Lesson 12.7: Social Studies Connection

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Checks and Balances

The framers of the U.S. Constitution designed our country's government in three branches, or parts. They did this to prevent any one branch from using too much control to govern. Each branch has certain powers, and each of those powers is limited by the powers of the other branches.

The legislative branch, called Congress, is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Congress has the power to pass the laws that govern the country and to determine how money collected through taxes is spent.

The citizens vote for members of Congress. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Each state gets a certain number of representatives based on its population. The greater the population of a state, the more representatives it gets.

The Senate is made up of two senators from each state. Fifty states means a total of 100 senators.

The executive branch is headed by a president elected by the people. It includes the major departments of the federal government and special agencies. The executive branch enforces laws passed by Congress and deals with foreign governments. The president also commands the military—the army, navy, air force, marines, and coast guard.

The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court of the United States along with lower courts. The Supreme Court's nine justices are appointed for life by the president with the approval of the Senate. The Supreme Court rules on whether or not laws conflict with the U.S. Constitution. In doing this, the judges review federal laws, actions of the executive branch, treaties of the United States, and laws passed by state governments.

Word Wise

govern:
Rule: We elect members of the town council to govern our community.

tax:
Money that people pay to a government: We pay a state tax on everything we buy, except some kinds of food and clothing.

federal:
Having to do with a government made up of states: Some laws are federal; others are made by individual states.

enforce:
Make sure that other people obey: Mom and Dad enforce the “house rules” for using the computer.

treaty:
Written agreement between countries: The meeting resulted in a treaty aimed at stopping global warming.

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Activity

Look back at the article. You will notice that the word Senate is capitalized, while the word senator is not. When the word senator is part of a title, as in Senator Judith Jones, it is capitalized.

Look at the list of words below. Use a dictionary to find out whether each word is:

  1. Always capitalized
  2. Never capitalized
  3. Sometimes capitalized
Copy the list onto a piece of paper. Write A, B, or C next to each word.
  • governor
  • government
  • congress
  • citizen
  • president

Data Hunt

Some U.S. Government Facts
  • You have read that, according to the Constitution, there must be two senators from each state. Changing this number would take an amendment, or change, to the Constitution.
  • Amending the Constitution would require a vote of 2/3 of the House of Representatives, a vote of 2/3 of the Senate, plus approval of 3/4 of the states.
  • Every two years, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election, but only 1/3 of the Senate seats are up for election.
Use the facts in the box to answer these questions.
  1. Suppose the House and the Senate have already approved an amendment to the Constitution, and 36 states approve it. Will the amendment succeed? (Remember, there are 50 U.S. states.)
  2. Whenever there is a senatorial election, how many Senate seats are up for election? (Hint: This one is a little tricky!)