Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances: Crash Course Government and Politics #3

Hi, I’m Craig, and this is Crash Course Government
and Politics. Today, I’m going to try to explain two fundamental concepts of American government
that students and citizens often confuse. Team Jacob and Team Edward. No. Separation
of powers and checks and balances. Team Jacob! [Theme Music] So separation of powers is really simple.
The national government is divided into three separate branches: the legislative branch,
the executive branch, and the judicial branch. I put them in this order because that’s the
way the Constitution has them. And I’m not going to argue with the Constitution, except
for that stupid 3/5ths of a person thing. So the legislative branch comes first, because
it’s supposed to be the most important branch, and Article I is the longest and most detailed
of the 7 Articles in the Constitution. The main job of the legislature is to make laws.
The secondary job is to say, “No, it’s your fault.” “No, it’s your fault!” “No, it’s your
fault! I’m going home, I have to campaign.” Then we have the executive branch, and here
the Constitution is a little less helpful. Article II Section I states “The executive
power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” The executive branch
is obviously more than one guy or girl. The executive branch is in charge of executing
the law, which basically means carrying them out. The President is like the CEO of the
US, making sure that the government governs. Interestingly, the President’s power as executive
is found in the Oath of Office. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute
the office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability,
preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Ruh ruh ruh! Wait, Stan, I just gave the Presidential Oath
of Office, so I’m President now, right? Totally. Oh, elections, yeah, we didn’t have those. Last and, in the eyes of many, least, is the
judicial branch. The job of the judiciary, also sometimes called “the Courts,” which
I’m going to also call “the Courts,” because judiciary is really hard to say, is to interpret
the law, to explain what it means. Article III, which describes the judicia- the courts
is even shorter than Article II. It only has 3 sections instead of 4, and the courts today
don’t really look like this description. Here is the first sentence of Article III
Section I: “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court,
and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”
At least the Framers realized that the entire United States would probably need more than
one court. But notice right there in the sentence, that Congress has the power to create all
other courts. And this lead us nicely into the second important
concept of American government – checks and balances. Yeah, that was a segue right into
it. It was a nice job, by me. I’m going to need a little help explaining checks and balances,
so let’s do that part in the Clone Zone. Checks and balances is a confusing term because
it implies two things. But really, it would be better to think of them as checks that
balance, although that might be confusing to people who actually try to balance their
checkbooks. Anyways, the point here is that each of the branches has the power to limit,
or check, the other two and this creates a balance between the three separate powers.
In the same way that the Constitution lays out the legislature in the greatest detail,
it also gives the legislature the greatest number of checks on the other branches. Legislative
clone… Legislative Clone: So the Framers of the Constitution
were really concerned about the President becoming a tyrannical figure a la King George
III. That guy was a jerk. So the Constitution gives the legislature a lot of power over
the Executive. The House of Representatives can impeach the President, then the Senate
can remove the President from office, but only if two thirds of the Senators vote for
impeachment. The Senate can also check the President’s appointment of judges and officials
by rejecting them. This is known as advice and consent. Either branch of Congress can investigate
executive activities and officers. If the President vetoes a law, Congress, with a two
thirds vote in both houses, can override the veto. Congress can also refuse to pass laws
that the executive wants, and probably most important, they can refuse to appropriate
funds for executive programs. You might think that since the judiciary is the third and
presumably least important branch, Congress would have fewer checks on it. But that would
be wrong! Here are the ways that the legislative branch
can limit the judicial branch: Congress can impeach and remove judges as it can do with
the President. Congress can be a bunch of jerks sometimes. Huh, that’s me. Heheheh.
Senates can reject judicial nominees, which is a check on judges before they even get
there. Congress can change the federal court system by adding or taking away courts like
it says in Article III. And it can change the jurisdiction of federal courts. Congress
can pass new laws that override the Supreme Court decisions, as long as the decisions
aren’t based on the Constitution. Don’t want to do that, no. And as a very last, super
drastic resort, Congress can propose Amendments to the Constitution, as it did with the 13th, 14th, and
15th Amendments, overruling the Dred Scott decision. Craig: Wow, legislative clone. Looks like
the Framers were so scared of an all-powerful super president that they gave Congress most
of the power. Executive Clone, you know, I’ll be Executive Clone because I’m basically president
of the clones. The executive branch can check the power of
the legislature in the following ways: the president can veto Congress’ laws so that
they don’t go into effect. The president can call Congress into a special session, but
he can’t make them pass new laws. The executive branch carries out the laws, and may do so
in ways that are contrary to what Congress wanted. Although this rarely happens, the
vice president is given power to break ties in the Senate, which is one of his only real
powers other than embarrassing the president. The president nominates Supreme Court justices,
and this can change the way the courts work. He also nominates federal court judges, and
this shapes the entire court system. The president can pardon people convicted by the courts,
which cancels out their judgments. The president can also, in his capacity to carry out the
laws, refuse to carry out court decisions. So you can see, even with a number of checks that it
has, the executive branch is weaker than the legislature. Judiciary Clone: But not as judiciary branch.
Many political scientists consider the judiciary the weakest branch because without
legislative and executive action, it doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Being the weakest
branch, the judiciary also has the fewest checks on the other two branches. Here’s what it can do: The judiciary checks
the legislature by declaring its laws unconstitutional. The Chief Justice presides over impeachment
trials, and sometimes he gets to wear a special robe when this happens. Perk of the job, it’s
a perk of the job. It’s really nice. And the judiciary checks the executive branch
by declaring executive actions unconstitutional. A really good example of this was Youngstown
Sheet and Tube Company vs. Sawyer, a super important case. Look it up, look it up! The court also issues warrants in federal
crime cases, and again presides over impeachment trials in the Senate. But the big check that
the courts have is invalidating laws and executive actions. We’ll talk about how courts actually do
this and where they got this power in a later episode. Craig: No, I’ll talk about it in a later episode,
okay? Let’s go back to the regular desk. Judiciary Clone: You’re out of order! Craig: Thanks clones. Now some of you are
probably saying, Craig, this is very helpful information but why do we have checks and
balances in the first place? To you I say, “Stop talking to your computers, that’s weird!”
I also say, “Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.” So the Framers of the Constitution were terrified
of a tyrannical central government that would destroy people’s rights like they felt the
British had. The powers of the national government are separated, and each branch are able to
check others because this makes it more difficult for the government to act in ways that harm
the acts and interests of the citizens. One of the best explanations of this comes
from, you guessed it, the Federalists Papers. In this case, Federalist 51, which was written
by James Madison, who also wrote a lot of the Constitution and became president, so
he kind of knows what he’s talking about. And really, it’s kind of a shame that he’s
not on our money because Americans would pay him more attention, and they would also pay
him, literally. In Federalists 51, the title which also contains
the phrase, “checks and balances,” Madison wrote, “But the great security against a gradual
concentration of the several powers in same department, consists in giving to those who
administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments
of the others. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary
to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of
all reflections on human nature.” That’s right, he wrote with an accent. Don’t know
how that’s possible. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Madison was talking about checks and
balances; I’ll leave it up to you to decide if human nature requires that we build safeguards
into our government to protect us from our leaders. But Madison thought so, and I think so
too. But this isn’t about me; this is about government. And it’s helpful to remember that when people
tell you that the Framers of the Constitution were infallible, James Madison actually that
they were outfallible, or just fallible. Anyways, see you next time. I’m so fallible. Crash Course Government and Politics is produced
in associate with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from
Voqual. Voqual support non-profits that use technology and media that advance social equity.
Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course is made by all
these nice people, they’re very nice. I know them. Thanks for watching.

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