North America

Roadblocks to executive power

Attention in the US election is focused on the President, but his or her power is constrained in many ways, as the drafters of the Constitution intended

Within the executive branch itself, the president has the powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the government. The president can issue rules, regulations and instructions called executive orders, which have the binding force of law upon federal agencies but do not require congressional approval. They are, however, subject to judicial review and interpretation.

Congress has authority over financial and budgetary matters, through the powers enumerated in the Constitution to  lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.

The House of Representatives has the power to impeach a government official, in effect serving as prosecutor. The Senate has the sole power to conduct impeachment trials, essentially serving as jury and judge. Since 1789 the Senate has tried 17 federal officials, including two presidents. The House can initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.

The Supreme Court is the final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all — the Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, is far from all-powerful. Its power is limited by the other two branches of government. The president nominates justices to the court. If the nominee can pass the Senate confirmation process, it offers the president a chance to influence the political balance of the Supreme Court.