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Separation of Powers - Conversation Starters

A key aspect of the founders' vision of "a more perfect union" was the division of power among three branches of government. The founders were concerned that the government they established not have all its powers concentrated in the hands of a few officials or single branch. They agreed with Montesquieu that if "the right of making and of enforcing the laws is vested in one and the same man, or the same body of men.there can be no liberty." Although the phrase "separation of powers" never appears in the Constitution, the doctrine is implicit in the form of government and powers set out in the Constitution. That the three government branches were to cooperate and have part of the power of the others to constrain overreaching, is also implicit. Current tensions among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches have again brought to fore the basic principles of separation of powers. The Terry Schiavo case and administration of the war on terror are just two examples of recent events that make public understanding of the separation of powers doctrine as important as ever.

Might changing events call for an adjustment or reconsideration of the balance of power among the three branches? Has the Constitution equally armed each branch to carry out its responsibilities and balance the use of powers by the others? The discussion starters under this topic explore the meaning of the doctrine of separation of powers.

Starter 1: The Federalist No. 48, James Madison

Starter 2: Hamdi et al. v. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, et al.

Starter 3: Letter from President Eisenhower to Senator John Stennis (D-MS), October 7, 1957