Thursday, June 24, 2010
Checks and Balances
The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is that checks and balances are necessary to prevent abuse of power. The Founding Fathers never thought the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government would be absolute. Each branch was to be separate in its duties, but the other two branches were to be used as "checks and balances" to make sure no abuse of power occurred in performing those functions. The powers were to be separate but lightly laced together to form one, balanced unit of government. The three departments of government must be kept separate in order to preserve liberty. James Madison wrote, "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny." (The Federalist Papers, No 47). W. Cleon Skousen listed eighteen provisions in the check and balance system of our Founding Fathers. They are as follows: 1) The House of Representatives serves as a check on the Senate since no statute can become law without the approval of the House. 2) At the same time the Senate (representing the legislatures of the states before the 17th Amendment) serves as a check on the House of Representatives since no statute can become law without its approval. 3) A President can restrain both the House and the Senate by using his veto to send back any bill not meeting with his approval. 4) The Congress has, on the other hand, a check on the President by being able to pass a bill over the President's veto with a two-thirds majority of each House. 5) The legislature also has a further check on the President through its power of discrimination in appropriating funds for the operation of the executive branch. 6) The President must have the approval of the Senate in filling important offices of the executive branch. 7) The President must also have the approval of the Senate before any treaties with foreign nations can go into effect. 8) The Congress has the authority to conduct investigations of the executive branch to determine whether or not funds are being properly expended and the laws enforced. 9) The President has a certain amount of political influence on the legislature by letting it be known that he will not support the re-election of those who oppose his program. 10) The executive branch also has a further check on the Congress by using its discretionary powers in establishing military bases, building dams, improving navigable rivers, and building interstate highways so as to favor those areas from which the President feels he is getting support by their representatives. [Could this turn into black mail?] 11) The judiciary has a check on the legislature through its authority to review all laws and determine their constitutionality. 12) The Congress, on the other hand, has a restraining power over the judiciary by having the constitutional authority to restrict the extent of its jurisdiction. 13) The Congress also has the power to impeach any of the judges who are guilty of treason, high crimes, or misdemeanors. 14) The President also has a check on the judiciary by having the power to nominate new judges subject to the approval of the Senate. 15) The Congress has further restraining power over the judiciary by having the control of appropriations for the operation of the federal court system. 16) The Congress is able to initiate amendments to the Constitution which, if approved by three-fourths of the states, could seriously affect the operation of both the executive and judicial branches. 17) The Congress, by joint resolution, can terminate certain powers granted to the President (such as war powers) without his consent. 18) The people have a check on their Congressmen every two years; on their President every four years; and on their Senators every six years. The main purpose for our Constitution was to provide a way to solve problems in a peaceful manner. Our Constitution has served our nation well for over two hundred years. It has gotten our nation through several traumatic crises. A recent example of a peaceful transfer of power was at the time of the Watergate scandal. President Nixon misused his authority and resigned his office under the threat of impeachment. Ideas and quotes for this post came from The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen, pp 149-156.