FLVS Civics: Foundations – Checks and Balances
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FLVS Civics: Foundations – Checks and Balances


Ever heard of checks and balances? No, not for a bank account. The checks and balances I’m talking about
are for the U.S. Federal Government. The Constitution divides the U.S. Government into three branches: the Legislative,
the Executive, and the Judicial. Each branch has its own job to do. Checks and balances keep each branch of the
government from using their job to become too powerful. How? Here’s an example. Congress is the Legislative branch. It’s split into the House and the Senate,
so it already has some checks built right in. The main job of Congress is to create bills
that one day may be turned into laws. But Congress can’t go around making any laws
they want and expecting everyone to be okay with it. That’s what parents are for, right? So when Congress passes a bill, it goes to
the president for approval. As the head of the Executive branch, the president
can sign the bill into law or veto it. The president’s decision is a check on the
law-making power of Congress. But what if Congress doesn’t agree with the
president? Congress can override the president’s veto
if 2/3 of its members vote to do so. Even though this is very difficult to do,
it’s how Congress is able to check the power of the Executive branch. But that’s not all. The Judicial branch of government or the Supreme
Court can also check law-making power. If a law is challenged in court, the judge
might decide that the law’s unconstitutional. That’s like saying it should have never been made. It can even throw out a law that has gone
through Congress and been approved by the president. Now, don’t think that the Supreme Court is
just there to delete everyone else’s work. Their power of interpreting law and settling
disputes has checks, too. For instance, Congress has the power to make
an amendment to the Constitution. This is a long and difficult process, but
it can make the law they wanted to pass constitutional. In addition, it’s the president’s duty to
select and appoint federal judges. This check prevents the Supreme Court from
creating its own rules for selecting judges. That’s good, because who knows? I might want to be a judge someday…and I
don’t want somebody making up new rules to stop me. After the president selects a federal judge,
the Senate (part of the Legislative branch) must approve the choice. This is a check on the Executive branch. It makes sure that the president isn’t picking
judges without the Senate’s consent. Congress has final say on the number of federal
courts and judges. This is another check on the Judicial branch’s
power. The president can do more than pick judges. The president has the power to issue an executive
order to deal with some situations, like if there’s an emergency. Maybe he needs to send troops overseas to
stop a rebellion and rescue Americans in danger. But even executive orders have limits. Only Congress can declare war. That means unless Congress supports the executive
order, the troops will eventually be called back. Plus, Congress must approve paying for these
actions, so the president can’t keep the troops in action if Congress doesn’t give the money. The Supreme Court could rule the executive
order to be unconstitutional, just like it could a law. The president is the leader of the executive
branch, but if he gets power-hungry or starts breaking laws, then the House can vote to
impeach. That means bring charges against the president. Once impeached, the president goes on trial. Both the legislative and judicial branch can
check the power of the executive through the impeachment process. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides
over the trial. The Senate decides whether the president is guilty. This is a serious check. As of 2013, it’s only happened twice – and
neither was found guilty. One of those presidents was a fan of giving
out pardons. Have you ever heard of a pardon? It’s like forgiveness. The president has the power to pardon which
is a check on the judicial branch, since the courts can punish criminals. Sometimes the president or other executive
leaders can make treaties with other countries, but the Senate must approve any agreement
before it’s official. If it seems like the president is checked
a lot, it’s true. From the beginning, Americans needed to be
sure no president could take over and abuse their rights. The president can check the legislative branch
by calling a special session of Congress. This might be due to an emergency, like the
conflict situation I talked about before. Also, the vice president is president of the
Senate. He or she can break a tie vote in the Senate. So do you have this checks and balances thing
down? Just remember, being a responsible citizen
is super important. Responsible citizens make sure to voice their
opinions and make the government work for them. After all, they’re the most important check
on the government.

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