A Primer on the Separation of Powers

by Andrew P. Napolitano

The president of the United States is on trial in the Senate. It is an impeachment trial and, thus far, has consisted of remarks made by impeachment managers from the House of Representatives, who have argued that the president should be removed from office for abuse of power and contempt of Congress, and the president’s lawyers, who have argued that he did not abuse power or behave contemptuously, and even if he did, those are not impeachable offenses.

These arguments often rely on differing views of the relationship between the three branches of the federal government. That relationship is called the separation of powers.

The separation of powers reflects that the three branches are constitutionally equal, have separate duties and that no branch can lawfully perform the duties of the other two. Congress writes the laws. The president enforces the laws. The judiciary decides what the Constitution and the laws mean.

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