We all learned in our high school civics class that the US constitution established “3 separate but equal branches of government”. The Legislative branch (Congress) passes laws to rule our practices and conduct. The Executive branch enforces these laws. The judicial branch settles disputes over whether these laws and related actions are compliant with the Constitution. This is the theory, but what is today’s reality?
The Legislature, over the years, has ceded much of its power to the Executive by inaction or by legislating the authority to the Executive. The Executive has systematically pushed the limits and expanded Executive authority, mostly without push back from the Legislature. Most notable is war powers. The Executive has also been selective in enforcement actions, even neglecting enforcement in areas in which it disagrees with the legislation. In addition the Supreme Court has become increasingly politicized. Appointees are selected based on assurance that they hold beliefs and values that are strongly aligned with those of the appointor. Younger candidates are appointed to ensure that the intended bias is long lasting.
The conclusion is clear – there has been a significant shift in power to the Executive branch. The Legislative branch has become so politicized and polarized that very little gets done. By default the Executive takes actions that assume greater authority and the action is not challenged. The Supreme Court seems destined to be biased as a result of politically motivated appointments. This trend is not encouraging. It seems to portend the beginnings of authoritarianism – not a healthy democracy.
The recourse seems clear, however. We need to motivate the electorate to get engaged, understand the candidates and options, and most importantly exercise the right to vote. Second we need to find and encourage qualified people to represent us. People who are a true part of our local society and culture, who understand the issues, values and priorities. Only then can the Legislative branch begin to return to a position of equal status. Only then can we find a way to ensure an unbiased, apolitical judiciary.