Checks and Balances Are a Feature, Not a Bug, of American Government

President Biden campaigned on an agenda that would make significant changes in many public policy areas ranging from immigration policy, tax policy, Second Amendment rights, and more. This CNN article notes that the judiciary is standing in the way of the president’s immigration policy. This Wall Street Journal article notes that the divided Senate also presents a potential obstacle to the president’s policies.

But this is how the American Founders designed their government to work. The president is not a dictator. Government was designed to have a system of checks and balances that limit the powers of any individual, and of any branch of government. The president is the head of one of three branches of government that were designed to have the power to check and balance the actions of the others.

President Biden is not unique in having his powers limited by the other branches of government. The CNN article linked above quotes Trump administration Attorney General William Barr lamenting that the courts have stood in the way of President Trump’s agenda, saying “These nationwide injunctions have frustrated presidential policy for most of the President’s term with no clear end in sight.”

Again, that’s how the system of checks and balances is supposed to work. A judiciary that “can thwart Biden’s agenda,” which the CNN article laments, is desirable. The concern should be that the powers of the president continue to expand, as they have since the early twentieth century, so that they cannot be checked by the other branches of government. Should those checks and balances break down, we are headed toward tyranny.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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