The following is the winning essay of the Seventeenth annual High School Essay Contest sponsored by the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and the New York Law Journal in partnership with the New York City Dept. of Education. The contest is open to high school students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades throughout New York City. The 2018 winner and nine finalists, who wrote on “Separation of Powers: Framework for Freedom,” will have the opportunity to intern in the state court system for one week in the summer, and were awarded gift cards from the New York Law Journal.
When the United States was first created, many factors went into building an effective government for generations to come. One of these factors included separation of powers, separating the government into three different branches in order to prevent an abuse of power. Separation of powers has a huge impact on the way the U.S. government functions.
The idea of separation of powers was first thought of by Baron de Montesquieu, a philosopher during the Enlightenment, who believed that not only should the government be separated into different branches, but that each branch should check on the other branches to ensure that no one is taking advantage of their power. This idea inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States, sparking them to include separation of powers in our United States Constitution. In 1787, the Constitution was ratified and divided into seven articles, three of which consisted of the three different branches of government.
Article I of the Constitution describes the Legislative Branch, which was created to determine how laws would be passed in the United States. This branch includes Congress, which is separated into the House of Representatives and the Senate. In order for a bill to become a law, it must first be approved by a majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Article II describes the Executive Branch, which includes the President and Vice President of the United States. In this branch, the President chooses to approve and sign bills from Congress or veto them. Likewise, this branch enforces and administers laws through the use of Federal agencies, such as police officers and the F.B.I. Additionally, Article II of the Constitution states that the President ” … shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States”.
Finally, Article Ill describes the Judicial Branch and how our legal system works. This branch consists of federal courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. These courts interpret and apply laws to cases, and the Supreme Court has the power to declare a law unconstitutional. In fact, Article Ill, Section 2 states, “The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority”.
Separation of powers gives each branch the opportunity to review the other branches to make sure a branch is not abusing of their power. In order to do this, each branch can override another branch. History has witnessed many laws in Roosevelt’s New Deal be declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, demonstrating the Judicial Branch’s power to override Congress and the President. One law declared unconstitutional was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which granted the Executive Branch the power to regulate businesses in hopes of stimulating the economy and reducing unemployment during the Great Depression. On the other hand. The Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional in Schechter Poultry Corp v. United States in 1935 because the justices felt the NIRA granted law-making powers to the President that are supposed to be assigned to Congress. Furthermore, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) allows victims to sue foreign governments for damages if they issued a terrorist attack on the U.S. This bill was mainly created for victims of the September 11, 2001 attack; however, Barack Obama vetoed this bill. Nonetheless, over two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and Senate approved this bill, resulting in the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act becoming a law. Evidently, our federal government is balanced out through the use of separation of powers.
The United States was built on many factors, but the foundation of it all was separation of powers. Having our government separated into three branches not only prevents a misuse or abuse of power, but also brings balance to the way our government functions. One can only imagine what our government would be like today if separation of powers was never incorporated into our Constitution.
Alyssa Marcus is a junior at New Dorp High School in Staten Island.