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System of Checks & Balances: Purpose, Importance & Examples

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  • 0:04 A Set of Rules
  • 0:27 What Are Checks and Balances?
  • 0:54 Purpose and Importance
  • 1:47 Examples
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk
This lesson will cover the system of checks and balances that exist among the three branches of the federal government. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check for understanding.

A Set of Rules

Anytime you have ever played a game, there has most likely been a set of rules that control how the game is played. Each player cannot do whatever he wants. The rules tell each player what he or she can and cannot do so that the game is played fairly and that no one player has a bigger advantage than another to win. Just like there are rules when we play games, the branches of the U.S. federal government have a set of rules they must follow.

What Are Checks and Balances

The set of rules that the U.S. federal government is bound by to make sure that no one branch of the government becomes too powerful is called the system of checks and balances. In other words, each branch of the government is 'balanced' because each branch has its own set of authoritative functions and responsibilities. However, each branch also has, within its abilities, 'checks' that limit or prevent other branches from becoming too influential.

Purpose and Importance

When the U.S. government as we know it today was first being formed, the founders of the Constitution thought it was best if the government was divided into three sections, or branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Each of the sections would also have its own separate powers: the legislative branch creates laws, the executive branch enforces laws, and the judicial branch interprets laws. This was done so that no one branch would become too dominant.

This concept of each branch having its own set of job duties and authoritative capacities is known as the concept of separation of powers. The concept of separation of powers is directly related to the system of checks and balances because each branch has its own set of powers (balances), and some of the capabilities that each branch has makes sure that another branch doesn't abuse its power (checks).

diagramCheckAndBalances

Examples

In a general sense, think of the system of checks and balances like playing a game of basketball. There are coaches that tell the players what to do, much like the president does in the executive branch. Secondly, there are the referees that make judgments to see if something is right or wrong, like the judicial branch. There are also the rules that are agreed upon and must be followed, much like the laws that the legislative branch passes.

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