GED Social Studies Important Idea: Separation of Powers

On the GED test, there are some important ideas you need to know about government and the big ideas behind government in the U.S. I was thinking about the last thing I talked about, redistricting, made me think about it. I mean, when people were using redistricting to discriminate against blacks or other minorities, other people brought it to court. The Supreme Court decided whether the people making laws were right or wrong. So, one part of the government can stop another part of the government from doing something.

That’s what’s called “Separation of Powers.” The government has power over people… making laws and enforcing them. Separation of powers is an idea that gives different power to different parts of the government, so that no single part of the government is too powerful. That’s how the U.S. government was designed… in three parts.

The three main parts of the U.S. government are the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court. The President can suggest laws, but he can’t pass them. Only Congress can make laws. Then, the President can veto them… that is, he can reject any law Congress passes. But, Congress can still pass the law if enough congressmen agree. (It’s hard to get so many to agree, though!) So both the President and the Congress have some power over what laws get passed. And the President’s main job is to carry out the law… and by choosing how the law is carried out, the President has some more power.

Then, there’s the Supreme Court. Its main job is to say what the law means…interpret the law. the Supreme Court has the power to say a law is unconstitutional. Then, the law must be removed, because the Constitution is the first law…no laws can go against it. So, the Supreme Court has power over the law, too.

These are the three basic parts of the government. Congress makes laws. The President carries the laws out. The Supreme Court decides what the laws mean, if there’s a problem. Just to confuse you, there’s fancy names for each part… Congress is called “legislative,” lawmakers. The President is the “executive,” the one who runs things. And the Supreme Court is the “judicial,” the judges.

Do you see how dividing up powers prevents anyone from having too much power or being a dictator? Remember, the people who founded our country fought against England and its king for taking advantage of them. They didn’t want a government that could be corrupt and take advantage… or just carry out only one person’s ideas, because one person can be very wrong, even if they’re powerful! Okay, sometimes the government is still corrupt and does wrong things, but Separation of Powers gives the government a way to stop corruption and abuse of power.

It’s an important concept to understand… here are some places to read up on it:

Good luck with that GED! Basic ideas behind government are important on the social studies test, so I hope this helps.

To find out more about the GED test and GED test preparation, visit The GED Academy at

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