Table of Contents
What the Separation Doctrine Entails?
The “separation of powers” doctrine, also acknowledged as the phrase “trias politica”, was introduced by a French political as well as social theorist named Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu. According to this specific doctrine, a state’s political authority is segregated into three specific powers that comprise ‘executive’, ‘legislative’ and ‘judicial’ (NCSL, 2017). These three particular powers must be exercised and acted in an independent form for the purpose of promoting liberty amid the communities and their respective members of distinct states in the US. Therefore, the doctrine represents the splitting up of government accountabilities into dissimilar branches so that the core functions of one another are conducted in the most effective way. The objective is to safeguard the power concentration and maintain ‘checks’ as well as ‘balances’ of power. The doctrine entails certain traditional features of the powers of the American government branches. For instance, as mentioned in the doctrine, the ‘legislative’ branch is held liable for ratifying the legitimate regulations of the state and allocating the money or the resources available to operate distinct governmental functions. On the other hand, the ‘executive’ branch concentrates on executing and managing public policies that are funded as well as enacted by the legislative branch. Finally, the judicial branch looks into the matter of interpreting constitutional provisions and thereby applying the same to solve any sort of legal issue (NCSL, 2017).
It has been apparent that bestowing unlimited powers into the hands of one particular individual or group suppresses the others in the form of curtailing their individual powers. Thus, the “separation of powers” doctrine entails identifying and developing the ways through which abuse of power can be prevented and independence is safeguarded for every community member. By taking into concern the tasks performed by the three distinct governmental divisions, it can be stated that the doctrine entails the power of interacting with the respective laws in a more balanced as well as an equitable manner. Thus, the doctrine is deemed as an indispensable constituent of the Rule of Law, which comprises a new dimension of developing political reality. It entails accompanying the transformations of the ideas regarding the tasks conduct by the respective government of the US and its entire political arrangement towards maintaining freedom and respect for all. Based on this notion, the doctrine promotes an arbitrary rule of promoting liberty, which in turn, preserves independency of each community member at large (Vile, 2017).
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Why the Framers Insisted On Making the Doctrine as the Basis of the Constitution
The aspect of democracy quality particularly in the context of America reflects the eminence of its governing institutions and their individual powers. In order to ensure that the powers of these institutions are exercised well and performed in the most effective way, the respective government of the US should uphold individual liberties of the people (Kernell, Jacobson, Kousser & Vavreck, 2017). Thus, the framers insisted on making the “separation of powers” doctrine as the cornerstone of the American constitution. This particular doctrine has derived its basis in the ancient world wherein the perceptions of governmental functions and the theories concerning mixed along with balanced government were evolved. It is believed that the framers insisted on making the stated doctrine as the basis of the constitution for the purpose of determining the interactions persisting amid the division of powers and the different legitimate theories (Vile, 2017). The framers hold the belief that nothing was more expected to promote a tyrannical government than concentrating upon governing powers in one person or political party. Therefore, in order to prevent political power concentration, the framers insisted on the “separation of powers” doctrine to become the foundation of the American constitution by two specific ways. These ways comprise segregating governmental responsibilities as well as powers amid separate institutions or authorities and structuring the two governmental branches such as ‘executive’ and ‘legislative’ in an efficient way (Teitelbaum & Wilensky, 2016).
Evidence suggests that there have been numerous policy-making systems under which the US government operated various functions for the benefit of the economy, societies and their people as well. These policy-making mechanisms usually range from the 19th century’s dominant congressional model to the strong presidential replica of the postwar period. However, with the evolution of the “separation of powers” doctrine, it is believed that the governance structure of the respective US government has developed by an extensive level as compared to the earlier years (Goldwin & Kaufman, 1986). This can be considered as one of the reasons for which the framers insisted on making the stated doctrine as the basis of the constitution. According to the framers, some important notions that comprise ‘balances’ and ‘checks’ are found to be inherent in the “separation of powers” doctrine. Conceptually, ‘checks’ denotes the capacity and the liability on one specific government branch to check the activities performed by the other two branches closely. On the other hand, ‘balances’ signifies safeguarding one particular branch from exerting power in distinct responsibility areas (Teitelbaum & Wilensky, 2016).
Does the Doctrine Works in Practice?
The introduction and the application of the “separation of powers” doctrine have been apparent for the US constitution, which levied utmost attention on promoting liberty, dispersing powers effectively within a constitutional mechanism, developing ‘checks’ and maintaining ‘balances.’ It can be stated that this particular doctrine works in practice, as this is generally conceived as a political belief for assessing the legitimate and the constitutional framework of a particular contemporary state. The working of the doctrine in practice can be determined by evading extreme level of political power concentrations into the hands of any specific group or individual, balancing the powers exercise by the different governmental branches and checking their impacts imposed to others. While appraising whether the “separation of powers” doctrine works in practice, it can be stated that it guides a qualitative separation of the distinct government functions comprising adjudication, legislation and executive administration. It is argued that the doctrine might encompass as a vital principle in the context of political theory, strengthening the governmental powers as per the expectation level and ensuring successful attainment of different political objectives. These objectives typically entail promoting liberty, restricting suppression and maintaining a greater level of balance between the institutional theories and the powers of the respective governmental branches (Waldron, 2013).
A Supreme Court case of the US vs Alvarez can be considered as a concrete principle, which reveals that the “separation of powers” doctrine works in real practice. This particular example not only reflects how the doctrine performs activities in real practice, but also portrays the ways through which the above identified three governmental branches exercise their individual authorities. For instance, in relation to the legislative branch, the Congress is identified to pass the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 with respect to the US vs Alvarez case, punishing those people who pretend of obtaining high military honors. From the perspective of the judicial branch, the Supreme Court of the US ruled in the year 2012, stating that the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was not lawful, as this breached the “right to free speech”, safeguarded by the guiding principles of the First Amendment. On the other hand, in relation to the executive branch or level of the US government, it can be noted that the President as well as the Pentagon adopted effective measures and actions after the decision made by the Supreme Court regarding the formation of a government-funded national record of medical citations to facilitate confirmation of military honors. Finally, the legislative division of the respective government of the nation elucidated that the Congress considered legislation, which is narrower as compared to the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. This is owing to the reason that the law gives punishments to those who seek to earn profits from conducting different military services falsely (United States Courts, n.d.).
Do The Different Branches Enjoy Roughly Co-Equal Powers? Why or Why Not?
After acquiring a brief idea about what the separation of powers” doctrine entails, the reasons for the framers to insist on making it the basis of the Constitution and whether this works in practice, it can be inferred that the different governmental branches of the US roughly enjoy co-equal powers. Evidence suggests that even though the branches including the ‘legislative’, ‘judicial’ and the ‘executive’ are deemed as separate in nature, still these are equal in terms of performing activities for the betterment of the economy, societies and the community members. The reason behind the different branches to enjoy co-equal powers roughly can be determined as that these branches tend to develop the political system of the US by enacting various relevant laws and regulations. For instance, the ‘legislative’ branch is involved in making laws by creating as well as passing various bills or proposed laws, coining money, setting along with gathering taxes, declaring warfare, sanctioning agreements that are made on behalf of the President and framing rules to conduct trades amid different states of the nation efficiently. On the other hand, the ‘executive’ branch is entitled to sign bills and approve laws that are approved by the Congress, commanding the armed forces and appointing ambassadors, judges along with other authoritative federal officers. In addition, the ‘executive’ branch also performs the tasks of making treaties with the other nations, receiving delegates who belong to any other nation throughout the globe and representing the nation at certain special ceremonials (Scholastic Inc, 2017).
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The ‘judicial’ branch i.e. the Supreme Court of the US has the capacity to decide and verify whether a law and a Presidential action are constitutional in nature. Furthermore, the other tasks performed by the ‘judicial’ branch include reviewing court cases that are associated with the constitution along with the federal laws and tried in lower courts as well. Based on the individual functionalities, tasks or the activities performed by the ‘legislative’, ‘judicial’ and the ‘executive’ segments, it can be stated that these three distinct segments enjoy roughly co-equal powers. This can be duly measured in the forms of strengthening lawful regulations, maintaining law and order in the societies and promoting liberty amid the community members so as to maintain equality by an extensive level (Scholastic Inc, 2017).
- Goldwin, R. A. & Kaufman, A. (1986). Separation of powers–Does it still work? Washington: American Enterprise Institute.
- Kernell, S., Jacobson, G. C., Kousser, T. & Vavreck, L. (2017). The logic of American politics. Washington: CQ Press.
- NCSL. (2017). Separation of powers — An overview. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/separation-of-powers-an-overview.aspx
- Scholastic Inc. (2017). Three branches: Separate but equal. Retrieved from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/three-branches-separate-equal/
- Teitelbaum, J. B. & Wilensky, S. E. (2016). Essentials of health policy and law. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.
- United States Courts. (n.d.). Separation of powers in action – U.S. v. Alvarez. Retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/separation-powers-action-us-v-alvarez
- Vile, M. J. C. (2017). Constitutionalism and the separation of powers. Retrieved from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/vile-constitutionalism-and-the-separation-of-powers
- Waldron, J. (2013). Separation of powers in thought and practice? Boston College Law Review, 54, 433-444.