Concept of Checks and Balances
Published 16 Aug 2016
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” James Madison expressed this statement at the time the United States Constitution was framed by our founding fathers. This is the essence behind the principle of checks and balances which are deeply embedded in our constitution.
Following this principle, the framers of the constitution divided the powers of government into the federal and the state government so that the powers, authority, functions, responsibilities, and resources of the government shall be distributed between the federal government and the state government.
Based on the principle of checks and balances, the framers of the constitution divided the three most important powers of government and distributed them to the three main branches. These are the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judiciary. Each of the department of government is given exclusive power to perform their responsibilities but the constitution has conveniently provided for a limitation of these powers. Thus, one branch of government serves to check the exercise of the powers of the other branch so as to prevent one branch from being too powerful or autocratic.
For instance, the Legislative Branch has the power to enact laws and the President has the power to sign these laws. But the Judiciary has been assigned the function of checking and balancing this power so as to prevent abuse on the part of these two branches. This was exemplified in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade wherein the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional certain provisions of the Texas State Penal Code which criminalized abortion. According to the Supreme Court, the pregnant woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is embraced within the concept of the right to privacy.