Birth of a Nation
Checks and Balances in the Constitution
- “Checks and Balances Worksheet” (Attachment B)
- Copy of the Constitution of the United States
- Explain to students that the Constitution of the United States has several features that protect against the abuse of power by the federal government. Separation of powers and the system of checks and balances are two concepts that are key to understanding how the federal government operates.
- Provide each student with a “Checks and Balances Worksheet” (Attachment B). Have students work individually or in pairs to complete the worksheet, using a copy of the Constitution of the United States. Once students have completed the worksheet, review their answers as a whole class.
- Place students into three groups — the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Explain to students that they will participate in an exercise in which they will be asked to identify which branch has the power to “check” in the examples presented by the teacher. Below are some sample examples that can be used. Read the first example, and have students in each group refer to their charts to see which branch has the power to “check” the action in the example. You may choose to assign a point value to answers to make the exercise a game. The group that provides the correct answer receives the points.
Sample examples for the checks and balances exercise:
• The President vetoes a bill related to Medicare because it does not provide for a prescription drug benefit. (Checked by the legislative branch: a two-thirds override vote of both houses of Congress)
• Congress passes a bill that requires that individuals wear identification badges at all times and be searched at will by police. (Checked by the judicial branch: the United States Supreme Court can declare this law unconstitutional; or checked by the executive branch: the President can veto)
• The President misuses his power by appointing personal friends to the United States Supreme Court. (Checked by the legislative branch: the Senate can refuse to approve appointment with a two-thirds vote, or the House may choose to impeach the President for a misuse of office)
• The President negotiates a treaty with a foreign country to end a war. (Checked by the legislative branch: the Senate must approve the treaty with a two-thirds vote)