Powers & Limitations of the Executive Branch

by Sampson Quain
The Constitution of the United States establishes checks and balances for each branch of government.

The Constitution of the United States establishes checks and balances for each branch of government.

The Constitution of the United States created the framework for the ruling government, separating powers and responsibilities among the executive, legislative and judicial branch. The president and vice president are the principal figures of the executive branch, elected for a four-year term. The goal of the founding fathers was to establish a democratically elected government that would resist imperialistic tendencies through a systems of checks and balances that apportioned equal influence to each branch of government.

Constitutional Authority

Article II of the U.S. Constitution establishes the executive power of the president, the procedure for his election and the qualifications required for a candidate to seek the office. It also designates a duly elected vice president who will take over the office of the presidency in the event of the president's death, incapacity, impeachment or resignation. In addition, Article II confers the title of Commander-in-Chief of the military to the president, imbuing him with the power to send U.S. troops into conflict and to declare war with the approval of Congress.

Presidential Powers

The president of the United States has the power to execute and enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to make appointments to federal agencies subject to Senate approval. The president can also sign bills into law, veto them or send them back to Congress requesting amendments or alterations. As commander in chief, the president has the power to conduct diplomacy with foreign nations and to negotiate and sign treaties subject to Senate ratification. Additionally, the president can issue pardons for federal crimes.

Vice Presidential Powers

The vice president of the United States has only two constitutionally mandated powers: to break ties in the Senate and to announce the electoral votes on Election Day. The Constitution authorizes the vice president to assume the role of president of the Senate, which has largely been a ceremonial position. The vice president's true value often lies in his role as a top adviser to the president, who may also give him ownership over specific programs and policies on his legislative agenda.

Limitations

The authors of the Constitution, cognizant of the potential for abuse of power, instituted checks and balances that limit the authority among the three branches of government. The executive branch is not all-powerful and is restricted in some significant ways. For example, although the president has the power to make appointments, including to the Supreme Court, his choices must be approved by the Senate. In addition, the president cannot introduce a bill into law, though he can exert strong influence over legislative matters. If he chooses to veto a bill he doesn't like, Congress can override his veto with a two-thirds vote. The House of Representatives can also vote to impeach the president, who is then tried by the Senate which can vote him out of office. When the president negotiates a treaty, he must wait for Senate approval, and though he may commit troops to foreign conflicts, he must appear before Congress for an official declaration of war.

About the Author

Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.

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