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American Government and Politics

A guide to information resources related to American government and politics.

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Understanding the American Government

The Constitution of the United States sets forth that the federal government should be three branches of government, ensuring that no one person or group is too powerful.

These branches are the legislative branch, which makes laws and takes the form of the United States Congress; the executive branch, which enforces the laws and consists of the president and people who report to the president; and the judicial branch, which evaluates laws and includes the Supreme Court and other courts.  

The Legislative Branch

The main role of the legislative branch, which is the United States Congress, is to make the country’s laws. There are two houses of Congress, which are the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of Congress are elected by the residents of each state to represent that state in Congress. Although each state has two senators, the number of representatives for a state is dependent on the state’s population. There are 100 senators and 435 elected members of the House of Representatives, as well as six delegates who do not vote that represent the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories. To pass a piece of legislation, both houses vote on a bill. If the bill passes both houses of Congress, it then goes to the president, who can sign it into law or veto it.        


The official website of the United States Congress includes information on the members of Congress, bills introduced by Congress, and Congressional records and reports.

White House publication on the legislative branch includes information on the legislative process, the powers of congress, and the legislative branch’s role in government oversight.

The Legislative Process is a video series from the United States Congress that describes the process of a bill becoming law.

The Executive Branch

The role of the executive branch is to enforce the nation’s laws. The executive branch is led by the president, who is the commander in chief of the military and responsible for signing or vetoing laws presented to them by Congress. The executive branch also includes the vice president, who is the president of the Senate and will take over if the president cannot perform his duties, as well as the Cabinet, who are advisors to the president. The enforcement of laws in the executive branch is often performed by various federal agencies and departments.       

The website for the Office of the President of the United States contains a great deal of information on the current executives.

White House publication on the executive branch includes information on the responsibilities of the president and vice president, the role of the Cabinet, and descriptions of the executive departments.

The American Presidency Project, hosted at the University of California, Santa Barbara, includes presidential papers, addresses, speeches, and more.

The Federal Register provides a database that contains information on presidential documents, including executive orders, proclamations, and other items.

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch deals with evaluating laws and determining if a law does not conform to the rules set by the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the highest court of the United States and consists of nine justices. For a case to be heard by the Supreme Court, it must work its way through the court system until it is appealed to the Supreme Court from a lower court. Members of the judicial branch are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.      

The U.S. Courts website provides a list of landmark Supreme Court Cases.

The Supreme Court website includes information about the current members of the court and documents relating to Supreme Court cases.

Court Role and Structure from the United States Court describes the various federal courts and their responsibilities.

Checks and Balances

Each branch of government has the ability to restrict powers of the other branches in a system that is known as checks and balances. Some of these checks and balances include: 

  • The president is the commander in chief of the military, but only Congress can fund the military and declare war.
  • The president nominates federal officials, which must be confirmed by the Senate.
  • The president is able to veto a bill passed by Congress. If the president vetoes a bill, Congress is able to overturn that veto via a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress.   
  • The Supreme Court can declare that laws are unconstitutional.
  • Congress is able to impeach members of the executive and judicial branches, including the president.  

Three Branches of Government