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What Does The Legislative Branch Do

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The legislative branch is responsible for making and passing laws. The federal legislative branch, Congress, is divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives. These two groups of elected representatives work together to pass laws. Article 1 of the Constitution outlines the powers of Congress, which include declaring war, regulating the budget, regulating the military, and setting tax policy. The legislative branch serves a similar function at the state level, though the powers of state legislatures will depend on the specific constitution of that state.

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The legislative branch of the United States is, principally, concerned with legislating. That is, it makes and repeals statute laws and proposes organic (constitutional) laws for consideration by the states through the process of constitutional amendments. While the legislative branch is the primary driver of the legislative process, it discharges these duties in concert with the executive and judicial branches, each of which have negative lawmaking authority. By "negative lawmaking authority" we mean the executive and judiciary can block proposed or actual legislation but not initiate it; the executive, through the process of veto, and the judiciary through its right to judicial review assumed under Marbury vs Madison.

In addition to this central responsibility, the legislative branch also checks and balances the executive and judicial branches. It checks the executive by exercising the right of advise and consent over senior appointments, and by wielding the power of impeachment. It checks the judiciary by setting the size of the Supreme Court and lesser courts, by confirming judicial appointments, and by wielding the power of impeachment.

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The legislative branch has a number of roles.  Its main role, however, is to make laws. 

For the national government of the United States, the legislative branch is the Congress.  Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The main job of these two houses is to pass laws.  Only the members of Congress can introduce legislation.  Only the members of Congress can introduce changes to proposed legislation.  Only the members of Congress get to vote on whether proposed legislation should pass.  The process of introducing, amending, and voting on laws is the main role of the legislative branch.

However, the legislative branch does play other roles.  Let us look at two other roles it plays.  First, it (or, more precisely, the Senate) is responsible for voting on whether to confirm officials that the president has appointed.  Thus, the legislature is responsible for helping to ensure that officials like cabinet members and federal judges are competent enough to hold the positions they have been nominated for.  Second, the legislature is responsible for the oversight of the executive branch.  The legislature can hold hearings if they need to investigate how the executive branch is performing.  Thus, they also are responsible in part for ensuring that the executive branch is doing its job.

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In federal and state government, the legislative branch's primary function is to make laws, (to legislate means to make laws),but in the federal government, the legislature has a few other responsibilities, too.  It is important for you to understand, though, that whether we are talking about the federal legislature, which is Congress, or the legislature of a particular state, the rights and responsibilites of this branch are controlled by constitutions.  For Congress, the United States Constitution controls what can be done, and in the case of state legislatures, each state constitution controls what that particular legislature can do. This is why a knowledge of the particular constitution is so very important. 

According the U.S. Constitution , Article I, Congress may make laws only in the specific areas mentioned in that article.  All other laws are the responsibility of the state legislatures.  Here are a few areas that Congress is responsible for in terms of law-making.  When the Constitution says "to regulate," it means "to make laws." 

To regulate interstate commerce, commerce with other    nations, and commerce with Native Americans

To make a system of laws for immigration

To make a system of laws for bankruptcies

To make a system of law for patents and copyrights

To create a system for taxes and regulate that system

To regulate our military system

Other responsibilities Congress has are:

To declare war

To borrow money

To regulate money

To advise and consent to many of the appointments of the president.

The entire United States Constitution is only about eight pages long, and is a document every American should be familiar with.  When you read it, you will notice that the legislature comes first in the Constitution, before the president or the Supreme Court.  The legislature has the longest section in the Constitution, showing us how important it is.  That is because we are supposed to be a nation of laws, not a nation in which presidents could have too much control.   I have provided you with a link for it.  To know what your own state legislature does, you can probably find a copy of your state's constitution on-line. 


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