The American political system can be a mysterious beast, according to experts like Kavan Choksi. Understanding how it works can be daunting. This article is meant to provide a very basic explanation of how it works to give you a basic understanding of what is going on. It’s a lot easier to understand the American political system when you know what each branch of government does and how they relate to one another.
For the U.S. Government to function properly, three main branches work together as checks and balances against one another:
The Legislative Branch is responsible for making the laws. It is divided into two halves: the Senate and the House of Representatives. One hundred senators represent each state, with each Senator serving a six-year term (1/3rd of the Senate turns over every two years). Each state has its own number of senators based on population size. The makeup of the Senate is designed so that every state has a voice. The House of Representatives comprises 435 members, one for each congressional district in a state. Each congressional district gets one member in the House to represent them, and they serve a two-year term. All 50 states have an equal number of representatives based on population size, making it easier for smaller states to get their voices heard. To become a Congressman, one must be at least 25 years of age and have been a citizen for at least seven years. One must also live in the state they represent while serving in office. All congressional terms are limited to 6 years each. The Legislative Branch is led by the Speaker of the House, who the House of Representatives elects. The Speaker is second in line for becoming President, serving only if the vice president cannot do so.
The Executive Branch is responsible for implementing laws created by Congress. It consists of the President, who serves as head of state and government, and several departments that carry out presidential directives: the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, the President is responsible for appointing the Secretaries who head each department and other key positions. Each Secretary serves at the pleasure of the President and can be replaced by a new appointment.
The Judicial Branch interprets laws and ensures that they are followed. It consists of the Supreme Court and various lower courts. The Supreme Court has nine justices, one for each state (including Washington D.C.), who serve a lifetime term until they choose to retire or die. To become a Justice, one must be nominated by the President and confirmed by Congress before taking office at the age of 50 or older. The Supreme Court has the last word on all legal matters, and their decisions are final, with no room for appeal.
To prevent too much power from being held by one person or group, there is a system of checks and balances requiring each government branch to monitor the others. Congress must pass a bill before the President can sign it into law. The President may veto a bill, but Congress can override it with a 2/3rds majority vote. The Supreme Court also serves as the Judicial Branch; they must approve all laws and executive decisions before they go into effect and declare them unconstitutional if they violate the Constitution.