How to Government #1: The Three Branches of Government
Most of us can remember the names for the three branches of government: Legislative, Executive and Judicial, but how many of us can remember what each specific branch is responsible for? I know I need a refresher, like once a year, so let's get to it!
The Legislative Branch:
The Legislative Branch is also known as Congress (and in the olden days, the Bicameral Congress). The purpose of the Legislative Branch is to legislate, or make laws. It is made up of two legislative bodies: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate is smaller with 100 members--two for each state. A Senator's term lasts six years.
The House of Representatives is larger with 435 members and the number varies by state. So California has 53 members while Rhode Island has 2. Representatives are also called Congressmen/women which is a little confusing. They can only serve two years at a time, which makes them more accountable to the people they serve. If they don't get stuff done in two years...they out! Both Senators and Representatives can be reelected indefinitely. As a voter, I would carefully consider my choices for Senator because they will be serving for SIX YEARS. That's a long time, and once they serve one term, it's really hard to unseat them.
The Executive Branch:
The Executive Branch is the President's domain. The President's main job is to execute or carry out the laws made by the Legislative Branch. He or (hopefully SHE) is at the top with their official title being head of state, head of government and commander-in-chief of the military. After the POTUS, is the Vice President who mostly keeps a supportive role but also is the presiding officer in the Senate, which is a fancy term for Tie-Breaker.
Underneath the POTUS and VPOTUS, is the Cabinet which consists of 16 members. These are officials that the President selects to run different departments, like the Department of Justice (lead by Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or the Department of Education (lead by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos). If you've been paying attention to the news, there's been much contention over the President's nominations for these departments and the Senate is in charge of holding commission hearings for each of these appointments. That is an example of one of the checks on power that exists in our government structure that I'll get into more detail about in the next How to Government.
Another power the President has is to sign executive orders, which is a fast way to get things done through the Cabinet departments. Much to our chagrin, our current Pres has taken advantage of the executive order quite a bit:
The Judicial Branch:
Lastly, we have the Judicial Branch which represents the federal court system. The Judicial Branch's main function is to evaluate laws for their consitutionality. At the top, sits the Supreme Court, which is made up of nine judges appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. The most recent addition to the Supreme Court, is Neil Gorsuch, who was controversially approved by the Senate after activating the "nuclear option." This now makes it easier to appoint Supreme Court nominees because the Senate only needs a majority of 51 votes as opposed to 60, which was needed in the past.
Below the Supreme Court is a system of federal courts called the Court of Appeals. You've probably heard the Ninth Circuit Court mentioned a bunch since the travel ban was deemed unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit is a regional court that comprises of the West Coast states. Here's a map of the appellate courts:
The reason the Ninth Circuit keeps popping up as the main obstructor from Trump's executive orders is because it is the most liberal appellate court. For instance, when Trump put forth his travel ban, a judge in Hawaii blocked him from executing it and the ban will now be put under judicial review by the Ninth Circuit in May.
There you have it, the three bodies of U.S. government. I hope this was a good refresher for some of you. I, for one, have never been clear on the Judicial Branch's role and structure. I plan to delve deeper into each of these branches as we go on this journey. To find out about the checks and balances between the three branches, check out my next post.