The U.S. Constitution and the Establishment of Government - dummies

The U.S. Constitution and the Establishment of Government

By Michael Arnheim

Part of U.S. Constitution For Dummies Cheat Sheet

The U.S. Constitution, as adopted by the Philadelphia Convention on September 17, 1787, sets out three distinct branches of national government and provides powers to each that serve as a check on the others. The following sections offer key facts about each branch.

The Executive Branch: The President

The highest elected official in the United States, the President

  • Is Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces. However, only Congress can actually declare war.

  • Has the power to veto legislation passed by both houses of Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate). Congress can override the veto only with a two-thirds majority.

  • Appoints Cabinet officers, Supreme Court justices, and many other officials — subject to confirmation by the Senate.

The Legislative Branch: Congress

The Constitution provides for two houses of Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The population of a state determines how many people it elects to the House of Representatives. Each state elects two Senators, so the Senate offers an equal playing field for small states and large states.

Congress has the power to make all federal laws, and only the House can introduce tax legislation. The Senate has the power to confirm or deny the President’s appointments to the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, and other key positions.

The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court

Each justice is nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and has the opportunity to serve in that position for life as long as he or she demonstrates what the Constitution calls “Good Behaviour.” The Supreme Court effectively determines what the Constitution means.