The federal government has three branches: legislative, executive and judicial.
The power of the executive branch is vested in the president of the United States. 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 with a two-thirds vote from both houses of Congress.
- See also: the Congress Project on Ballotpedia
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 houses of Congress must pass the same bill by a majority vote.
- See also: the Federal Courts project on Judgepedia
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. Decisions made by the Supreme Court are final.
Members of the judiciary are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Separation of powers
Each branch was designed to create the 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 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 either the state or to the people.
The seat of the federal government is in the federal district of Washington, D.C.
- Ballotpedia:Index of Terms
- Local government
- State government
- United States Congress
- United States Senate
- United States House of Representatives
- White House.gov: "Our government," accessed April 20, 2014
- White House.gov: "Executive branch," accessed April 20, 2014
- White House.gov: "Legislative branch," accessed April 20, 2014
- White House.gov: "Judicial branch," accessed April 20, 2014
- US Courts.gov: "Structure of Federal Courts," accessed April 20, 2014
- National Conference of State Legislatures: "Separation of powers," accessed April 20, 2014
- National Archives: "Constitution of United States," accessed April 20, 2014