Most modern systems of government present in our world today consist of three primary parts: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. These branches differ from country to country in terms of composition, size, function, and importance, but are usually designed to operate best independently of each other on specific aspects of governance. In some countries, the way these ideally independent branches of government work together to govern the country is known as checks and balances.
The legislative branch of government is usually composed of a legislature or assembly of individuals representing the people of a given nation. In most cases these representatives are elected by the people in a particular geographic location, such as a county, state, or province, though in some less democratic systems this may not always be true. In the United States, the legislative branch is known as Congress, which is divided into two sections: the House of Representatives and the Senate. This system is known as a bicameral legislature, in which there is a lower and upper house. In countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, as well as many other European nations, the legislative branch consists of a single house called a parliament. The role of the legislative branch of government is to discuss and pass laws for the country, as well as hold the executive branch accountable for its action in implementing and enforcing these laws.
The executive branch of government generally consists of a president, prime minister, or in some cases, a monarch such as a king, queen, prince, sultan, or emperor. The role of the executive branch is to conduct the day to day affairs of the nation, including domestic and foreign affairs. This usually includes the overall supreme command of the military armed forces, police, and civil administration. Thus, it is usually the responsibility of the executive branch to efficiently implement and enforce the laws passed by the legislative branch. The executive branch is ultimately accountable to the legislative and judicial branches for its actions and policies. In some cases, the monarch is merely a ceremonial position with no actual political power, in which case the executive functions of government are exercised by a prime minister, who is also the leader of the dominant faction within the legislative branch.
The judicial branch of government consists of a nation’s courts and judges, which are meant to interpret the laws enacted by the legislative branch as they apply to various situations, and in some countries such as the United States, to determine whether or not laws are valid according to the Constitution. The judicial branch also determines the legality of actions conducted by the executive branch based on current laws. In the United States, the Supreme Court has also developed a special role in developing laws in addition to merely interpreting them. The concept of judicial activism involves the courts making legal decisions about various issues and policies that, in effect, serve as laws, because they establish a legal precedent regarding what can and cannot be done by the other branches of government as well as by citizens.
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