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Explaining Politics: United States - the Executive and Judicial branches

Explaining Politics: United States - the Executive and Judicial branches

The United States federal government is split into three different parts, the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches. The Legislative is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, while the Executive comprises the President that agencies under him, while the Judicial branch contains the Supreme Court and the other court systems beneath it. 

The Executive Branch

The President is someone who is the commander in chief, and while they need approval by Congress to formally declare war, the president is official the person in charge of the army and according to the constitution, commands the troops. However, as there is so much that a president needs to do to run the country, they have to assign certain tasks to their cabinet members. These cabinet members can only fulfill their position if approved by the Senate after being nominated by the president. There are the: Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Secretary of Homeland Security.

These Secretaries are the head of their respective agencies, and advise the president on the best course of action in relation to their position, and can be fired at any time by the President. They also run the day to day operations for each of their departments and all employ various people to help enforce the laws that have been approved by the Congress. 

The President is responsible for approving or vetoing any of the legislation that gets approved by both the Senate and the House. If the President decides to veto a bill, it is sent back to Congress were it requires a two thirds vote in both Houses in order to override the veto. The President also has the ability to pardon anyone for any federal crime for any or no reason, along with the power to issue executive orders, which are in affect laws that become enforced when the President signs them, however these orders can be subject to challenges by the courts, and future Presidents can alter or abolish these orders.

The Vice-President serves alongside the President and their main duty involves breaking ties in the Senate, when the 100 Senators are split 50-50 on a bill. The VP also helps the President by travelling the world as another high level representative of the US in other countries, effectively being another diplomat. 

The Judicial Branch

Serving as a check on the Legislative and Executive branches, the Judicial branch, which has the Supreme court and various federal and local courts, can invalidate laws or executive orders passed by the Legislature or President. If the Congress is in charge of making the laws, and the President is in charge of enforcing those laws, than the courts are responsible for interpreting those laws. They can decide if something is not in line with the US constitution, and thus is not valid. The Supreme Court, made up of nine members serving for life, nominated by the President and approved by the Senate, decides whether a law passed by Congress or occasionally more local laws, are constitutionally viable. 

While the Supreme court gets thousands of requests a year for someones case to be heard, they only ever end up taking a few hundred, which sometimes lead to the courts making laws via certain court decisions, like legalizing abortion and gay marriage based on what the court said rather than a law passed by Congress. 

The Supreme Court is made up of nine members: Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. While nine has been the current number of Supreme Court judges, that number is not specified in the constitution, and it is possible a president could expand the court to get more judges that agree with them, as was tried in 1937.

Though the Supreme Court sits at the top of the US court system, the majority of the time, the courts ordinary citizens and lawmakers deal with tends to not reach that level. The court system is divided into sections based on the state level and the federal level. Each state has three levels of courts that cases go to, with a loss at one level leading to an appeal to the higher level court. While states differ with the types of courts, most states have a district court, followed by a court of appeals, which leads to a states supreme court. On the federal level, there is the federal district court, followed by the appellate court, then 12 different circuit courts separated by geography, then at the top sits the Supreme court.