Checks and balances refers to the system that prevents any single branch of the United States federal government from exercising too much power.
The checks and balances system originated in the United States because of the abuses of power by both the British monarchs and later the state assemblies.
Each branch--executive, legislative and judicial--has a way to limit the power of the other branches. For example, the executive branch can veto laws passed by the legislative branch, but the legislative branch can override a veto with a 2/3 majority.
By preventing any one branch from dominating the others, the system of checks and balances requires cooperation between the different branches of government.
The existence of the system of checks and balances often is enough to encourage cooperation. For example, Congress may not pass a bill because it realizes that the Supreme Court will rule it unconstitutional.
Because of all of the checks and balances, the government can be slow to make decisions. The system encourages the potential for deadlock.
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