Learn about the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the U.S. government.

Infographic: 3 Branches of the U.S. Government

Learn the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and see a lesson plan for teachers.

U.S. Constitution

The Founding Fathers, the framers of the U.S. Constitution, wanted to form a government that did not allow one person to have too much control. With this in mind, they wrote the Constitution to provide for a separation of powers, or three separate branches of government.

Each branch has its own responsibilities and at the same time, the three branches work together to make the country run smoothly and to assure that the rights of citizens are not ignored or disallowed. This is done through checks and balances. A branch may use its powers to check the powers of the other two in order to maintain a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Legislative – Makes Laws

Congress is composed of two parts: the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Senate

The Senate has 100 elected senators total; 2 senators per state. Each senator serves a 6-year term.

House of Representatives

The House has 435 voting representatives; the number of representatives from each state is based on the state’s population. Each representative serves a two-year term and may be re-elected.

Executive – Carries Out Laws

The executive branch is composed of the president, vice president, and Cabinet members.

President

The president is the head of state, head of the U.S. government, and the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military.

Vice President

The vice president not only supports the president but also acts as the presiding officer of the Senate.

Cabinet

The Cabinet members are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate (with at least 51 votes). They serve as the president’s advisors and heads of various departments and agencies.

Judicial – Evaluates Laws

The judicial branch of government is made up of the court system.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country. The nine justices are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate (with at least 51 votes).

Other Federal Courts

There are lower Federal courts but they were not created by the Constitution. Congress established them around the country to handle federal business as the country grew, using power granted by the Constitution.

You can download or order a kids’ version of our 3 Branches poster.

How the U.S. Government Is Organized

The Constitution of the United States divides the federal government into three branches to make sure no individual or group will have too much power:

  • Legislative—Makes laws (Congress, comprised of the House of Representatives and Senate)
  • Executive—Carries out laws (president, vice president, Cabinet, most federal agencies)
  • Judicial—Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)

Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches:

  • The president can veto legislation created by Congress and nominates heads of federal agencies.
  • Congress confirms or rejects the president’s nominees and can remove the president from office in exceptional circumstances.
  • The Justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws, are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

This ability of each branch to respond to the actions of the other branches is called the system of checks and balances.

Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government

The legislative branch drafts proposed laws, confirms or rejects presidential nominations for heads of federal agencies, federal judges, and the Supreme Court, and has the authority to declare war. This branch includes Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives) and special agencies and offices that provide support services to Congress. American citizens have the right to vote for Senators and Representatives through free, confidential ballots.

Congress is composed of two parts:

  • Senate—There are two elected Senators per state, totaling 100 Senators. A Senate term is six years and there is no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.
  • House of Representatives—There are 435 elected Representatives, which are divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. There are additional non-voting delegates who represent the District of Columbia and the territories. A Representative serves a two-year term, and there is no limit to the number of terms an individual can serve.

The legislative branch includes Congress and the agencies that support its work.

Executive Branch of the U.S. Government

The executive branch carries out and enforces laws. It includes the president, vice president, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards, commissions, and committees.

American citizens have the right to vote for the president and vice president through free, confidential ballots.

Key roles of the executive branch include:

  • President—The president leads the country. He or she is the head of state, leader of the federal government, and Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. The president serves a four-year term and can be elected no more than two times.
  • Vice president—The vice president supports the president. If the president is unable to serve, the vice president becomes president. The vice president can be elected and serve an unlimited number of four-year terms as vice president, even under a different president.
  • The Cabinet—Cabinet members serve as advisors to the president. They include the vice president, heads of executive departments, and other high-ranking government officials. Cabinet members are nominated by the president and must be approved by a simple majority of the Senate—51 votes if all 100 Senators vote.

Executive Branch Agencies, Commissions, and Committees

Much of the work in the executive branch is done by federal agencies, departments, committees, and other groups.

Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government

The judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and decides if laws violate the Constitution. It is comprised of the Supreme Court and other federal courts.Open All +

  • Supreme Court
  • Federal Courts and Judicial Agencies
  • Confirmation Process for Judges and Justices

Infographic: How the Supreme Court Works

Learn how cases reach the Supreme Court and how the Justices make their decisions. Use this lesson plan in class.

How the Supreme Court Works

The Supreme Court is:

  • The highest court in the country
  • Located in Washington, DC
  • The head of the judicial branch of the federal government
  • Responsible for deciding whether laws violate the Constitution
  • In session from early October until late June or early July

How a Case Gets to the Supreme Court

Most cases reach the Court on appeal. An appeal is a request for a higher court to reverse the decision of a lower court. Most appeals come from federal courts. They can come from state courts if a case deals with federal law.

Rarely, the Court hears a new case, such as one between states.

  1. Dissatisfied parties petition the Court for review
    Parties may appeal their case to the Supreme Court, petitioning the Court to review the decision of the lower court.
  2. Justices study documents
    The Justices examine the petition and supporting materials.
  3. Justices vote
    Four Justices must vote in favor for a case to be granted review.

What Happens Once a Case is Selected for Review?

  1. Parties make arguments
    The Justices review the briefs (written arguments) and hear oral arguments. In oral arguments, each side usually has 30 minutes to present its case. The Justices typically ask many questions during this time.
  2. Justices write opinions
    The Justices vote on the case and write their opinions.

    The majority opinion shared by more than half of the Justices becomes the Court’s decision.

    Justices who disagree with the majority opinion write dissenting or minority opinions.
  3. The Court issues its decision
    Justices may change their vote after reading first drafts of the opinions. Once the opinions are completed and all of the Justices have cast a final vote, the Court “hands down” its decision.

    All cases are heard and decided before summer recess. It can take up to nine months to announce a decision.

Every year:

The Court receives 7,000-8,000 requests for review and grants 70-80 for oral argument. Other requests are granted and decided without argument.

About the Justices:

There are nine Justices:

  • A Chief Justice, who sits in the middle and is the head of the judicial branch.
  • Eight Associate Justices

When a new Justice is needed:

  • The President nominates a candidate, usually a federal judge.
  • The Senate votes to confirm the nominee.
  • The Court can continue deciding cases with less than nine Justices, but if there is a tie, the lower court’s decision stands.

Justices are appointed for life, though they may resign or retire.

  • They serve an average of 16 years.

About the Author

Sande Kennedy is the founder and Editor in Chief of SandeKennedy.co.ke & Kenyans247.co.ke He is a Kenyan-based Internetprenuer,blogger Political Activist & informer who has an interest in politics, governance, corporate-fraud and human-interest. Kindly drop me a note if you feel aggrieved on any matter that you would want to be highlighted  Twitter: @nyosake , Instagram: @itssandekennedy WhatsApp: +254791890826 Read More about me here