How does our system of checks and balances
help protect our rights?
As we have already seen our
Constitution is very much a reaction to the events that came
before it. Our founding fathers had several goals, foremost
among those goals was to avoid tyranny. In order to do this
several different systems were set up to prevent the abuse of
power. Federalism was one of these systems. Federalism was
designed to balance the power of the national and State
governments and thus limit the powers of the national
government. Jefferson and others were convinced that state
government was closer to the people and thus more democratic.
Another system that was developed was the system of checks
and balances. Checks and balances, or the separation of
powers, is based upon the philosophy of Baron de Montesquieau.
In this system the government was to be divided into three
branches of government, each branch having particular
Makes the laws
Enforces and carries out the laws.
Interprets the laws
does each branch of the government have particular powers each
branch has certain powers over the other branchs. This is done
to keep them balanced and to prevent one branch form ever
gaining too much power. For example:
Congress may pass laws........but the President can veto
The President can veto laws.......but Congress can
override the veto with a 2/3 vote.
The President and Congreess may agree on a
law..........but the Supreme Court can declare a law
The President can appoint Judges and other government
officials.......but Senate must approve them.
Supreme Court judges have life terms.......but they can
be impeached .
As you can see there are many ways (there are many more
than listed) that the Constitution balances power. Real life
conflicts that test the system have occured throughout
history. These checks and balances are used on a regular
- After the Civil War President Andrew Johnson vetoed over
- After the Civil War Congress overrode overrode over 20
- In1987 President Ronald Reagan appointed Judge Robert
Bork to the Supreme Court, his nomination was defeated.
- In 1935 and 1936 the Supreme Court declared the NIRA and
then the AAA (two New Deal programs passed during the
Roosevelt administration) unconstitutional.
- In 1918 Congress refused to ratify the Treaty of
Versailles, a peace treaty ending World War I that President
Wilson had worked very hard on.
There are thousands of examples of checks and balances at
work. As we continue this year we will examine these and many