Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 4.9.20
Just Outside Washington



The U.S. Constitution includes the concept termed the Separation of Powers. The Constitution created three branches of government and power is shared among them. In addition, the powers of one branch can be challenged by another branch, which is referred to as a system of checks and balances.

Writing under the pseudonym Publius in Federalist No. 47, James Madison examined the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government under the proposed United States Constitution, which had not been adopted. Madison felt there was confusion regarding the concept at the citizen level.

Madison advocated the ratification of the Constitution and in No. 47, he was addressing issues raised by opponents of the constitution who feared that there was insufficient separation of powers among the executive, judiciary, and legislature.

He acknowledged that the topic of separation of powers was one of the principal objections by the more respectable adversaries to the Constitution and that no political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value. He pointed out that 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.

As mentioned, the Constitution divides power among the three branches. At the same time, the powers of one branch can be challenged by another branch, i.e. checks and balances.


Legislative Branch
Checks on the Executive

Impeachment power (House)

Trial of impeachments (Senate) Selection of the President (House) and Vice President (Senate) in the case of no majority of electoral votes
May override Presidential vetoes
Senate approves departmental appointments
Senate approves treaties and ambassadors
Approval of replacement Vice President
Power to declare war
Power to enact taxes and allocate funds
President must, from time-to-time, deliver a State of the Union address

Checks on the Judiciary
Senate approves federal judges
Impeachment power (House)
Trial of impeachments (Senate)
Power to initiate constitutional amendments
Power to set courts inferior to the Supreme Court
Power to set jurisdiction of courts
Power to alter the size of the Supreme Court

Checks on the Legislature - because it is bicameral, the Legislative branch has a degree of self-checking.
Bills must be passed by both houses of Congress
House must originate revenue bills
Neither house may adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other house
All journals are to be published

Executive Branch Checks on the Legislature
Veto power
Vice President is President of the Senate
Commander in chief of the military
Recess appointments
Emergency calling into session of one or both houses of Congress
May force adjournment when both houses cannot agree on adjournment
Compensation cannot be diminished

Checks on the Judiciary
Power to appoint judges
Pardon power

Checks on the Executive
Vice President and Cabinet can vote that the President is unable to discharge his duties
Legislative BranchJudicial Branch
Checks on the Legislature Judicial review Seats are held on good behavior Compensation cannot be diminished Judicial review Chief Justice sits as President of the Senate during presidential impeachment

Today we have a President who is ignoring the directives of the Constitution and trying to pull all power to himself. He is aided and abetted by a Republican party that is fearful of losing its constituency as the electorate grows more diverse. David Ignatius addresses one aspect of this power grab in this morning's Washington Post.