Introduction and Separation of Powers
Courts of general jurisdiction:
Courts of limited jurisdiction:
The United States government is divided into three separate branches of power. Established by the United States Constitution, these branches are the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch.
The Legislative Branch is established by Article I of the United States Constitution. This is the branch that creates federal law. See
Two entities make up the legislative branch: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives consists of Representatives from each state, elected by the people of each state. Each state is allotted a specific number of Representatives based on the population of the state, and each Representative is elected for a two-year term. No one may become a Representative unless he or she is twenty-five years old, has been a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and lives in the state for which he or she will become a Representative.
There are one hundred Senators in the United States Senate; each state is represented by two Senators. Each Senator is elected to a six-year term, and the year in which each term expires rotates, so that every two years, one-third of the Senate is elected (or re-elected).
EXAMPLE: Jones, Smith and Peters are elected to the United States Senate in 2008, 2010 and 2012, respectively. Jones’ term will expire in 2014, Smith’s term will expire in 2016, and Peters’ term will expire in 2018.
No one may become a Senator unless he or she is thirty years old, has been a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and lives in the state for which he or she will become a Senator.
Article II of the United States Constitution establishes the Executive Branch. Headed by the President of the United States, this branch enforces the laws created by the legislature.
To become President of the United States, one must be a natural born citizen of the United States, be at least thirty-five years old, and have been a resident of the United States for fourteen years.
The President has the power to appoint the administrators of certain federal agencies. For example, President George W. Bush appointed Christine Todd Whitman to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Because she later resigned, President Bush had to appoint a replacement. The President also has the power to
“appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments . . . shall be established by law . . . .” -United States Constitution, Article II, Section 2.
Such appointments, however, must be done by and with, the advice and consent of the Senate.
The Judiciary Branch of the federal government is established by Article III of the United States Constitution. A more detailed description and analysis of the organization of the judicial branch is discussed later. The role of the judicial branch is to interpret the laws created by Congress and to apply the laws to the facts of the cases before it.
The federal judiciary is often asked to determine whether laws promulgated by Congress are constitutional and whether action taken by the Executive Branch is constitutional and complies with the federal laws. This “separation of powers” helps ensure that one branch will not become tyrannical and wield ultimate power. The judiciary will also be asked to apply the law to specific facts presented, even if there is no question of constitutionality.
“The Constitution's ‘take Care’ clause (art. II, § 3) places the power to prosecute in the executive branch, just as Article I places the power to legislate in Congress. A judge could not properly refuse to enforce a statute because he thought the legislators were acting in bad faith or that the statute disserved the public interest . . . .”.
State governments are organized similarly and consist of legislative, executive and judicial bodies.