How the U.S Government is Organized
The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power:
- Legislative-Makes laws (Congress-House of Representatives and Senate)
- Executive-Carries out laws (President, Vice President, Cabinet, most federal agencies)
- Judicial-Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)
Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches:
- The President can veto legislation created by Congress and nominates heads of federal agencies.
- Congress confirms or rejects the President's nominees and can remove the President from office in exceptional circumstances.
Justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws,
are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
This ability of each branch to respond to the actions of the other branches is called the system of checks and balances.
The legislative branch drafts proposed laws,
confirms or rejects Presidential nominations for heads of federal
agencies, federal judges, and the Supreme Court, and has the authority
to declare war. This branch includes Congress (the Senate and House of
Representatives) and special agencies and offices
that provide support services to Congress. American citizens have the
right to vote for Senators and Representatives through free,
are two elected Senators per state, totaling 100 Senators. A Senate
term is six years and there is no limit to the number of terms an
individual can serve.
- House of Representatives-There
are 435 elected Representatives, which are divided among the 50 states
in proportion to their total population. There are additional non-voting
delegates who represent the District of Columbia and the territories. A
Representative serves a two-year term, and there is no limit to the
number of terms an individual can serve.
The executive branch
carries out and enforces laws. It includes the President, Vice
President, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies, and
other boards, commissions, and committees.
American citizens have the right to vote for the President and Vice President through free, confidential ballots.
Key roles of the executive branch include:
President leads the country. He or she is the head of state, leader of
the federal government, and Commander in Chief of the United States
Armed Forces. The President serves a four-year term and can be elected
no more than two times.
- Vice President-The
Vice President supports the President. If the President is unable to
serve, the Vice President becomes President. The Vice President can be
elected and serve an unlimited number of four-year terms as Vice
President, even under a different President.
- The Cabinet-Cabinet
members serve as advisors to the President. They include the Vice
President, heads of executive departments, and other high-ranking
government officials. Cabinet members are nominated by the President and
must be approved by a simple majority of the Senate-51 votes if all 100
Executive Branch Agencies, Commissions, and Committees
Much of the work in the executive branch is done by federal agencies, departments, committees, and other groups.
- Executive Office of the President -
The Executive Office of the President communicates the President's
message and deals with the federal budget, security, and other high
- Executive Departments -
These are the main agencies of the federal government. The heads of
these 15 agencies are also members of the President's cabinet.
- Independent Agencies -
These agencies are not represented in the cabinet and are not part of
the Executive Office of the President. They deal with government
operations, the economy, and regulatory oversight.
- Boards, Commissions, and Committees -
Congress or the President establish these smaller organizations to
manage specific tasks and areas that don't fall under parent agencies.
- Quasi-Official Agencies -
Although they're not officially part of the executive branch, these
agencies are required by federal statute to release certain information
about their programs and activities in the Federal Register, the daily journal of government activities.
The judicial branch
interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and
decides if laws violate the Constitution. It's comprised of the Supreme
Court and other federal courts.
- Supreme Court-The
Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The Justices
of the Supreme Court are nominated by the President and must be approved
by the Senate.
- Nine members make up the Supreme Court- a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. There must be a minimum or quorum of six Justices to decide a case.
- If there is an even number of Justices and a case results in a tie, the lower court's decision stands.
- There is no fixed term for Justices. They serve until their death, retirement, or removal in exceptional circumstances.
Federal Courts and Judicial Agencies - The Constitution gives Congress the authority to establish other federal courts
to handle cases that involve federal laws including tax and bankruptcy,
lawsuits involving U.S. and state governments or the Constitution, and
more. Other federal judicial agencies and programs support the courts
and research judicial policy.
Confirmation Process for Judges and Justices
Appointments for Supreme Court Justices and other federal judgeships follow the same basic process:
- The President nominates a person to fill a vacant judgeship.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nominee and votes on whether to forward the nomination to the full Senate.
the nomination moves forward, the Senate can debate the nomination.
Debate must end before the Senate can vote on whether to confirm the
nominee. A Senator will request unanimous consent to end the debate, but
any Senator can refuse.
- Without unanimous consent, the Senate must pass a cloture motion
to end the debate. It takes a simple majority of votes-51 if all 100
Senators vote-to pass cloture and end debate about a federal judicial
- Once the debate ends, the Senate votes on confirmation.
The nominee for Supreme Court or any other federal judgeship needs a
simple majority of votes-51 if all 100 Senators vote-to be confirmed.
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Infographic: How the Supreme Court Works
Learn how cases reach the Supreme Court and how the Justices make their decisions. Use this lesson plan in class.