Separation of Powers

By Debbie Wuthnow

Separation of Powers

Our Founding Fathers knew to set up safeguards against the abuse of power.  iVoterGuide examines checks and balances and the important role you play.

How important is a candidate’s understanding of the following question on iVoterGuide's candidate questionnaire:

“What in the nature of mankind caused America’s Founders to carefully define, separate, and limit powers in the Constitution?”

A candidate who is unable to articulate the basic separation of powers—and the purpose behind them—is unlikely to respect the limits of authority of the office they seek.

Do you know why?  Have you ever really thought about it?

The Bible tells us that human nature is inherently corrupt. But even without the Bible, this reality is self-evident, especially to anyone who follows politics. Anyone in a position of authority has the potential to abuse their power. In fact, it is likely that they will abuse their power to some degree without a restraint on their ability to do so.

That’s exactly why our Founding Fathers—who understood the Bible and human nature—separated the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government. These three branches “check and balance” each other and keep human nature’s natural desire for power under control.

Imagine how our country would look if the three branches were not separated!

Suppose the president had the power to decree that everyone must pledge allegiance to the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag, whether or not it violated their conscience. There is no legislative debate—it simply comes to pass by the president’s will.

In order to execute the law, he gives police authority to force every person to pledge allegiance to that flag. When a citizen wants to protest this unjust law in court, he faces the president sitting in the judge’s seat! Naturally, the president will not rule against his own law. The citizen automatically loses.

This is a far-fetched scenario, but it illustrates a serious point: without a separation of powers, everything the government did would be right in its own eyes. Instead, Articles I, II, and III of our U.S. Constitution clearly define the powers and boundaries of each branch of the federal government so our freedom is better protected:

  • Congress, consisting of the House and Senate, can pass a law, but they are powerless to put that law into action.
  • The President, his cabinet, and federal departments enforce the law, but they cannot make the law.
  • The Supreme Court and other federal appellate and district courts can judge whether someone has violated the law, or whether the law itself violates the Constitution, but they lack the authority to enforce their ruling or change the law.

Each branch is a check on the other two. Cooperation and compromise are necessary, making it very hard for a few people to quickly push their own agenda through or make rapid unilateral changes.

How does this affect your voting?

Remember that the term ‘separation of powers’ is not simply for civics class. It is a vital safeguard against abuses of power. However, it is such an integral part of our system of government that we—and candidates we vote for—can easily take it for granted.

In every election, consider asking:

  1. What is this candidate's understanding of human nature? If the candidate believes human nature is inherently good, then why are laws necessary? If the candidate believes human nature is corrupted, does he or she understand and respect the governmental separation of powers?
  2. Does this candidate understand the role of the office they are seeking? ?Is this candidate making promises that exceed the powers of the office sought?

Some are simply uninformed; others disagree with the Biblical view of human nature and the way our founders constructed our government.

iVoterGuide’s mission is to help you discover what the candidates believe so you can make a well-informed decision with your vote.

Today, because giant bureaucracies and the abuse of executive orders threaten the separation of powers, it’s more important than ever to be an informed voter. An informed, engaged electorate is the final peaceful human check on those entrusted with power.

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