The president is the head of the state and of the government. The president is selected for a 4-year term. Under a constitutional amendment passed in 1951, a president can be elected to only two terms.
The legislative branch is represented by Congress. American Congress includes two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Elections to the House of Representatives are held every two years, when the whole House of representatives is replaced.
The Senate consists of 100 senators - two senators from each state, elected for 6 years. One third of the Senate is replaced every two years. The president of the Senate is the Vice-President of the United States.
The judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court. The other courts are federal courts of Appeal and federal district courts.
Today the United States has two major political parties. One is the Democratic Party formed before 1800. The other is the Republican Party, which was formed in the 1850s.
The Legislative Branch
The legislative branch is made is made up of elected representatives from all over the states and is the only branch that can make federal laws, levy federal taxes and declare war. It consists of Congress that is divided into two houses:
The House of Representatives comprises lawmakers who serve two-year terms. Each House member represents a district in his or her home state. The number of districts in a state is determined by a count of the population taken every ten years. The most heavily populated states have more districts and, therefore, more representatives than the smaller states, some of which have only one.
*The Senate comprises law makers who serve six-year terms. Each state, regardless of population, has two senators. That assured that the small states have an equal voice in one of the houses of Congress.
A law begins as a proposal called a “bill”. It is read, studied in committees, commented on and amended in the Senate or House Chamber in which it was introduced. It is then voted upon. If it passes, it is sent to the other house where a similar procedure occurs. Groups who try to persuade Congress pass a bill on which they agree, it is sent to the president for his signature. Only after it is signed the bill becomes a law.
The Executive Branch
The chief executive of the United States is the president, who is elected to a four-year term. He often proposes bills to Congress. The president can also veto any bill passed by Congress. The veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The president has the authority to appoint federal justices. He also is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The major departments of the government are headed by appointed secretaries who collectively make up the president’s cabinet. Each appointment must be confirmed by a vote of the Senate.
Under the Constitution, the president is responsible for foreign relations with other nations. The president appoints ambassadors and other officials, manages the nation’s policy.
The Judicial Branch
The judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court, which is the only court specifically created by the Constitution. In addition, the Congress has established 11 federal courts of appeal and, below them, 91 federal district courts. Federal justices can only be removed from office through the process of impeachment and trial in the Congress.
The Supreme Court today consists of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. The Court’s most important function of determining whether congressional legislation or executive action violates the Constitution.
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