The federal government has three branches: the legislative, executive and judicial.
The power of the executive branch is vested in the United States President. The President is the head of state and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Article II of the Constitution vests the President with the power and responsibility to enforce the laws created by Congress.
To assist the President to carry out the laws, there are 15 executive departments led by an appointed member of the President's Cabinet. There are also 50 independent federal commissions and other federal agencies.
The President can sign bills into law or veto bills. Congress may override the President's with a two-thirds vote from both house of Congress.
Article I of the Constitution created the legislative body known as Congress. The Legislative Branch consists of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Congress has the sole authority to write laws, declare war and confirm or reject many Presidential appointments. Congress also has some investigative powers.
The House is made up of 435 elected members. Each state elects members to the House. The number of representatives from each state is determined by the state's population. The House has the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials and elect the President if there is a tie in the electoral college. The House also approves appointments to the Vice Presidency and treaties involving foreign trade.
The Senate is made up of 100 Senators. Two Senators are elected from each State by popular vote. The Senate has the power to confirm Presidential appointments, that require consent and to ratify treaties. Additionally, the Senate tries impeachment cases.
To pass a bill, both house of Congress must pass the same billy by majority vote.
Article III of the Constitution established the federal judiciary. Federal courts are responsible for interpreting federal law. While Congress creates laws, the judiciary determines whether laws are constitutional. The courts only hear claims of actual cases and controversies.
Federal courts are arranged on a hierarchical structure. Trial courts, known as U.S. District Courts, are the lowest courts followed by appellate courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court. Lower courts are obligated to follow Supreme Court rulings. The Supreme Court's decision is final.
Members of the judiciary are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.
Separation of powers
Each branch is equal to the other branches. Through a system of separation of powers and the system of "checks and balances," each of these branches has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches. The policies of the federal government have a broad impact on both the domestic and foreign affairs of the United States. In addition, the powers of the federal government as a whole are limited by the Constitution, which, per the Tenth Amendment, gives all power not directed to the National government, to the State level, or to the people.
The seat of the federal government is in the federal district of Washington, D.C.
- White House.gov "Our government," accessed December 30, 2013
- White House.gov: "Executive branch," accessed December 30, 2013
- White House.gov: "Legislative branch," accessed December 30, 2013
- White House.gov: "Judicial branch," December 30, 2013
- US Courts.gov: "Structure of Federal Courts," accessed December 30, 2013
- National Conference of State Legislatures: "Separation of powers," accessed December 30, 2013
- National Archives: "Constitution of United States," accessed December 30, 2013
Portions of this article were adapted from Wikipedia.