View Full Version : Which branch is the most powerful?
Which branch of the US government is the most powerful, or are they all equal?
This the essay prompt in my government class. I'm leaning towards Legislative, but I thought you could give me some help.
I'd say the executive branch. The President can issue an executive order, which the Supreme Court can rule unconstitutional but only after a lawsuit has been raised up to them, a process which can take years. The ability of the President to issue an order that might be unchecked by another branch for years makes the executive branch the most powerful branch in my book.
For more info see What is an executive order? (http://www.thisnation.com/question/040.html)
An example of how powerful an EO can be is EO 13303 (http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/executive_orders/2003.html#13303), which gives American oil companies and their staff blanket immunity in Iraq. They can spill oil or anything else they want and a lawsuit cannot even be filed against them (the EO specifically tells the courts to shit-can any such lawsuit).
I believe that the intent of the Founding Fathers was that the branches balance each other so that none was all powerful.
Since the power of the purse and the power to create laws were vested in Congress I would think it is the most powerful of the 3. Supreme Court can only negate laws that seem to violate the intent of the Constitution; they are not suppose to originate law. The President is charged with enforcing the laws passed by Congress and overseeing the spending of funds appropriated by Congress.
09-30-04, 05:22 PM
Judicial by parsecs.
If Congress decides to be productive and toss something up to the President, the President can veto it. Similarly, the Congress can filibuster anything the President gives them to deliberate about.
The SCOTUS effectively defines our Constitution, which everything else stems from. Their membership is very small, and has no term limits. Presidents' and Congressmen's tenures are transitory in comparison.
Which, to pick up on Stokes' theme (or, at least as I'm reading it), is why the Bush administration, happy to have the Congressional position it does, aims at the Judiciary; his party is falling in line in Congress, and here's the thing: Judicial review is not an explicit guarantee of the Constitution, which is why Bush hits after "activist judges", and why Congress thinks it can explicitly bypass the courts. Judicial revew, however, is a logical consequence of the Constitution, a nearly-impervious argument that can only be overcome by a rejection of the United States Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land--that is, a rejection of the Constitution itself.
The alternative Bush seems to advocate in his criticism of "judicial activism" (judicial review) and congressional Republicans hope to demonstrate is that you simply pass laws without regard to the Constitution. And, hey, liberal or conservative alike, isn't that the thematic accusation of both "big government" and "American imperium" complaints?
Executive orders are powerful, but as Stokes pointed out, the executive is easily (by comparison) replaced: the Supreme Court justices hold their office so long as they see fit, and it is very difficult to remove them forcefully. Remember that the first large test of the judiciary was the integrity of the judiciary itself. Why else do executives seek to pack the judiciary, except for its recognized power as primus inter pares? Why else do oppositional congresses seek to stonewall executive appointments to the courts? The influence of the legislative or executive can be defined for a generation by judiciary appointments.
09-30-04, 06:11 PM
I'd tend to go with the consensus that the judicial branch has the most power. However, it is long-term power. It's not easy for them to make any significant changes in the way we live in the short term. Sure, Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, but both of those rulings took a while to fully take effect, and neither of them has actully quite achieved that.
Still, Presidents put a lot of effort into appointing Supreme Court justices because they know that will be their true legacy. I'd say that even the executive branch agrees that judicial has the power.
But however this works out, I think that your premise is wrong. It's definitely not the legislative branch. The President has a lot of influence over them because there are always a lot of members of his own party in Congress. He can even veto their legislation and it's not easy to override a veto. The judiciary can simply rule their laws unconstitutional and unenforceable. Sure this takes a while but so does anything. Even the people have a fair amount of power over Congress. Every time the national mood changes, there's a lot of churning in the legislature and a different faction takes over.
So it might be the executive branch that has the most power and it might be the judicial, but I don't think it can possibly be the legislative.
10-02-04, 02:51 PM
I only post in disbelief that there is no overwhelming consensus.
Executive. In every way, the executive branch is the most powerful.
Checks and Balance is,sadly, history.
In an afternoon, the President can sign enough executive orders to tie-up the Judicial and Legislative branches for YEARS. Not to mention the EO that suspends the constitution in the event of a national emergency.
The Constitution reserves the declaration of war to the congress. IIRC congress hasn't declared war since WWII. The President goes to war, our congress acquiesses.
I understand the theory of checks and balances, but while this may been slightly effective in elder days(remember Jackson), the blitzkreig of modern war reduces the other branches to ineffective stagnation at best, corrupted self interest at worst.
The slightest of nods goes to the legislative for the ability to oust a president. This is IMO only a theory. A tyrannical president could not be stopped. How long does it take to 'push the button'.
Regarding the Judicial, again looks good on paper. Kiramatsu v US was unconstitutional in the 50s? long after the Japanese were uninterrred. The executive said round 'em up and that was it. We still discuss Roe v Wade and Brown v Board of Education generations after the fact. How many of us could name a half dozen supreme court decisions? Iirc the supreme court hears only about 80 cases a year. Even then future courts may overrule them.
Executive order: Your influence lasts until the next president.
Judicial appointment: Your influence lasts through the next three presidencies.
The Congress knows it, too. Ask Robert Bork; or Anthony Kennedy; or Clarence Thomas or David Souter. Their confirmation (and Bork's rejection) processes were downright nasty, and for a reason.
Executive order: Your army imprisons Congress & the Supreme Court and shit-cans the Constitution.
The Limbaugh-loving majority does nothing because "soldiers must follow orders without question." Executive wins!
10-05-04, 01:52 AM
And remember when the Cherokee were forced to relocate. The Supreme Court had ruled that the Cherokee Nation was a political community, and were not subject to the laws of Georgia.
Jackson said: "(Chief Justice) John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." The ruling was basically ignored.
Great example. Yes, here is what makes the Executive branch the most powerful: when push comes to shove, the enforcers (military, police, etc.) in the Executive branch will dishonor their oath to uphold the Constitution over the President's orders, and the people will on average withstand that or even applaud it.
The great power of the Executive, then, is its ability to ignore the constitution, violate its oath of office, and move quickly enough to be effective toward its political ends?
And yet some think cigars and fellatio bring shame to the Oval Office?