Thoughts on the Separation of Powers

Thinking about the Separation of Powers is important because it helps us understand how the "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men" George Washington warned us about in his Farewell Address were able to "subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government".

Basically, the Constitution provided two Houses of Congress to write the nation's laws, an Executive Branch to enforce those laws, and a Judicial Branch to ensure that the laws enacted by the Congress were constitutional. It assumed those Branches and Houses would be independent of each other. This assumption was undermined by the formation of political parties. Washington foresaw the problem, but was unable to prevent it.

Nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the need for political parties. They are an extra-Constitutional invention, devised by power-seekers to advance their own interests. The danger of political parties was well understood by the framers of our Constitution. As Professor John F. Bibby wrote:

"When the Founders of the American Republic wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they did not envision a role for political parties in the governmental order. Indeed, they sought through various constitutional arrangements such as separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and indirect election of the president by an electoral college to insulate the new republic from political parties and factions."

In spite of these efforts, a party system developed in America because our early leaders used their standing to consolidate their power. They invented parties and institutionalized their advantage by creating rules in the several states to preserve them and aid their operation.

Political parties are quasi-official institutions designed to acquire the reins of government. They sponsor candidates for public office by providing the resources needed to conduct a campaign for election. As a condition of their sponsorship, they require that the candidates support the party, thus giving the party ultimate control of the elected officials.

The party system is in no sense democratic. The prime movers, those who control the party, are not elected by the American people, they are appointed by their party. We, the people the parties are supposed to represent, have no control over who these people are, how long they serve, or the deals they make to raise the immense amounts of money they use to keep their party in power.

The U. S. Constitution separated the powers of government in such a way as to operate as checks upon each other. Among the methods used were the definition of separate Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, and the further division of the Legislative Branch into two distinct bodies, each intended to represent a different constituency, namely, the interests of the several states and the interests of the people of those states. This Separation of Powers, which is lauded as a cornerstone of our Constitution, has been turned into a myth by party politics.

Political parties persistently attack the Separation of Powers. They use their immense resources to maximize their power by forcing our elected officials to vote as instructed by their party on crucial issues (if you doubt it, ask yourself, "What, exactly, is the purpose of the Party Whip?") This unilateral power makes a mockery of the safeguards we rely on to protect our freedoms.

When a group of people with common interests succeeds in controlling multiple branches of our government, it is ludicrous to imagine we have a system of checks and balances.

When we allow political parties to usurp the power of governing our nation, it is foolish to imagine that we retain the power bestowed on us by our Constitution. It is a tragedy that so few of us recognize (or are willing to acknowledge) that we have relinquished our right to govern ourselves to unknown people who proclaim themselves our agents.

The only rational remedy for the evils of party politics is to create a non-partisan electoral process, a process that lets every member of the community participate to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. That is not difficult. The difficulty is in getting the people to recognize the need for it. Perhaps by thinking about what party politics does to the Separation of Powers, folks will get a better understanding of how our homeland, brilliantly conceived to empower our people, has been so callously gutted and turned into a cesspool of corruption.