G CS 15

Structure and Functions of the Federal Government

Three branches compose the basic structure of the federal government. Public policy is created through the making of laws, the execution of the laws and the adjudication of disputes under the laws.

Content Statement

15. The political process creates a dynamic interaction among the three branches of government in addressing current issues.

Content Elaborations

Current issues are addressed by all three branches of the government as they make public policy. The interactions among the branches range from instances where they work in concert to instances involving the exercise of checks and balances. In this context, the political process becomes one of the branches exercising their powers to influence public policy.

The U.S. Constitution addresses the interaction among the branches of government with a system of checks and balances.

Checks and balances include:

  • Legislative on executive – veto override, impeachment of civil officers, Senate approval of appointments and treaties, raise and govern military forces;
  • Legislative on judicial – creation of lower courts, determination of appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, impeachment of judges;
  • Executive on legislative – convene either or both houses of Congress, veto legislation;
  • Executive on judicial – appoint judges, issue pardons and reprieves;
  • Judicial on legislative – Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over impeachment trials for the president, interpret and apply laws; and
  • Judicial on executive – judges not subject to removal by president, interpret and apply laws.

The interaction among the three branches of government is impacted by factors such as:

  • Interest group involvement (e.g., proposing legislation, advocating rules, filing briefs);
  • Political party control of the executive and legislative branches;
  • Amount of public interest and nature of media coverage/commentary; and
  • Informal relationships among the members of each branch.

Expectations for Learning

Use historical or contemporary examples of interactions among two or three branches of the federal government to analyze the political dynamics involved.