This is the second of a series of posts trying to de-mystify politics for everyday people.
No matter where you are in the world you undoubtedly hear a lot about American politics. You cant turn on a screen without seeing President Trumps tangerine visage plastered in front of the press, with quotes snapped right from his twitter feed running around the blogosphere for years to come.
But what do you actually know about the system that put Trump in the top office?
The federal government of the United States is split into 3 branches, The Judicial Branch (The Supreme Court and the Lower Courts), The Legislative Branch (which is split into the United States Senate, which has two senators from each state, and The United States House Of Representatives which has 435 members from congressional districts, these two institutions are collectively known as the United State’s Congress). And thirdly the Executive Branch (the offices of the President and The Vice President of The United States).
The reason for the separation of powers between the three branches of government, was to create a series of checks and balances, so that no one branch of government could become more powerful than the other. For example the President can veto a bill from congress, the congress can vote down legislation introduced by the president, or the courts, when petitioned, can decided that legislation is unlawful or not in the spirit of the law.
The federal government is based upon the written constitution of the United States, which sets out the way the government should be run, the power of state legislatures, as well as the rights bestowed upon citizens of the country. There are currently 27 amendments to the constitution, the first 10 of which make up the bill of rights, and the others deal with issues such as suffrage, presidential term limits and successions, congressional salaries, and the prohibition/ reinstating of alcohol.
American law can get a little confusing to outsiders, because there are different laws for different states so you actually have 51 different sets of laws for one country. But its actually no different from the way the UK is set, federal government in Washington devolves law making responsibility to local state legislatures, the same way that the UK government devolves law making powers to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. These state legislatures will make laws on many things such as education policy, traffic laws and even controversial things such as gun regulation, gay marriage and drug decriminalisation.
The state governments are governed in much the same way as the federal government, The governor of the state will be held accountable by the state senate and both can be held accountable by district courts and the supreme court.
Hopefully that helps shed some light on the way that laws are made across the pond.