Separation of Powers Doctrine In the USA Discussion Questions

The separation of powers doctrine in the U.S. commonly refers to the division of federal government responsibilities into three distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another.  The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.

The traditional characterizations of the powers of the branches of American government are:

  • The legislative branch is responsible for enacting the laws of the state and appropriating the money necessary to operate the government.
  • The executive branch is responsible for implementing and administering the public policy enacted and funded by the legislative branch.
  • The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the constitution and laws and applying their interpretations to controversies brought before it.

For the last several years, Congress appears to have been embroiled in political gridlock.  According to the Pew Research Center, the first year of the 113th Congress (2013-2014) was the least productive year for the legislature in recent history with only 55 laws being passed.  Source:  Congress Ends Least Productive Year (Links to an external site.).  Congressional approval ratings were at 13.5% as of July 12, 2014.  Source:  Real Clear Politics (Links to an external site.).

As a result of the this gridlock, the Federal Reserve has embarked on an aggressive program known as quantitative easing (“QE”).  Under the Fed QE program, the Federal Reserve Bank has been buying treasury notes and mortgage backed securities for the stated purpose of lowering interest rates and spurring economic growth.  Source:  Federal Reserve

In addition, President Obama has announced that he will use his power to issue executive orders to distinguish himself from a “dysfunctional” and “obstructive” Congress.  Source:  The Hill (Links to an external site.).  John Boehner, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, has announced his intention to sue the President over his use of executive orders.  Source:  CNN (Links to an external site.).

Please answer the following questions:

  1. Do we have a constitutional crisis brewing?  Is the separation of powers doctrine being eroded?  Explain your thoughts.
  2. If one branch of the government is being obstructionist or dysfunctional, should it be up to another branch of the government to act?  Explain
  3. Does Boehner’s lawsuit really force SCOTUS to unfairly take a side in this case?  Why or why not.
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