Government by Constitution

Separation of Powers/Checks and Balances


A. Discussion

Discuss the following questions with your classmates:

• In which of these building does the president of the United States live?

• Which building houses the meeting chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate?

• Which of these buildings is the highest court in the United States?

• Who makes the laws in your country?

• If people in your country feel a law is unfair or unjust, what do they do?

Сї B. Vocabulary and Key Concepts

Read through the sentences, trying to imagine which words would fit in the blanks. Then listen to a dictation of the full sentences, and write the missing words in the blanks.

1. Two important principles of the United States Constitution are

the_________________________ of powers and the system of

________________________ and_________________________

2. The Constitution provides for three_________________________

of government: the_________________________ , the executive,

and the_________________________

3. The legislative branch is primarily responsible for

________________________ ,or making, new laws. The executive

branch executes laws by signing them and by seeing that they are

4. The judicial branch deals with those who are

a law or who are involved in a

5. The judicial branch also handles_____________

and reviews existing laws to make sure they are


U. S. Constitution.

6. Each branch has its specific_________________

and its own particular power, which it must not

7. The presidential_________________________

_________________________________________________ is an

obvious example of checks and balances.

8. Because it’s difficult for Congress to________________________

a presidential veto, the veto may________________________

________________________ this new law forever.

9. Although President Nixon was_________________________ of

illegal activities, he was never removed from office by Congress because he

10. By finding laws against abortion————————————– ,

the Supreme Court in effect made abortion

11. In the area of

., the Supreme Court declared it

illegal to practice

________________________ in any form.

12. Probably the most important effect of this change was the of public schools.

13. After the president________________________

_________________________________________________ for the

Supreme Court, the Congress must__________________________

his choice.

14. Because there are only nine Supreme Court Justices, one new

Justice can change the_________________________

_________________________________________________ on the

Court itself.

Follow-up: Check the spelling of the dictated words with your teacher.

Discuss the meanings of these words and any other unfamiliar words

in the sentences.

C. Predictions

Using the photograph and the vocabulary exercise as a starting point, write three questions that you think will be answered in the lecture.

Example: • Which branch of government is the president part of?




Follow-up: After you have written your questions, share them with your teacher and your classmates.

D. Notetaking Preparation

1. Prelecture Reading

As we mentioned in the previous lesson, U. S. university students most often prepare for each class by reading a text chapter, an article, or even a case study. This preparation makes the instructor’s lecture, usual ly on a topic related to the reading, easier to follow and to take notes on.

Before listening to the lecture, read the following passage carefully and answer the comprehension questions. You will notice how this preparation will aid your comprehension of the lecture.

Judicial Review

Judicial review is the power of a court to invalidate or overturn any law passed by the legislature that the court believes to be uncon­stitutional. The concept of judicial review as exercised by the Supreme Court of the United States is almost unique in the world. It can be called an American invention. Nowhere else does the judi­ciary of a country exercise final say over laws passed by the legisla­ture. This enormous power of judicial review by the Supreme Court was established in a famous case several years after the Constitution was written, Marbury v. Madison (1803). The Court’s opinion stated that the Constitution was superior to any acts by the legislature and that it was the Court’s duty to void any laws that went against the Constitution. This power was not explicitly expressed in the Consti­tution, and even today, almost 200 years later, the Supreme Court’s power to void laws passed by the legislature is still controversial.

If we compare judicial review in the United States with that in a few other countries, we will see just how unusual it is. In Great Britain, the right of Parliament (the legislature) to make any law it wants to cannot be challenged by the courts. The courts can inter­pret but not determine the validity of a law. In Germany, the judi­ciary actually has had such power since shortly after World War II, but it has been slow to exercise judicial review for cultural and historical reasons. The judiciary in Canada has had this power since 1982, but whether it will exercise it in a way similar to that exer­cised by the U. S. Supreme Court cannot be known yet.


a. What is judicial review?

b. Is judicial review guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution? Explain.

c. Which of the following countries has no provisions for judicial review—Britain, Canada, or Germany?

d. Do Germany and Canada exercise judicial review more or less frequently than the United States does? Explain.

Follow-up: Check your answers with your teacher before you


2. Practicing the Language of Political Science

The following exercise will help you learn language used when dis­cussing the separate powers that each branch of the U. S. government has and the checks and balances that each branch has over the other two branches. Look over the schematic, which shows some of the pow­ers that each branch has and how some of these powers specifically limit the powers of the other two branches. Then answer the questions that follow the schematic.

The U. S. Government

Executive Branch

Judicial Branch

Legislative Branch

• Interprets laws

• May declare a law unconstitutional

• Interprets treaties

• Sends suggestions to Congress (i. e., proposes new legislation)

• May veto bills sent by Congress for signature

• Nominates judges

• Makes treaties with other countries

• Prepares federal budget

• Approves federal budget

• Approves treaties

• Sends bills it has passed to president for signature

• May override veto by 2/3 majority

• Must approve appointment of judges

• May impeach the president

• May impeach judges

Work with a partner to answer these questions:

a. Which powers in each branch are checked by another branch?

b. Which powers seem to have no checks against them? Follow-up: Check your answers with your classmates.


A. First Listening

The lecturer begins with a brief discussion of the Constitution of the United States and tells you its two guiding principles. She then an­nounces her first subtopic, the three branches of the U. S. government. She goes on to explain the two guiding principles. Finally, she expands on the second principle with several examples and illustrations. (You will need to use the notetaking skills that you have learned so far to organize your notes below.)


Follow-up: Check your subtopics with your teacher. How did you organize your notes? Yours may be different from another student’s. What is important is that your notes reflect the basic organization and information of the lecture.

0 B. Further Listening

While listening again, write down necessary relevant details below the main subtopics to which they belong.

Follow-up: Check your notes. If you missed important information or have doubts about your notes, (1) verify them by asking a classmate questions to fill the gaps in your notes or (2) listen to the lecture a third time. When verifying your notes with a classmate, do not show each other your notes,- ask specific questions to get the information you need.

Examples: • What does the judicial system do? Do you have that in

your notes?

• I don’t have anything in my notes about who chooses the people on the Supreme Court. Do you have it in your notes?

• What can the president do if he doesn’t like a law that the Congress sends him to sign? I didn’t catch that word.

This is also a good time to check to see if the lecturer answered your Predictions questions about the lecture.

III. POSTLISTENING______________________________________________

0 A. Accuracy Check

Listen to the following questions, and write short answers. You will hear each question one time only.

1. _________________________________________








Follow-up: Check your answers with your teacher. If your score is less than 70 percent, you may need to listen to the lecture again or rewrite your notes so that you can understand and use them later.

B. Oral Activities

1. Review

In small groups, discuss your notes, section by section, to be sure that all members have a complete set of notes for each subsection. At the end of this activity, your instructor will ask various class members to reproduce sections of the lecture for the whole class to listen to. At that time, check what you hear against your notes. If you don’t under­stand or you disagree with what you hear, wait until the speaker fin­ishes. Then bring your notes into agreement by seeking clarification, as follows:

• Did you say that Congress can veto a law? My notes say that the president can veto a law.

• Excuse me, could you repeat what you said about Watergate?

2. Transfer

If you and your classmates come from different countries, discuss these questions with a partner or in small groups. If not, discuss them with the whole class.

• How is the power to make and enforce laws in your country divided? Explain.

• Can a law be overturned by the judicial branch in your country? If so, under what circumstances?

• Do you think the legislative branch of a government should have the power to remove the president of a country from office?

C. Collaboration: Writing Answers to Essay Questions

To help you prepare for the essay questions in the Unit Quiz at the end of this unit, plan and write essay answers to the following questions on the Constitution and the separation of powers. Work in groups of three or four. Appoint one member of the group to do the actual writing; all members of the group should participate in planning and helping with the answers.


1. List the three branches of the U. S. government and describe their primary duties.

2. What are the two guiding principles of the U. S. Constitution, and what is their purpose?

Follow-up: Share your answers with at least one other group that has written on the same question(s). Or share your answers orally with the class, and discuss the strengths in each answer.

D. Pursuing the Topic

The following are recommended for a closer look at issues related to the Constitution of the United States:


TIME, July 6, 1987.

This issue commemorates the 200th anniversary of the American Constitution. Numerous articles and essays discuss various aspects of and issues involved with the Constitution, among them its history and impact, landmark Supreme Court decisions, and current issues.

Do an Internet search, using the keyword U. S. Constitution, to find a multitude of sites that offer the text and an analysis of the U. S. Constitution.


All the President’s Men, Alan J. Pakula, director; 138 minutes, PG.

This film is based on the true story of two investigative reporters who broke the story of the Watergate scandal, which eventually brought down the Nixon administration.

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