The United States is a
federal government of the United States is set up by the
Constitution. There are three branches. They are the
executive branch, the
legislative branch, and the
judicial branch. State governments and the federal government work in very similar ways. Each state has its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch of a state government is led by a
governor, instead of a president.
executive branch is the part of the government that enforces the law. Members of the
U.S. Electoral College elect a
president who is the leader of the executive branch, as well as the leader of the
armed forces. The president may
veto a bill that the Congress has passed, so it does not become a law. The President may also make "executive orders" to ensure that people follow the law.
The president is in charge of many departments that control much of the day-to-day actions of government. For example,
Department of Commerce makes rules about trade. The president chooses the heads of these departments, and also nominates federal judges. However, the
Senate, part of the legislative branch, must agree with all of the people the president chooses. The president may serve two 4-year terms.
legislative branch makes laws. The legislative branch is called the
United States Congress. Congress is divided into two "houses".
One house is the
House of Representatives. The Representatives are each elected by voters from a set area within a state. The number of Representatives a state has is based on how many people live there. Representatives serve two-year terms. The total number of representatives today is 435. The leader of the House of Representatives is the
Speaker of the House.
The other house is the
Senate. In the Senate, each state is represented equally, by two senators. Because there are 50 states, there are 100 senators. The President's
treaties or appointments of
officials need the Senate's approval. Senators serve six-year terms. The Vice President of the United States serves as president of the Senate. In practice, the vice president is usually absent from the Senate, and a senator serves as president
pro tempore, or
temporary president, of the Senate.
Representatives and senators
propose laws, called "
bills", in their respective houses. A bill may be voted upon by the entire house right away or may first go to a small group, known as a
committee, which may recommend a bill for a vote by the whole house. If one house votes to pass a bill, the bill then gets sent to the other house; if both houses vote for it, it is then sent to the president, who may sign the bill into law or
veto it. If the president vetoes the bill, it is sent back to Congress. If Congress votes again and passes the bill with at least a two-thirds
majority, the bill becomes law and cannot be vetoed by the president.
Under the American system of
federalism, Congress may not make laws that directly control the states; instead, Congress may use the promise of federal funds, or special circumstances such as national
emergencies, to encourage the states to follow federal law. This system is both complex and unique.
Judicial Branch is the part of government that interprets what the law means. The Judicial Branch is made up of the
Supreme Court and many lower courts. If the Supreme Court decides that a law is not allowed by
the Constitution, the law is said to be "struck down" and is no longer a
The Supreme Court is made up of nine
judges, called justices, who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. One of these justices, called the
chief justice, heads the court. A Supreme Court justice serves until he or she dies or
resigns (quits in the middle of his or her term). When that happens, the president nominates someone new to replace the justice who left. If the Senate agrees with that choice, the person becomes a justice. If the Senate does not agree with the president's choice, then the president must nominate someone else.
Famous court cases such as
Marbury v. Madison (which was decided in 1803) have firmly established that the Supreme Court is the
ultimate interpreter of the
United States Constitution and has the power to strike down any law that
conflicts with it.