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Multiple points of influence due to separation of powers and checks and balances

The U.S. government's three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial, have separate powers and checks and balances. Citizens and interest groups can influence laws, budgets, and elections. The president appoints Supreme Court justices. The influence of money and mass media is a modern development.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In several videos, we have touched on the idea of separation of powers between three branches of government in the United States. You have the legislative branch that writes laws and decides on the budget for the government. You have the executive branch that runs the actual government. And then you have the judicial branch that decides on the constitutionality of laws and actions by the government as well as interprets existing laws. And connected to this idea of separation of powers where each of these branches are somewhat independent but not completely independent, is that they all have checks and balances on each other. We've talked about in multiple videos, the executive can veto a law by the legislative, the legislative can override that veto, the legislative decides on the budget that the executive has to run the government, the judicial branch decides on constitutionality, the executive branch decides who is even going to become a justice in the Supreme Court. And so when you have this separation of powers and you have this checks and balances, it provides multiple opportunities to influence policy and the actions of government. And there's two ways that you could view influence. You could view it as a positive thing, after all, it's government by the people, the people are sovereign so they should be able to influence what the government does. But sometimes, a cynical view of influence is well, who gets to influence? And is it really by the people or are there other interests, maybe driven by things like money that have undue influence? But just to get sense of how folks can influence or where there are points of influence is, well first, what laws get passed? or what gets funded? That's decided in the budget. Now, as an individual, as a citizen you can write letters to your congress person, you can petition them, you can call them up, you can show up at a town hall that they hold in order to speak your voice. But there's also interest groups. Now interest groups could be corporate interest groups, they could be unions, they could be professions, and these interest groups will often times also lobby congress in order to influence what gets funded or the laws that get passed or don't get passed. And the word lobbying really is just this idea of trying to influence the government. Now a major way, a major point of influence in the United States is when there are elections. Who actually gets elected. And so you can imagine, there could be direct support, endorsement for different candidates, money, especially with mass media, becoming more and more important, becomes a bigger and bigger part of elections. So you can donate at an individual level or you often see now, and this is a very controversial area where there's heated debates on to what degree large donations can be made, to what degree corporations can influence elections, but who gets elected is perhaps the biggest lever on our government. For example, even if your main concern is judicial and the judicial is the one branch that is most immune from elections, Supreme Court justices are not elected, they are appointed by the president with approval from the senate. But if you did care who is going to be in the judiciary, well there, there would be a strong motivation to influence who is going to be president and then even once they are president, there might be some influence, some lobbying, on who they appoint to the judiciary. If a law gets passed by congress, there's still another outlet. You could petition the executive to veto that law. So I'll leave you there. The main takeaway from this is that because of these checks and balances and separation of powers, there's multiple levers of influence in the government and I've just touched on a few on them. An interesting thing to always think about is how much of our current levers of influence, especially as they exist today in our modern government, how much of this was intended by the founders of our country, the authors of the Constitution, and how much is based on things that we could have never predicted? They could've never predicted the size of the country? They could've never predicted the influence of mass media? They could've never perhaps predicted the influence of money? Who knows. I will leave you with that question.