Checks and Balances

Perhaps the key to freedom and overreach by government is the simple principle of checks and balances.  Do they teach the concept of Checks and Balances in civics class?  Do they teach civics?  Want civics?  Then read the Founding documents and think!  

Everyone is familiar with checks and balances, especially those participating in a successful marriage with children, or a startup company with numerous experts all focused on a way to make millions.  At every step forward, there is pushback, a slight change in direction, perhaps a retreat and re-evaluation.  It is imperative that husband and wife agree, particularly when the issue involves the discipline of an unruly kid.  The Marketing and Design team must develop a concept that engineering can build, which meets the market demand. 

Check and balances, the Framers understood the need to agree, to modify, to change direction.  The Framers also understood that they were not perfect and all knowing, something unknown in todays’ world.  

As Benjamin Franklin stated toward the read of the Constitutional Convention:

 “I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it.  For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being oblig’d by better information or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.  It is therefore the older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own Judgement, and to pay more Respect to the Judgement of others.”

We need checks and balances because no President is perfect, no Congress is infallible, no court understands everything, and no person is always right.  

The Framers believed this for they saw the results of British legislation, which was rammed through, against the wishes of the people.  The Framers understood that checks and balances protect the will of the people, which is why they studied Montesquieu.  Montesquieu understood dividing power within government, specifically defining a legislative, executive and judicial branch, each separate and autonomous, but each watched and monitored by the other two. 

The Convention reached a compromise based on the passions of man, passions that would ensure that they protected their area of responsibility.  The Framers believed that an elected or appointed representative would NEVER release his power and responsibility to another (unless he was given stock tips).

These are the basic checks and balances outlined in the Constitution and discussed in the Federalist Papers.

  • The House checks the Senate, as both are needed to pass legislation, often before finding out what is in the bill!
  • Until the 17th Amendment, the Senate checked the House, ensuring that the desire of the States was represented against the desires of the people.
  • Until the 17th Amendment, the States directly controlled the Senator, even though the people elect the State officials.
  • The President could veto legislation, but then the Congress could override the veto with a 2/3 vote in each Chamber.
  • Until recently, Congress controlled the purse strings with a legitimate budget!
  • The President could bring in his friends as judges and executives, but the Senate had to approve.
  • Unlike the Iran Nuclear deal and the Paris Climate Treaty, all treaties had to be approved by the Senate in a 2/3 vote!
  • Congress was allowed to investigate a President, or even Hillary Clinton.
  • There was always the threat of the President supporting a Legislative Candidate in an upcoming election, or not!
  • Congress decides how big and how extensive the judiciary becomes, while the Courts decide if laws are Constitutional.
  • The President nominates judges, approved by the Senate while Congress can impeach a judge, or throw mud and lie about a candidate during a confirmation hearing.
  • Congress can issue a joint resolution stripping the President of certain powers, even eliminating travel bans or border security.
  • Congress can initiate Amendments to the US Constitution, but so could States if they developed a spine.
  • When elections were less suspectable to fraud and manipulation, the voters, including dead ones, elected a new Congress every 2-years, new Senators every 6-years on a rotating basis, and a new President every 4-years.

Checks and balances are the safety net against tyranny.  As Benjamin Franklin states “there is no form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupt as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

This Nation was created as a Republic, a representative republic with a written Constitution.  There is much more to our freedoms than owning a gun, being able to speak, to partition and other rights found in the Bill of Rights.  There is much more.

May I ask a simple question:  are you willing to be tasked with a mandate, a directive without your permission or the permission of your elected representative? So many would say “what does it matter?”  Well, it matters a great deal, and that is the purpose of checks and balances.  

The theory is that no one is perfect.  I realize that some of us are closer than others to being perfect, and while we may think that we are perfect, we are not. 

Hence, we have a Branch of government called the Legislature.  There is the lower branch – the House of Representatives and the upper branch – the Senate.  This group is tasked with creating laws that are applicable to all.  This group is tasked with passing Laws that the Nation deems necessary and proper.  

The House was constituted knowing that they were the closest to the people.  And at times, the people would be on fire as their passions erupted.  This law or that law must be done now.  The Senate, until 1913, was a more deliberative group.  Their purpose was to slow the legislation process down, giving time for people and themselves to understand the ramifications of a new law.

It is very simple – if we do not have a certain law and we have survived for years without it, why must it be passed tomorrow?  In fact, why must it be passed before everyone gets to read the bill.

Note:  The 17th Amendment is the worst Amendment.  It strips the various States from having control of the Legislative action.  This Republic was set up demanding that the power source of legislation came from the States.


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1 thought on “Checks and Balances”

  1. You noted that the 17th Amendment is the worst and I agree. Election to the Senate by the state legislatures was the major check on the legislative branch, in that it countered the tyranny of the majority in the House. The founders had to be rolling over in their graves as they had a brilliant system in place to protect federalism. The 17th blew that up. Another inconceivable fact is that in 52 of the 72 state chambers that voted to ratify, the vote was unanimous! And it only took 11 months to get the 36 states to ratify, effectively removing themselves as a single body from the legislative process.

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