You’ve heard a lot about the Doctrine of Separation of Powers lately. What does it mean, and how does it affect your life?
While the title of “Doctrine of Separation of Powers does not appear in the US Constitution, it is clear from Articles I, II, and III that the Founders wanted a different arrangement than the consolidation of power they had to live under in England.
What is the Separation of Powers?
Our Founders wanted to avoid tyranny. This is best done by giving NO one branch excessive government power. Instead, the power is separated between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government. Not only that, but each Branch of government can do a “power check” on the other to maintain the balance of power in our government. https://civicsandcitizenship.org/power-and-control
There is minimal sharing of power to have a functioning government. It’s not enough to separate the powers. They have to govern together, each fulfilling their constitutional roles. For example, Congress can pass a bill. The President can veto that bill, but Congress can override the veto by a supermajority and pass the bill anyway. Another example: the Supreme Court does not have the power to make law. It discovers and applies the law. The Legislative Branch can constitutionally object if the Court attempts to make law.
How the Separation of Powers Affects You
The question lately is whether a congressional oversight committee can subpoena a past president. This happened once before in history with former president Harry S. Truman. Here is an excerpt from Truman’s letter declining to testify before the Unamerican Activities Committee:
“I have your subpoena dated November 9, 1953, directing my appearance before your Committee on Friday, November 13, in Washington. The subpoena does not state the matters upon which you seek my testimony, but I assume from the press stories that you seek to examine me with respect to matters which occurred during my tenure of the Presidency of the United States. In spite of personal willingness to cooperate with your Committee, I feel constrained by my duty to the people of the United States to decline to comply with the subpoena. In doing so, I am carrying out the provisions of the Constitution of the United States; and am following a long line of precedents commencing with George Washington himself in 1796. Since his day, Presidents Jefferson, Monroe, Jackson, Tyler, Polk, Fillmore, Buchanan, Lincoln, Grant, Hayes, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Coolidge, Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt have declined to respond to subpoenas or demands for information of various kinds by Congress. . .”
The reason? Separation of Powers. Truman thought the Executive Branch might become indebted to the Legislative Branch if one Branch could step out and take law enforcement power that did not belong to them.
In the final analysis, our government is constitutionally required to maintain checks, balances, and the Separation of Powers so We the People can retain our individual liberty.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship. 🇺🇸
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