Three Branches are Better
Our forefathers were very
insightful when framing the Constitution and choosing the set of principles to govern
the United States. They wanted a strong but fair national government that would
not abuse its power. They believed the best form of government would be separation
of powers. Our federal government is made up of three different branches as
established in the first three articles of the Constitution and power is shared
between them. They all have checks and balances which allow for one branch to
challenge the power of another branch. The three branches include the legislative
branch, judicial branch, and executive branch. All three have main headquarters
located in Washington, D.C.1
The legislative branch
makes the laws and is made up of Congress and several agencies. Congress
includes the Senate and the House of Representatives, who are elected by the voters
from each state. There are two Senators from each state, for a total of 100. Their
term is six years and there is no limit on the number of terms they can serve. The Vice President of the United States is considered Head
of the Senate, but does not vote unless there is a tie. The number of
Representatives is determined by the population of each state and there are a
total of 435 Representatives. Their term is two years and there is also no
limit on the number of terms they can serve. The
Speaker of the House is considered the head of the House and is elected by the
representatives. Congress has the power to declare war,
enact taxes and allocate funds. There is a self-checking system built into Congress, because bills
must be passed by both houses and neither house may adjourn for more than three
days without the consent of the other house. The Senate approves departmental
appointments, treaties and ambassadors.2 They
have checks on the executive branch, which include impeachment power and the
ability to override a presidential veto. They also have checks on the judicial
branch, which include the Senate’s approval of federal judges and the power to
initiate constitutional amendments, set jurisdiction of courts, and alter the
size of the Supreme Court.
The judicial branch is made
up of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. The Supreme Court is the
highest court in our country and has the power to interpret the laws according
to the Constitution. There is a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. A
minimum of six justices is required to decide a case. They are nominated by the
President and approved by the Senate. There is no fixed term and they only hear
cases with issues related to the Constitution. The federal judicial system also
has lower courts in each state who hear cases related to federal issues.3 The judicial
branch has checks on the legislative branch with the power to declare a law
unconstitutional. They also have checks on the executive branch, which include
the power to rule that a presidential action is unconstitutional. Supreme Court
Justices cannot be fired by the President.
The executive branch includes the President,
Vice President and Cabinet. The President enforces or carries out the laws and
is elected by the United States citizens who are eligible to vote in their
state. The votes are tallied and compiled in the Electoral College system which
allows for each state to have the number of electoral votes equal to the number
of Senators and Representatives assigned to that state. With the Electoral
College, it is possible and it has happened that a candidate wins the popular
vote and loses the electoral vote. The President’s term is four years with a
limit of two terms. The President is Head of State and Commander in Chief of
the military, while the Vice President is President of the Senate. The Vice
President can serve an unlimited number of four-year terms, which can be under
different Presidents. The cabinet members head executive departments and serve as
advisors to the President. They are appointed by the President and approved by
The executive branch has checks on the legislative branch with the power to
veto and the ability to call an emergency session of Congress. The executive
branch also has checks on the judicial branch, which include appointing judges
and the power to pardon.
These three branches of
government have the power to make decisions that deal with many controversial
issues. One recent issue they had to address was the Presidential election
results from 2016. Numerous people had concerns with the outcome and were
questioning if the Electoral College is fair. The twelfth amendment of the
Constitution establishes the Electoral College as the method for the indirect
election of the President and the Vice President. Voters in each state at a
general election, choose a slate of “electors” pledged to vote for a party’s
candidate. Each branch of government has discussed the issues concerning the
For the legislative branch
to change the Electoral College, it would
require an amendment to the Constitution. This would need the support of
two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, followed by ratification by
three-fourths of the states. In the recent 2016 election, Democrat
Hillary Clinton, won 2.8 million more votes than Republican Donald Trump nationally, but when the
electors gathered to cast their ballots in state capitals, Trump was named
President. After Clinton’s loss, California’s Democratic Senator, Barbara Boxer,
was enraged by the outcome and introduced a proposal to abolish the Electoral
College. She said, “The time has come, to get rid of the outdated, undemocratic
system that does not reflect our modern society.” Clinton is not the only
recent candidate to win the popular vote but lose the election due to the Electoral
College. In 2000, Al Gore also won the popular vote, but lost to George W. Bush.5 Amending the
Constitution is a challenge, so it’s not surprising that movements have tried
to work around it. So far, the strategy most likely to succeed is the National Popular Vote Interstate
in which several states with control of at least 270 electoral votes would
commit to voting for the popular vote winner, regardless of the result in their
own states. According to Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution,
Congress must approve interstate compacts, but it could do so by a simple
majority vote. However, the popular vote compact does not do away with
faithless electors and most recently we are seeing an unprecedented effort to
persuade electors to switch. One concern with the compact is that only those
states who signed it would be voting with the popular vote winner. This means
that different states would be following different rules. Also, in all but two
states, electoral votes are allocated winner-take-all, meaning that some states
are ignoring the preferences of almost as many as half of their own voters.
Therefore, the voters backing the other candidate are being ignored.6 The
legislative branch is not the only one who has had to address this issue.
Due to the
current attention given to the Electoral College, the Supreme Court has been
involved as well. Until recently, there were very few opinions written about it.
In Bush v. Gore, the main majority
opinion discussed the Electoral College in light of the McPherson v. Blacker decision
from 1892. The Bush v. Gore majority
found that states could allow voters to choose electors and if they did so, the
process needed to be fair with “equal weight accorded to each vote and the
equal dignity owed to each voter.” The court also said that states retained the
ability to “take back the power to appoint electors” from voters and return it
to the legislatures, as happened in the early days of our republic.7 Another issue
the federal courts had to address during the 2000 election was concerning a
habitation clause which arose because it was
alleged that Bush and Cheney were both inhabitants of Texas and that the Texas electors therefore
violated the Twelfth Amendment by casting their ballots for two candidates from
the same state. Bush was declared to be a resident of Texas. A few months
before the election, Cheney switched his voter registration and driver’s
license to Wyoming and put his home in Dallas up
for sale. Three Texas voters challenged the election in a federal court and
then appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals, but it was
the legislative branch and judicial branch have had to deal with the concerns of
the Electoral College, the most affected branch is the executive one. The
Electoral College, does after all, determine who is elected to serve as
President. Most candidates and members of a political party tend to support or
agree with whatever benefits them most. Donald Trump, who won the 2016 presidential election,
has made several comments about the Electoral College system. During the
election of 2012,
between Mitt Romney and President Obama, Trump tweeted that the Electoral
College is a “disaster” for a democracy. On November 8, 2016, even
though he lost the popular vote, he won the presidential election. So then, on November 15, 2016, he tweeted, “The Electoral
College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller
ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!” In an interview
with The New York Times on
November 22, 2016, Trump elaborated further on his opinions of the Electoral
College. He stated, “I was never a fan of the electoral college until now. What
it does do, is it gets you out to see states that you would never see
Many voters do not agree
with the presidential election process and many Americans do not agree with
President Trump, but for a democracy to work, it requires respecting the elected
official’s legitimacy. Those who support the Electoral College, emphasize the
fact that the United States was designed as a representative democracy and not
as a popular democracy.10 We must also
remember that the Electoral College was a compromise and although it may not be
perfect, it does nicely position the election of the presidency into our system
of separation of power as well as checks and balances.
Blake, Aaron. “Abolish the
Electoral College? Dream On, Democrats.” The Washington Post. November 16,
2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/09/getting-rid-of-the-electoral-college-dream-on-democrats/ (accessed
December 04, 2017).
Bravin, Jess. “Obscure Texas Case
Offers Peek Into Role Of Court Nominee.” The Wall Street Journal. October
07, 2005. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB112864645334762361 (accessed
December 04, 2017).
“Electoral College a Rare Topic of
Discussion at Supreme Court.” National Constitution Center –
Constitutioncenter.org. https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/electoral-college-a-rare-topic-of-discussion-at-supreme-court (accessed
December 04, 2017).
Lee, Kurtis. “In 1969, Democrats
and Republicans United to Get Rid of the Electoral College. Here’s What
Happened.” Los Angeles Times. December 19, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-electoral-college-history-20161219-story.html (accessed
December 04, 2017).
Patterson, Thomas E. We the People. New York, NY:
McGraw-Hill Education, 2017.
Rudalevige, Andrew. “The Electoral
College Has Serious Problems. So Do Any Alternatives.” The Washington
Post. November 15, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/15/should-the-u-s-keep-or-get-rid-of-the-electoral-college/ (accessed
December 04, 2017).
Times, The New York. “Donald
Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript.” The New York Times.
November 23, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/trump-new-york-times-interview-transcript.html (accessed
December 04, 2017).
1 Thomas E. Patterson, We the People (New York, NY:
McGraw-Hill Education, 2017).
5 Kurtis Lee, “In
1969, Democrats and Republicans United to Get Rid of the Electoral College.
Here’s What Happened,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-electoral-college-history-20161219-story.html (accessed December 04, 2017).
6 Aaron Blake, “Abolish the
Electoral College? Dream On, Democrats.” The Washington Post, November 16,
2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/09/getting-rid-of-the-electoral-college-dream-on-democrats/ (accessed December 04, 2017).
7 “Electoral College a Rare
Topic of Discussion at Supreme Court,” National Constitution Center –
Constitutioncenter.org, https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/electoral-college-a-rare-topic-of-discussion-at-supreme-court (accessed December 04, 2017).
8 Jess Bravin, “Obscure Texas
Case Offers Peek Into Role Of Court Nominee,” The Wall Street Journal,
October 07, 2005, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB112864645334762361(accessed December 04, 2017).
9 The New York Times, “Donald
Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript,” The New York Times,
November 23, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/trump-new-york-times-interview-transcript.html (accessed December 04, 2017).
10 Andrew Rudalevige, “The
Electoral College Has Serious Problems. So Do Any Alternatives.” The
Washington Post, November 15, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/11/15/should-the-u-s-keep-or-get-rid-of-the-electoral-college (accessed December 04, 2017).