Separation of powers under the United States Constitution  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Separation of powers is the political doctrine which the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government are kept distinct, to prevent abuse of power. This U.S. form of separation of powers is associated with a system of checks and balances.

During the Age of Enlightenment, several philosophers, such as and James Harrington, advocated the principle in their writings, whereas others, such as Thomas Hobbes strongly opposed it. Montesquieu was one of the foremost supporters of separating the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. His writings considerably influenced the opinions of the framers of the United States Constitution.

Strict separation of powers did not operate in Britain, a country whose political structure served in most instances as a model for the government created by the U.S. Constitution. Under the British Westminster system, based on parliamentary sovereignty and responsible government, Parliament (consisting of the Sovereign (King-in-Parliament), House of Lords and House of Commons - was the supreme lawmaking authority. The executive branch acted in the name of the King ("His Majesty's Government") as did the judiciary. The King's Ministers were in most cases members of one of the two Houses of Parliament, and the Government needed to sustain a majority in the House of Commons. One minister, the Lord Chancellor, was at the same time the sole judge in the Court of Chancery and the presiding officer in the House of Lords. Thus, one may conclude that the three branches of British government often violated the strict principle of separation of powers, even though there were many occasions when the different branches of the government disagreed with each other.

Some U.S. states did not observe a strict separation of powers in the 18th century. In New Jersey, the Governor also functioned as a member of the state's highest court and as the presiding officer of one house of the New Jersey Legislature. The President of Delaware was a member of the Court of Appeals; the presiding officers of the two houses of the state legislature also served in the executive department as Vice Presidents. In both Delaware and Pennsylvania, members of the executive council served at the same time as judges. On the other hand, many southern states explicitly required separation of powers. Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia all kept the branches of government "separate and distinct."



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Separation of powers under the United States Constitution" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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