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branches of government

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The division of government into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. In the case of the federal government, the three branches were established by the Constitution. The executive branch consists of the president, the cabinet, and the various departments and executive agencies. The legislative branch consists of the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and their staff. The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court and the other federal courts.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

MORE ABOUT BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT

What are the branches of government?

The branches of government are the three divisions that make up the federal government and the state governments in the United States.

In the United States, the Constitution specifically separates the federal government into three distinct divisions, or branches. This is to ensure that all of the power would not belong to a single person or group. Instead it is divided among the different branches. The three branches of government are the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch.

The legislative branch is responsible for creating laws. Federally, the legislative branch is  Congress, which consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws. Federally, the executive branch is led by the president. Other members of the executive branch include the vice president, the Cabinet, and all of the employees of federal departments that are part of the executive branch, such as the CIA, the FBI, and the post office. The United States military is also considered part of the executive branch.

The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the laws. Federally, the judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court and the other federal courts.

While the Constitution only establishes branches of government at the national level, all 50 states have also divided their state governments into the same three branches of government through their state constitutions. At the state level, the executive branches are led by governors, the legislative branches are made of elected state legislatures, and the judicial branches take the form of state supreme courts and other state courts.

Why are branches of government important?

The three branches of government are outlined and assigned their duties in the first three articles of the Constitution. Article I established the legislative branch, Article II established the executive branch, and Article III established the judicial branch.

When establishing the three branches of government, the Constitution also gave each branch certain powers that would keep the power of the other two in check. This idea is known as separation of powers. For example, only Congress has the power to pass laws, but the president has the power to veto them and the Supreme Court has the power to declare them unconstitutional.

Unlike the federal and state government, local (municipal) governments aren’t divided into branches. Most cities and counties are run by mayors, city councils, or county commissioners who must obey state law.

Did you know ... ?

Although the branches of government seem simple enough, they often have a large number of responsibilities. The executive branch alone employs millions of people!

What are real-life examples of branches of government?

This infographic shows the three branches of government that make up the federal government of the United States.

USA.gov

Most Americans are familiar with the branches of government and what their general duties are.

 

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT one of the branches of government in the United States?

A. judicial
B. executive
C. administrative
D. legislative

How to use branches of government in a sentence

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