Article II of the U.S. Constitution outlines the power and structure of the executive branch of the government. This branch includes the president, the president’s executive officers, the vice president and also members of various federal departments and agencies. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were careful to put limitations on each branch to help provide a proper balance of power in the United States government. The ultimate check on executive power is the threat of impeachment and possible removal from office.
Power to Pardon
As chief executive, the president has the power to give clemency, which mitigates the penalties on a person who has been convicted of a crime. A pardon is a particular form of clemency in which a person is completely absolved of responsibility for the crime. A famous case of presidential pardoning was when President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon after his resignation in 1974.
The U.S. Constitution gives the president important leadership roles in both foreign relations and domestic affairs. The president plays a diplomatic leadership role by making treaties with foreign governments and receiving foreign ministers on official visits to the country. With regard to domestic roles, the president is expected to lead the direction of the legislative branch by giving legislators a report on the state of the union. It is the president’s job to then recommend appropriate agenda items for the legislative branch to consider. Article II Section 3 empowers the president to call a special legislative session on “extraordinary occasions” when there is a considerable legislative disagreement.
While the executive branch of the U.S. government is not given the power to declare wars, the president is named as “commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States” at the beginning of Article II Section 2. The Constitution allows the U.S. Congress to decide when a war will be fought, but gives the president the power to conduct the war once it has begun. It also gives the President the power to direct state militias.
The Impeachment Clause of Article II provides a check on the power of the executive branch because it makes public officials accountable for their actions should they be found guilty of treason, bribery and other crimes. Impeachment is the action of formally charging an official with a crime; a later conviction is required to actually remove the individual from office. A two-thirds majority of the U.S. Senate is required to remove a president from office. The Impeachment Clause applies to the president, vice president and all the other civil officers in the U.S. government. In December 1998, President Bill Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, but the Senate did not vote to convict him and he was acquitted on Feb. 12, 1999, maintaining his position.
- William and Mary Law Review: The President’s Power to Pardon: A Constitutional History
- Cornell University School of Law: Legal Information Institute: Article II
- California State University Fresno: Military Law Associates: Constitutional Structure
- Council on Foreign Relations: Balance of War Powers: The U.S. President and Congress
- The American Presidency Project: Gerald Ford: Proclamation 4311 - Granting Pardon to Richard Nixon
- UMKC School of Law: The Impeachment Trial of President William Clinton
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