In light of recent political developments, you might find yourself having a new, or renewed, interest in the structure and responsibilities of the US government. The US government is considered to be one of the forerunners of the modern democratic state and continues to be an emblem of political possibility relative to how government functions. Of course, the US government is not without its complexities, and in order to understand the US government, you need to understand the central government definition.
Central Government Definition
According to the Cambridge dictionary, the central government definition is “national government from a single important city rather than local government.” Inherent to the name of the US is that it is a federal government made of separate, semi-autonomous, states with independent legislatures and constitutions.
However, because all of these states are overseen by a federal government represented by a constitution, and each of these states holds elections for the selection of representatives to serve in the various chambers of the federal legislature, the US is more of a constitutional, federal republic.
This definition is more accurate than the description of democracy because, in a democracy, voters directly choose what laws and protocols they wish by a majority vote, whereas in the United States, citizens at the federal level can only choose representatives; in state elections, propositions and referenda allow more direct legislative powers to individual voters.
Although the US government is a continuation of various governing traditions from antiquity, such as the Roman senate, Greek democracy, or even the English Magna Carta, the US constitution is unique in its purpose and structure. The US constitution provides 3 primary objectives for the US government.
First, it divides the government’s obligations between the legislative (law-making), executive (law-approving), and judicial (law-regulating) branches with various checks and balances between these branches to ensure an even and fair distribution of power.
Second, the Constitution delineates what are the primary functions of the federal government and what are the responsibilities of the individual states.
The last objective is to indicate what are the rights of individual citizens, with the Bill of rights being the most famous section in the Constitution that defends individual liberty.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is perhaps one of the greater distinctions in the central government definition as it contrasts the powers that typically were and are centralized in more authoritarian governments. The legislative branch, composed of the US congress and senate, is instituted based on Article I of the US constitution.
The US congress is composed of elected officials who serve 2-year terms, the number of positions being based on the population of the individually-represented states; the Senate is composed of elected officials, 2 from each state, who serve 6-year terms.
The bulk of the responsibilities of the legislative branch are to draft federal laws. As per the checks and balances incorporated into the central government, the legislative branch also has the power to create regulatory committees to provide oversight into the different agencies within the federal government, to vote for war, and to impeach the president.
The Executive Branch
As per Article II of the Constitution, the executive branch serves to oversee the whole federal government and essentially approves the laws created by congress through the veto process, where laws that the president does not approve are denied being ratified as law.
The executive branch is headed by the President, federally elected by American citizens for a 4-year term, as well as the Vice President, chosen by the President and the designated alternate in the event something happens to the President. The president appoints cabinet members to oversee the various government agencies and departments, such as the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, or the Department of Education.
Likewise, the President is the Commander-in-chief of the United States military and has official oversight of all military functions as well as the ability to declare war (with congressional approval). The President also has various executive powers to effectively create different orders and regulations independent of federal law, however, these regulations need approval and can be overturned by the Supreme Court.
The Judicial Branch
The Supreme court is the venue that represents the judicial branch of the US government, as designated by Article III of the US constitution. There are 9 supreme court justices who receive life appointments, pending retirement, and who are chosen by the executive branch but which require approval from the legislative branch.
The Supreme court exists to determine the constitutionality of the various laws approved by the legislative branch and has the power to deem laws unconstitutional, effectively nullifying these laws. The disputes that the supreme court oversees are often issues between states or individuals and states, however, the judicial branch does provide legal oversight regarding federal and diplomatic matters.
In order for a case to reach the supreme court, it must first pass through the lower district courts. If a case has managed to continue without a settlement or a decision, it will then be subject to the oversight of the judicial branch to receive a legal opinion or be subject to a hearing.
Power of the States
Unique to the republican style of government in the US is the power allotted to the respective states. Various sections of the US constitution, including sections 8 and 9 in article I, serve to indicate more what states cannot do than what they can: states are prohibited from coining their own money, declaring war, negotiating treaties with foreign countries, or violating any of the federal rights of US citizens.
The 10th Amendment provides clarity that any laws not specifically stipulated by The Constitution are at the discretion of individual states. Thus, beyond federal taxes, voting requirements, and military endeavors, states are free to draft their own constitutions with respect to self-governance, hence the respective constitutions, legislatures, taxes, and laws respective to each state.
The framers of the US Constitution continue to be revered for their foresight with regard to the functioning of the American government with respect to the constitution’s division of powers, the balance of powers, and scope of powers.
As with any government, there are always areas of confusion between the rights and responsibilities of elected officials and citizens.