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2019 High School Essay Contest: Prompt

SEPARATION OF POWERS, CHECKS AND BALANCES, 2019 High School Essay Contest

2019 High School Essay Contest: Prompt
 
Prompt

The Founding Fathers created a "divided government" by separating important powers among each of the three branches – executive, legislative, and judicial. To prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful, the Framers established a system of checks and balances. Some argue, however, the concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances undermine the government's ability to swiftly and decisively respond to problems facing the nation.

Identify a historical or current event that exemplifies the concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances. Drawing on primary sources, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a "divided government."

Suggested Background Resources

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

THE FEDERALIST PAPERS

  • THE FEDERALIST NO. 47
    James Madison laying out the separation of powers between Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches
     
  • THE FEDERALIST NO. 48
    James Madison discussing how different branches of government should have some ability to check the powers of the other branches
     
  • THE FEDERALIST NO. 51
    Alexander Hamilton discussing concept of checks and balances

SELECT SUPREME COURT DECISIONS

  • Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803) (powers of the judicial branch)
    Supreme Court first established that the judicial branch had the power to review actions taken by other branches of government and the ultimate power to determine the constitutionality of those actions.
     
  • Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) (balance of powers between executive and legislative branches)
    Supreme Court held that the President lacked the power to seize private property, i.e., private businesses, without express authorization by Congress.
     
  • United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974) (balance of powers between the executive and judicial branches)
    Supreme Court held that a claim of Presidential privilege in a criminal trial cannot override the needs of the judicial process if that claim is based on a generalized interest in confidentiality.
     
  • Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982) (balance of powers between the executive and judicial branches)
    Supreme Court held that the President is entitled to absolute immunity from liability from civil damages based on his official acts.
     
  • I.N.S. v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983) (balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches)
    Supreme Court held that Congress cannot grant to itself the power to veto actions taken by the Executive branch, where that veto power does not comply with the bicameralism and presentment clauses of the Constitution.
     
  • Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997) (balance of powers between the executive and judicial branches)
    Supreme Court held that a sitting President could not claim immunity from civil litigation for actions taken prior to taking office and unrelated to the President’s official duties.
     
  • Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417 (1998) (balance of powers between executive and legislative branch)
    Supreme Court held that Congress violated the presentment clause by granting the President a line-item veto.
     
  • Zivotofsky ex rel. Zivotofsky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076 (2015) (balance of powers between executive and legislative branch)
    Supreme Court held that the President, not Congress, has the exclusive power to recognize (or not) foreign nations.