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Federal Powers and Separation of Powers

Executive Department

Article II of the Constitution vests the executive power, the power to enforce the law, in the President of the United States. The only legal requirement for the positions that one must be a natural born citizen over 35 years of age who has resided in the U.S. for at least 14 years. The president serves a four year term and is limited by law to two such terms. Although the nation votes on election day, the Electoral College technically selects the president. Each state appoints Electors to the College equal to the state's total representatives and senators in Congress. The Electors may select any person to be president, but traditionally vote in accordance with the majority of the popular vote in their state.

The Constitution says surprisingly little about the specific powers and duties of the president. Perhaps this reflects the framer's reluctance to concentrate federal power in one person. Only through constitutional interpretation, custom, and necessity has the position developed into one of considerable power. As the commander-in-chief, the president has ultimate control over the army and navy. This curious role for a nonmilitary person was a reaction to Britain's tendency to "render the Military independent of, and superior to, the Civil power." Presidents traditionally have used this power to effect considerable influence over foreign affairs, such as with President Bush's deployment of troops during the Persian Gulf War. The president also has the power to make treaties (with the advice and consent of the Senate).

Domestically, the president has the duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." The president delegates many of these duties to the executive agencies, such as the Department of Justice, which are headed by the members of the president's cabinet. Finally, the president has the duty to "give to the Congress information of the state of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The president thus becomes actively involved in proposing and shaping national legislation, including the national budget.

If the president becomes unable to fulfill his duties, the vice-president takes his place. Until then, the vice-president has only one constitutional duty--he serves as president of the Senate and votes if the Senate is equally divided. Otherwise the vice-president typically chairs various commissions and represents the U.S. at domestic and foreign ceremonies and occasions. Significantly, however, the vice-presidency has become a stepping stone to the presidency. In the twentieth century, seven vice-presidents eventually have become president--Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George Bush.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesFederal Powers and Separation of Powers - Preamble, The Tyranny Of The Monarchy, The Articles Of Confederation, Constitution Of The United States