Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school
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.
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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).
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.
Let's also take a look at how the system of checks and balances works with something common, like passing a law. One of the powers that the legislative branch has is the ability to propose laws. Only the legislative branch can propose laws; it's a balance. However, the president, through the executive branch, can veto, or cancel, a law that the legislative branch proposes. That's a check. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the judicial branch, can also declare a law unconstitutional, which also cancels the law - another check. If the legislative branch didn't have checks of its own, it could start to feel as if it was at the mercy of the other two branches. Luckily, the legislative branch can override a presidential veto (a check) and can also propose a new version of a law if it was deemed unconstitutional by the judicial branch (check).
The system of checks and balances was established to make sure that parts of our government did not abuse their powers. Each branch, including the legislative, executive, and judicial, has its own unique set of powers and responsibilities to initiate change and to serve as checks, or limits, on the powers of the other branches.
- The system of checks and balances was established by the founding fathers.
- All branches of the U.S. government has its own set of duties and capacities called separation of powers.
- Each branch is able to check the powers of the other branch to prevent any abuse of power.
Complete each section of this lesson on checks and balances in order to:
- Recognize the meaning of check and balances
- Understand the necessity of checks and balances
- Highlight the correlation between separation of powers and checks and balances
- Discuss examples of the system of checks and balances
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System of Checks & Balances: Purpose, Importance & Examples
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