2.2 Structure and Design of U.S. Government

Checks and Balances

The Constitution’s amendment process allows people to change their government. However, no amendment can go against the Constitution’s basic principles.

One of the principles underlying the Constitution is separation of powers. According to it, government power is divided to ensure that no one person or group gets too much power. This principle is so important that the Constitution devotes its first three parts to explaining it. Article I describes the legislative branch, with its Senate and House of Representatives, and its power to make laws. Article II outlines the executive branch, with the president at its head, and its power to enforce the laws. And Article III details the judicial branch, made up of the Supreme Court and other courts, and its power to interpret the laws.

In addition, the Constitution uses a system of checks and balances to limit the power of any one branch of the government. This system provides each branch with ways to influence—or even undo—the actions of the other branches. For example, the system of checks and balances allows the president to veto, or reject, a bill passed by Congress. (A bill is a proposed law.) However, Congress can, with enough votes, override, or cancel, a veto