(Daily360.com) – We often hear about the checks and balances the Constitution provides, and how these are crucial for the maintenance of a fair and productive government. But what exactly are checks and balances, and how do they work?
The Concept of Checks and Balances
Generally speaking, checks and balances within organizations aim to prevent mismanagement by dividing decision-making duties among individuals or departments. The theory is that requiring multiple leaders to “check” and “balance” each other should prevent a unilateral mistake from having a catastrophic impact.
In governments, the chief aim of checks and balances is to avoid individuals gaining too much influence over laws and policies. Oppressive regimes usually have one individual at the top who is not truly accountable to other leaders, or to citizens; checks and balances aim to prevent this.
Separation of Powers in the United States
Our checks and balances come in the form of a political doctrine known as separation of powers. Rather than existing as a cohesive unit, our government is divided into a legislature (Congress), a judiciary (the courts), and an executive (the president). These bodies check and balance each other in a number of ways.
The president must approve any item of legislation proposed by Congress (unless Congress can gather a two-thirds majority). Presidents also nominate different types of judges, including Supreme Court justices.
The houses of Congress can vote to impeach a president or judge who behaves illegally. They must also approve presidential and judicial nominations.
The Supreme Court can overrule a law or executive order if it’s offensive to the Constitution.
Significantly, the judicial branch has the task of interpreting the laws the legislature writes and the executive approves. The courts must decide what these written rules mean in the context of a real-life situation. For example, it’s up to a court to decide whether a certain act amounts to murder or manslaughter. These decisions then become binding in subsequent court cases, due to the concept of legal precedent.
How Checks and Balances Affect Our Governments
People often express frustration at the perceived ineffectiveness of government. They claim necessary changes take far too long to arrive, or that different parts of government are unwilling to cooperate with each other.
While these are often valid complaints, they’re unavoidable symptoms of our system of checks and balances. While they can slow things down, they’re the only way to ensure no entity or individual gains enough influence over policy to become a tyrannical force.
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