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Separation of powers in United States government

What is the purpose of having a separation of powers? Why is this important to the form of government in the United States? Are there times when one branch has more power than another? How does it balance out?

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The purpose of separation of powers is to provide a system of checks and balances so that no one branch of government can dominate the others. When the United States was formed, the Founders were hostile to an unchecked executive branch that could become a king or dictator if left unchallenged. They were also skeptical of raw democracy and did not want an all-powerful legislature that could pass sweeping laws based on the changing mood of the public. In fact, the Founders set up two houses of Congress - the popularly elected House of Representatives and the (then) non-popularly elected Senate as a check on each other.

So they devised a Constitution that placed various limits on the three branches of government in an attempt to balance them against each other. Article 1, Section 8 lists the specific legislative powers of Congress, while Section 9 lists things Congress cannot do. The Constitution also lists the duties and powers of the President in Article 2, Section 2 and sets out some obligations of the ...

Solution Summary

This solution examines the purpose and function of the "separation of powers" as outlined in the US Constitution and the evolution of this check and balance system through the history of the United States. Particular mention is given to the expanded powers of the US President relative to the original limited powers of that office. Some recent examples of the fluctuation of presidential power are given.