What Is the Separation of Powers?
This week, President Obama made several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But here’s the catch: The Senate was in session, not in recess. As Heritage’s Todd Gaziano and Edwin Meese argue, President Obama’s unilateral determination that the Senate’s pro forma sessions were not real undermines the separation of powers.
This is the opportunity to remember what the separation of powers is and why it matters.
The principle of separation of powers states that the executive, legislative, and judiciary powers of government should be divided into different branches and not concentrated in one. These departments should be separate and distinct because of the corrupting nature of power. If the body that made the laws could also enforce them and adjudicate disputes, it would likely do so in a preferential manner, undermining the rule of law and basic fairness. Power, in other words, must be checked, or it will be abused. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison calls the combination of legislative, executive, and judicial powers “the very definition of tyranny.”