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Politics 101: Your Guide To Politics In America

By Kathy Gill, About.com Guide to US Politics

The Founders established the federal government with three distinct branches, each with powers over the other — something called “checks and balances.” How do political actors, institutions and processes work in the United States? What is the role of political parties? Online politics? How can you make a difference?

  1. The Presidency, The Executive Branch
  2. Congress, The Legislative Branch
  3. The Supreme Court, The Judicial Branch
  4. Important Laws and Documents

The Presidency, The Executive Branch

Official Presidential SealThe President is charged by the Constitution with executing or enacting law. The Executive branch consists of the President, Vice President (who is also President of the Senate), and Presidential appointees who head various executive departments. The President is elected every four years; a President may serve only two-consecutive terms of office or a maximum of 10 years in office. President Bush is the 43rd president of the United States.

Congress, The Legislative Branch

Official Seal of CongressCongress is charged with making law; it is bicameral, composed of the House of Representatives (435 members) and the Senate (100 members). Members of the House represent a congressional district and serve for a two-year term. Members of the Senate represent a state and serve for a six-year term. Each chamber has some exclusive powers; for example, appropriations bills must originate in the House. When a bill passes both chambers, the President may sign or veto the legislation. Upon signature, the bill becomes law.

The Supreme Court, The Judicial Branch

Official Seal of the Supreme CourtThe Constitution gave judicial power to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts. The courts are charged with interpretting the United States Constitution as well as determining if laws and regulations are congruent with the Constitution. The Supreme Court is composed of nine justices, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Important Laws and Documents

The US Constitution outlines the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of government and is a critical and foundational document for the federal government.

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