Monday, February 28, 2011

Separation of powers

Why is it that we have three branches of government?

In the Constitution, the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches of government were created. Very wisely, each was created with autonomy that prevented each of the branches from interfering with the other. The legislative branch received the power to make the laws. The executive branch received the power to enforce the laws. In the end, the judicial branch was given the power to decide if a law was violated and what the punishment should be.

The Defense of Marriage act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September of 1996. It was passed by both the House and the Senate with wide margins. It states, in simple terms, that no state is required to except the marriage license of two people of the same sex solely based on that union being excepted in another state. It also states that a marriage is between one man and one woman.

A federal court in July 2010 declared that the portion of the law that states a marriage is only between one man and one woman unconstitutional. The federal government challenged that ruling in October 2010. But recently, United States Attorney General Eric Holder withdrew the challenge at President Obama’s request.

The ruling by the federal court doesn’t invalidate the law. That would take a ruling by the Supreme Court. And, the executive branch has not withdrawn completely from the case. This allows the challenge to continue and the House of Representatives can join the fight by ordering the judiciary committee to defend the act if it wishes.

The issue about the morality of same sex marriages aside, the National Organization for Marriage and other conservative groups are challenging President Obama’s authority to withdraw the challenge of the federal court ruling. They say, it is his responsibility to defend the laws of the country. But, the constitution allows the President to be silent on the issue because of the separation of powers. But, those same conservative groups, as far as the research on the issue revealed, have not leveled the same criticism at the House of Representatives who didn’t join the challenge in the first place. The House, because of the separation of powers, can also opt out of the fight, even though they were party to the original act.

The Constitutional issue is clear here. The separation of powers concept doesn’t compelled the executive branch to enforce a law it if feels it is not within its priorities. If the House challenges the court ruling of the law and wins, it can then challenge the President’s priorities and the go back to the courts again.


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