The United States Government comprises three branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Government experts understand that each unit has its own distinct and inherent powers and functions, which are outlined in the Constitution. Read on to learn more about the different branches of US government and what they do.
Congress is responsible for making laws. It is composed of two houses—the Senate and the House of Representatives—and members of Congress are elected by the people.
Each state’s representatives in the House are based on its population, while every state has two senators regardless of population. To pass legislation, the Senate and the House must approve a bill in identical form. If one chamber passes an account and the other chamber does not, or if the two sections pass different versions of a statement, then the legislation fails.
The legislative branch is responsible for creating, passing, and ratifying laws. To pass legislation, the Senate and the House of Representatives must approve a bill in identical form. If one chamber passes a bill and the other chamber does not, or if the two chambers pass different versions of a bill, then the legislation fails.
This is the most well known of the branches of US government. The executive branch carries out and enforces laws. It is headed by the President, elected by the people, and serves a four-year term. The President’s power is checked by Congress and by the judiciary. He can veto legislation that Congress passes, but Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses. The President also appoints judges to federal courts with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The President’s primary duty is to ensure that laws are faithfully executed. Still, he also serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, negotiates treaties with foreign countries, and has the power to grant pardons for federal crimes (except in cases of impeachment). The President is assisted in these tasks by his Cabinet, which comprises 17 executive departments headed by secretaries who report to him. These departments focus on specific areas such as defense, education, or transportation.
The Vice President is also part of the executive branch. He presides over the Senate and votes in case of a tie. He also assumes the presidency if the President dies or resigns from office—as did Vice President Gerald Ford when President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid the Watergate investigation.
The Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction over certain cases—for example, those involving interpretation of federal laws or treaties, constitutional questions, or disputes between citizens of different states—and permits them to hear appeals from state court decisions when required under state law.
There are three levels of federal courts: district courts (which handle trials), circuit courts (which hear appeals from district court decisions), and finally, the Supreme Court (which hears appeals from circuit court decisions). Most cases originate in district courts; very few reach the Supreme Court level. Because they aren’t elected officials and are judges, this is the least well understood of the branches of US government for most people.
Federal judges are appointed by Presidents and confirmed by majorities in the Senate; they serve during “Good Behavior” (meaning they have lifelong appointments) to remain independent from political pressure when making decisions. Because there are nine justices on the Supreme Court—a “majority” being five—Supreme Court opinions usually reflect whichever side commands five justices’ support on any particular issue at any given time; as a result, membership on this court can have profound implications for American society as a whole.
Knowing how the U.S. government works is essential for several reasons. First, as citizens of the United States, we are responsible for participating in our democracy. This includes understanding how our government works and being informed about the issues that affect us.
Secondly, an understanding of government can help us be more effective citizens. If we know how laws are made and decisions are reached, we can more effectively participate in the political process and advocate for the changes we want to see.
Finally, knowing about the government can help us better inform news and media consumers. In an increasingly complex world, it is essential to be able to sort through information and understand what is going on.
Final Thoughts on the Branches of US Government
The best way to learn about how the U.S. government works is to experience it firsthand. There are many opportunities to do this, whether by attending a city council meeting or visiting your state capitol. You can also stay informed by following the news and attention to how government policies affect you and your community.
No matter how you choose to learn about it, understanding how the U.S. government works is an essential part of being a responsible citizen.
The United States Government has three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Each branch has distinct powers and functions outlined in The Constitution. To keep things running smoothly, all three branches of US government must work together cooperatively—but also keep an eye on each other to prevent any branch from amassing too much power (a principle known as checks and balances). By understanding how each branch operates and its role in our government, we can fully appreciate how our country runs—and participate more actively in civic life.