The U.S. Constitution created three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — as a system of checks and balances so no one person or authority has too much control. Any of the three branches may use their power to "check" the power of the other two.
Separation of Powers
The Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution created the executive, legislative and judicial branches as a way to centralize government. The division allows each department to manage its own responsibilities, but also encourages the branches to work together for the benefit of the citizens.
The Executive Branch
The executive branch -- which consists primarily of the president, vice president and the Cabinet -- carries out and enforces laws. The president leads the country and is also referred to as the head of state. The president can only be elected for two consecutive four-year terms. The vice president is considered the president's support, but also would serve in place of the president if the president is unable to carry out his or her duties. A person can serve unlimited number of terms as vice president. The Cabinet consists of those who serve the president as advisers. The Cabinet is voted upon and approved by the Senate, whereas citizens select the president and vice president. There are also several boards and agencies that work within the executive branch to assist in carrying out policies.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is responsible for enacting laws, and confirming or rejecting presidential appointments. It has the power to declare the country at war. Article I of the Constitution created the legislative branch, which is made up of members of Congress, also known as the House and Senate. The seats of Congress are elected seats voted upon by U.S. citizens. There are 100 members of the Senate -- two for each state -- who each serve six-year terms. In the House, there are 435 members whose number-per-state is based on state population. They serve for two years each. There is no term limit for members of Congress.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch is the court system that interprets, applies and determines whether laws are constitutional. This branch is primarily made up of the Supreme Court and other federal courts, and was established under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court consists of nine justices who are appointed by the president, with approval from Congress. The number of justices can fluctuate, as Congress determines the number of people serving on the court. The Supreme Court is considered the highest court in the land, where justices have no fixed-term for their service.
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