The concept of Separation of Powers is drafted in the United States Constitution in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Articles. In this way, The Constitution is deliberately made inefficient, so that no one branch of government overwhelms proper the functioning of democracy. The Separation of Powers conceived by the founding fathers of the United States made sure of one particular thing: “to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist”. Based upon their personal experience as well as historical knowledge, the framers were able to design the constitution in such a way that no branch of the government holds too much power. This system of separating and sharing powers is also known as a system of Checks and Balances (Reitz, 2006).
Each of the three branches of government has strictly defined powers and obligations, and each one of them is subject to be checked and restricted by another branch. For example, while the President has the right to appoint judges and departmental secretaries, the nominees should achieve the approval of the members of the Senate. Similarly, the Congress can pass any legislation, unless it is vetoed by the President. Also, the Supreme Court can declare a particular piece of legislation to be unconstitutional, but the Congress and the State governments have the power to amend the Constitution (Macey, 2006).
It has to be noted that as a result of this system of checks and balances, governance is at times inefficient and ineffective. But that’s by intent rather than by accident. By compelling the various branches to be accountable to the others, each branch is prevented from usurping much power and become dominant. Allocating governmental authority amidst three separate branches is also helpful in preventing formations that are strongly in favor of the national government, in which case it will easily overpower the individual state governments, leading to poor democratic results. But there are more subtleties to the constitution than what is obvious. Consider the following passage,
“Governmental powers and responsibilities intentionally overlap. For example, congressional authority to enact laws can be checked by an executive veto, which in turn can be overridden by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses; the President serves as commander-in-chief, but only the Congress has the authority to raise and support an army, and to declare war; the President has the power to appoint all federal judges, ambassadors, and other high government officials, but all appointments must be affirmed by the Senate; and the Supreme Court has final authority to strike down both legislative and presidential acts as unconstitutional. This balancing of power is intended to ensure that no one branch grows too powerful and dominates the national government.” (Macey, 2006)
In The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton describes the judiciary as the least powerful of the three branches. The judiciary’s independence from political domination by the legislature or the presidential branch is “protected in the Constitution by life tenure during good behavior and a guaranteed salary”. The judiciary has the prerogative to call for review the constitutionality of presidential decisions or laws passed by Congress. The judiciary’s power is restricted to only the “cases and controversies” brought before the court of law (Lavinbuk, 2005).
In addition, the Constitution also makes provisions for the Congress to pass laws that are “necessary and proper” to give effect to its named powers. The Constitution separates the legislative power in the Congress between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Only if both the Houses agree on a particular legislation can it become law. The President has veto power on legislations that have come to the table. And finally, the Supreme Court is bestowed with the right to review the constitutionality of a piece of legislation if it is challenged in a case brought before the Court (Katyal, 2006).
The President’s role in the government was intended to be that of the “monarchs who ruled as heads of state for most European countries at the time the Constitution were drafted. Unlike those monarchs, however, the President is elected to office and serves only for a limited term”. The Senate has the power to approve and pass treaties the President has forwarded and to give consent to nominees appointed by the President for federal judgeships and other government positions. The Congress also has the power to “impeach and convict the President for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Katyal, 2006)