Well, as we already know, there are three branches of American government that deal with our laws:
The legislative branch of the government makes the laws. Article I of the U.S. Constitution begins, "All legislative Powers...shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and the House of Representatives." The U.S. Congress and all that is under its purview, then, make up the legislative branch of the federal government. The U.S. congress is divided into the House of Representatives (also referred to as the lower house) and the Senate (also referred as the upper house). Each state legislature has a structure similar to the U.S. Congress.
The Congress' role in the government is to legislate - to make laws. The laws enacted by Congress are called statutes.Legislation refers to the statutory laws that are enacted or the enacting of statutes. The U.S. Constitution gives the Congress the power to make laws.
Before a statute is enacted, it passes through a number of stages. The idea for a statute begins as a proposal. The proposal can come from a member of the legislature or from an outside source, such as a citizen, a lobbyist, an administrative agency or the President.
Next, the proposal needs to be drafted into writing ans submitted to the legislative body by a member of the legislature. This written proposition is called a bill. All bills introduced in the House of Representatives begin with the letters H.R. All bills in the Senate begin with the letter S. Bills are also assigned consecutive numbers so they can be tracked. H.R. 1802 would refer to the 1,802nd bill introduced to the House of Representatives during the current session. A new bill may be introduced in the House of Representatives first and then sent to the Senate for approval, or the bill can be introduced to both houses at the same time.
After the bill is introduced, it is referred to the committee and subcommittee that considers that type of legislation. The committee investigates the bill. Public hearings may be held and testimony may be heard. The bill may go through several changes. Then, the committtee issues a report.
Next, the bill is submitted to the floor of the house for debate. The bill can go through several changes during the debate. Amendments may be added to the bill. A vote is taken. If the bill passes both houses, it is sent to the House-Senate Conference Committee. By the time a bill leaves the floor debates, the House's and Senate's versions of the bill can look very different. The House-Senate Conference Committee is comprised of members of both the House and Senate. They work with the House and Senate versions of the bill to resolve the differences.
Then, the conference report is sent to the House and Senate for approval. If both the House and the Senate approve the bill, the bill is sent to the President to be signed or vetoed. (At the state level, the bill is sent to the governor.) If the President signs the bill, the bill becomes law.
The Congress can override the President's veto if a certain percentage of its members vote to override. Usually a two-thirds majority is needed to override a veto. If this majority is reached, then the bill becomes a law.
The executive branch of the government enforces the law. The President of the United States is the head of the executive branch. Article II of the Constitution prescribes that before the president takes office, he or she must solemnly swear or affirm to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Since the Constitution is "the Supreme law of the land," the president affirms to preserve, protect and defend the laws of the United States. The executive branch is made up of the President and all that fall under the President's purview, including appointees, administrative agencies and all departments established to execute the law. (The governor is the head of the executive branch of a state government.) The President cannot create legislation nor encroach upon the legislative branch. Many of the President's appointees, as well, must be approved by the legislative branch.
The judicial branch of the government interprets and applies the law in a fair and impartial manner. It administers justice. The judicial branch is the third check and balance in the U.S. Constitution's threefold separation of powers.
Article III establishes that "the judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish. The judges...shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall... receive...compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office."
Unlike legislators and the president, the judges are not elected, nor are their appointments limited to a certain number of years; they can serve as judges for the rest of their lives. Thus, they are in theory free from any political pressure. The Constitution also forbids cutting the pay of judges; therefore, the legislative and executive branches cannot influence the judicial branch by threatening to cut the judges' salaries or fire them. The judges are free to make decisions without fear of retaliation from the legislative or executive branches.
On the other hand, judges are bound to apply constitutionally sound statutes enacted by the legislative branch. Since the U.S. Constitution is binding upon all courts, all courts are bound to applying federal and constitutional law. The judicial branch, though, has the authority to interprete the meaning of the law. The courts are the final authority on the meaning of a law. If a court's interpretation and application of a law is inconsistent with what the legislative branch intended, the legislature may go through the process of rewriting more clear and thereby reverse the court's decision.
The judicial branch has the power to consider the actions of the legislative and executive branches, and adjudge as void any action that breach the Constitution. This power is called judicial review..For example, a court could decide that a statute passed by Congress is unconstitutional thereby making the law void. Because of the seriousness of the power to void legislation, the courts use this authority sparingly.