Separation of Power and the Legislative Branch

As we saw in the last post, the legislative branch of the government makes our laws. The stated powers of the Congress include raising, spending and borrowing money; providing for armed services, providing for organizing, arming and training of the military; the power to declare war; setting rules for citizenship, establishing post offices, building roads, post offices and federal buildings; regulating commerce, establishing federal courts to support the Supreme Court, along with a host of other duties.

Congress is charged with oversight of the military and the federal courts. They have the power to impeach judges who misbehave. They also have the power to limit the types of cases federal courts can hear. In the last thirty years, the federal courts have stepped into the arena of actually making laws, instead of judging cases and ruling simply on their constitutionality. Because of this abuse of power, there is a move in Congress to prohibit federal courts from hearing cases regarding religion.

Sadly, Congress in the past fifty years or so has been hesitant to limit the jurisdiction of the courts even though doing so is within their power. This may be a result of elected officials who do not understand the Constitution as they should or they are willingly allowing the judiciary to unconstitutionally “legislate” from the bench – unpopular laws that would be difficult for Congress to pass. By doing the latter, they do not have to go on record with a vote for “bad” legislation that could cost them their job by making their constituents angry.

What started out as temporary part-time public service has turned into full time and lifetime jobs in Congress. Too many are driven by job protection / getting re-elected and not by what is best for the nation as a whole. This mindset prevents them from taking courageous and righteous stands for liberty. Power is now the name of the game in Congress.

Therefore, allowing the courts to deal with controversial issues protects the elected politicians from the voters because Congress would not be able to pass these issues into law without loud protests from the public. Despite what we hear in the media, a wide majority of citizens support traditional values; and each year a greater percentage of the population opposes abortion. As the percentage of pro-abortion population has decreased, some in Congress who support this unpopular issue have used the courts to force these things upon the nation. And not just abortion but the homosexual agenda, including same sex marriage, as well.

Each house of Congress has committees that oversee almost every facet of government, and these committees can have two or more sub-committees. Each committee has its own staff. There are thousands of staffers who work in Congress, moving from Congressman to Congressman, Senator to Senator and from committee to committee within this very large bureaucracy.

Keep in mind that oversight is one of the main modern day functions of the Congress. For example, it is the responsibility of Congress to monitor our intelligence agencies and make sure they have the funding and regulations they need to be effective and operate efficiently. Committee members on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees receive the same intelligence reports that the President receives. Therefore, they cannot claim they were not privy to the same report as the Executive Branch unless they were not actually reading all the reports (not doing their job) or are “playing politics.” Unfortunately, there has always been much political playing in Washington, D.C.

Government has grown large – larger than the Founders could ever have imagined or intended. Therefore, Congressmen and their committees are stretched and sometimes fail to do their jobs, because there is no way they can read all the proposed bills. Some of the legislative bills, especially appropriations bills, can be so large that the elected official relies on staff to read it in total and report on it. They are also given a summary of the legislation that many rely on when making decisions to support or not support.

However, it must be remembered that the “devil is in the details” and relying on a summary may cause the elected official to support legislation that they would not support if they understood those details. Even bills that have the best of intentions have all kinds of negative unintended consequences. The sad thing is once these have been passed and become law very few are rescinded or even fixed. Just like the Constitution many laws are broadly written which then allows the regulatory agencies to interpret them any way they want causing heavy burdens to be placed on businesses and individuals.

Next Week: The Legislative Branch and Separation of Powers continued….

Question for Discussion: Think about recent pieces of legislation that has been proposed or passed that “sounded” good and had good intentions. Discuss the unintended consequences that have happened as a result and evaluate whether the legislation was needed at all.