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Overview of Federal Government

Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Constitution forms the foundations of the United States federal government in that it created its basic structure. The federal government carries out roles assigned to it by the Constitution. It has three branches – legislative, judicial, and executive – which, between them, carry out governmental power and functions:

  • The executive branch of the government is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. The president, vice president, department heads (cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies carry out this mission.
  • Article I of the Constitution establishes the legislative or law-making branch of government. It has a two-branch Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives – and agencies that support Congress.
  • Courts decide arguments about the meaning of laws and how they are applied. They also decide if laws violate the Constitution – this is known as judicial review, and it is how federal courts provide checks and balances on the legislative and executive branches.

Under the system of separation of powers, 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 regulated by the other branches. In addition, the powers of the federal government as a whole are limited by the Constitution which leaves a great deal of authority to the individual states.

From CREDO Federal Government in Dictionary of American Government and Politics

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