidency.

This is what forces the branches to be separate but also to work together. There is more as well, really all across the document you’ll find it. Then we have Article I section 6 clause 2 which states:

“No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either House during his continuance in office.”

This restriction is designed so no one in elected office can make a position for themselves. This is kept separate from elected positions in government.

Then of course we have impeachment where the House can bring charges, but the Senate must sit as a jury and when the President of the United States is on trial. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will sit as judge. So, for such an important trial as this, all the branches are assembled.

This brings up Article III which houses the third coequal branch as designed by our founders and spelled out in the Constitution. The judicial branch is independent of the rest although it’s true the President has the power to appoint judicial officers, it can only be done with the advice and consent of the Senate. They don’t have the power to review laws before implementation. Alexander Hamilton, then secretary of the treasury, formerly asked the court to review the laws of the country, and John Jay, our first Chief Justice, wrote back that they didn’t have the authority. This decision was important because it promulgated the independence of the judiciary. Yes, we do have a judicial review but only through cases that come up through the courts. Where changes to the law are made is through people or branches suing, claiming a violation of the constitutionality of the specific law or lower court decisions. Judicial review began when the court claimed it during the landmark case of Marbury vs. Madison, a dispute over the nomination of judges in the waning days of the Adams administration.

Our founders were concerned about people wanting more power, which they saw as a flaw of mankind. This is the reason for the separation of powers: to deny anyone from individually achieving too much power. However, as we know today we have parties that have combined to achieve raw power, something Washington our first president warned us about in his farewell address.

The separation of powers has served us well. The senate was originally chosen by the state legislatures which was another curb of power. The whole idea is the Senate was to represent the states. They were concerned about the large states overpowering the smaller ones. This was changed by an amendment. See the Seventeenth for a look, which allowed for direct elections by the people. My understanding there’s been a movement lately to repeal this amendment, but that’s probably a long way off.

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