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Video:Branches of the Government

with Phaedra Trethan

The United States has three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial branch. Learn about each branch of government and their checks and balances.See Transcript

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Transcript:Branches of the Government

The United States has three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Each of these branches has a distinct and essential role in the function of the government, and they were established in Articles 1 (legislative), 2 (executive) and 3 (judicial) of the U.S. Constitution.

The Executive Branch of the Government

The executive branch consists of the president, vice president and 15 Cabinet-level departments such as State, Defense, Interior, Transportation and Education. The primary power of the executive branch rests with the president, who chooses his vice president, and his Cabinet members who head the respective departments. The executive branch ensures that laws are carried out and enforced to facilitate day-to-day responsibilities of the federal government such as collecting taxes, safeguarding the homeland and representing the United States' political and economic interests around the world.

The Legislative Branch of the Government

The legislative branch consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives, collectively known as the Congress. There are 100 senators; each state has two. Each state has a different number of representatives, with the number determined by the state's population. At present, there are 435 members of the House. The legislative branch, as a whole, is charged with passing the nation's laws and allocating funds for the running of the federal government and providing assistance to the 50 U.S. states.

The Judicial Branch of the Government

The judicial branch consists of the United States Supreme Court and lower federal courts. Its primary function is to hear cases that challenge legislation or require interpretation of that legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court has nine Justices, who are chosen by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and have a lifetime appointment.

Government Checks and Balances

To ensure that no single person or entity had a monopoly on power, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The president's power is checked by the Congress, which can refuse to confirm his appointees, for example, and has the power to impeach, or remove, a president. Congress may pass laws, but the president has the power to veto them (Congress, in turn, may override a veto). And the Supreme Court can rule on the constitutionality of a law, but Congress, with approval from two-thirds of the states, may amend the Constitution.

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