Regents Prep: U.S. History: Government:
3 Branches of U.S. Government


Legislative Branch
The legislative branch of US government is the US Congress, created by article I of the Constitution. The upper-house of Congress is the US Senate, the lower-house is the House of Representatives.

Main roles and powers:

  • To pass legislation (laws)
  • Declare war
  • Regulate trade
  • Regulate money
  • Impeach federal officials
  • Override presidential vetoes (2/3 vote in each house)

Special powers & Responsibilities:

Senate:

  • Approve presidential nominations to the federal courts (including the Supreme Court, by majority vote)
  • Approve presidential appointments to federal positions (by a majority vote)
  • Approve treaties (by 2/3 vote)
  • Serve as jury in impeachment trials
  • Select a Vice-President if the electoral college fails to

House of Representatives:

  • Originate all spending ($$) bills
  • Serve as prosecution in impeachment trial
  • Select a President if the electoral college fails to

Requirements and terms of service:

Senate:

  • Term: Senators serve unlimited 6 year terms, elected by popular vote**
    (**note: The original Constitution called for Senators to be elected by the state legislatures, the 17th amendment changed this to a popular vote)
  • Requirements: Senators must be over 30, 9 year citizens of the US and a resident of the state

House of Representatives:

  • Term: Representatives serve unlimited 2 year terms, elected by popular vote 
  • Requirements: Representatives must be over 25, 7 year citizens of the US and a resident of the district which they represent

Representation:

Senate:

  • Representation: Each state has 2 Senators

House of Representatives:

  • Representation: Each state's number of representatives is proportional to population. The number of Representatives is fixed at 435 and division among the states is determined by the census (population count) conducted ever 10 years as required by the Constitution.

Executive Branch
The executive branch of US government is composed of the President, his advisors and all federal agencies and their heads. The executive was created by article II of the Constitution.

Main roles and powers:

Chief Executive

  • Enforce the laws passed by Congress
  • Issue executive orders, enforcing the law
  • Act as the head of the federal bureaucracy and all federal agencies
  • Nominate judges (including those to the Supreme Court, requiring Senate confirmation)
  • Appoint government officials (some requiring Senate confirmation, some not)

Chief Diplomat

  • Act a representative of the United States to foreign governments
  • Make treaties with foreign nations (require 2/3 vote in Senate for approval)
  • Extend or rescind diplomatic recognition of foreign nations

Chief Legislator

  • Propose a federal budget
  • Recommend proposed laws to Congress
  • Veto legislation
  • Approve legislation passed by Congress

Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces

  • Supreme commander of all branches of US military
  • Authorize use of US military for up to 60 days (without approval of Congress or declaration of war)

Chief of State

  • Serve as ceremonial head of US Government

Special powers & Responsibilities:

Judicial

  • Grant pardon (forgiving an individual of his/her crime(s))
  • Grant amnesty (forgiving a group of people of a specific class of crime)

Requirements and terms of service:

  • Terms: President serves a maximum of 2 terms of 4 years (**note: the original Constitution allowed of unlimited terms of service, this was revised by the 22nd amendment in 1951)
  • Requirements: President (or Vice-President) must over 35, a natural born citizen and a 14 year resident of the United States.

Judicial Branch
The judicial branch of US government is composed of the Supreme Court and all of the lower federal courts as created by Congress. The judicial branch was created by article III of the Constitution. The most significant power of the judicial branch is that of judicial review, first stated by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 1803 case of Marbury vs. Madison, but not expressly granted the court by the Constitution.

Main roles and powers:

  • Interpret the law
  • Exercise the power of judicial review
  • Chief Justice presides over trials of presidential impeachment

Judicial review:

  • Determine if laws passed by Congress are allowable by the Constitution
  • Determine if treaties negotiated by the President and approved by the Senate are allowable by the Constitution
  • Determine if actions by the President in enforcing the law are allowable by the Constitution
  • Determine if laws passed by states are allowable by the Constitution

Jurisdiction (Supreme Court):

  • The Supreme Court hears cases of appeal from lower federal and state courts
  • The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction (may hear a case first) in cases involving a state vs. state matter or a branch vs. branch matter

Requirements and terms of service:

  • Terms: Judges serve for life, they are nominated by the president and approved by the Senate but may be removed by an impeachment proceeding
  • Requirements: There are no specific requirement for judgeship in the Constitution