Government: Three Branches of Government

In 1787 leaders of the states gathered to write the Constitution-a set of principles that told how the new nation would be governed.

The leaders of the states wanted a strong and fair national government. But they also wanted to protect individual freedoms and prevent the government from abusing its power. They believed they could do this by having three separate branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. This separation is described in the first three articles, or sections, of the Constitution.

Legislative Branch

Capitol Building
The Capitol Building is where the legislative branch works.
Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The legislative branch is made up of the two houses of Congress—the Senate and the House of Representatives. The most important duty of the legislative branch is to make laws. Laws are written, discussed and voted on in Congress.

There are 100 senators in the Senate, two from each state. Senators are elected by their states and serve six-year terms. The Vice President of the U.S. is considered the head of the Senate, but does not vote in the Senate unless there is a tie. The Senate approves nominations made by the President to the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, federal courts and other posts. The Senate must ratify all treaties by a two-thirds vote.

There are 435 representatives in the House of Representatives. The number of representatives each state gets is based on its population. For example, California has many more representatives than Rhode Island. When Census figures determine that the population of a state has changed significantly, the number of representatives in that state may shift proportionately. Representatives are elected by their states and serve two-year terms. The Speaker of the House, elected by the representatives, is considered the head of the House.

Both parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives elect leaders. The leader of the party that controls the house is called the majority leader. The other party leader is called the minority leader.

See also: Congress

Executive Branch

White House
The White House is where the President works.
Source: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The President is the head of the executive branch, which makes laws official. The President is elected by the entire country and serves a four-year term. The President approves and carries out laws passed by the legislative branch. He appoints or removes cabinet members and officials. He negotiates treaties, and acts as head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces.

The executive branch also includes the Vice President and other officials, such as members of the cabinet. The cabinet is made up of the heads of the 15 major departments of the government. The cabinet gives advice to the President about important matters.

The Cabinet

  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of the Treasury
  • The Secretary of Defense
  • The Attorney General (Justice Department)
  • The Secretary of the Interior
  • The Secretary of Agriculture
  • The Secretary of Commerce
  • The Secretary of Labor
  • The Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • The Secretary of Homeland Security
  • The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • The Secretary of Transportation
  • The Secretary of Education
  • The Secretary of Energy
  • The Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs

See also: Presidents.

Judicial Branch

U.S. Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court building is where the nine justices meet.
Source: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The judicial branch oversees the court system of the U.S. Through court cases, the judicial branch explains the meaning of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch. Unlike a criminal court, the Supreme Court rules whether something is constitutional or unconstitutional—whether or not it is permitted under the Constitution.

On the Supreme Court there are nine justices, or judges: eight associate justices and one chief justice. The judges are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. They have no term limits. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Its decisions are final, and no other court can overrule those decisions. Decisions of the Supreme Court set precedents—new ways of interpreting the law.

Significant Supreme Court Cases

  • 1803 Marbury v. Madison— was the first time a law passed by Congress was declared unconstitutional
  • 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford—Declared that a slave was not a citizen, and that Congress could not outlaw slavery in U.S. territories
  • 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson—Said that racial segregation was legal
  • 1954 Brown v. Board of Education—Made racial segregation in schools illegal
  • 1966 Miranda v. Arizona —stated that criminal suspects must be informed of their rights before being questioned by the police.
  • 1973 Roe v. Wade—Made abortion legal
  • 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger—Ruled that colleges can, under certain conditions, consider race and ethnicity in admissions.
  • 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission The Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, that the government cannot restrict the spending of corporations on political campaigns, maintaining that it’s their First Amendment right to support candidates as they choose.
  • 2013 Shelby County v. Holder The Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which established a formula for Congress to use when determining if a state or voting jurisdiction requires prior approval before changing its voting laws.

See also: Supreme Court.

Gardening: How to build a Green House (for Gardening)

Flowers Gardens: My Dream Garden:

My original plan was to build the greenhouse out of cedar, but because this was my first attempt I didn’t want to invest too much into something that might not be exactly what I wanted, so I decided to use pine 2 x 3’s for the framing and 6 mil greenhouse plastic for the covering. The entire cost for the 6′-10″ x 8′ greenhouse the was less than $150.00 including all the hardware.

The greenhouse has two work benches, the one on the south wall is 24″ high and the one on the north wall is 36″ high. There is a vent/window on the wall opposite the door. The floor is covered with landscape fabric which seems to work well for now. The late spring sun can really raise the temperature inside, so I have added an automatic vent opener to the window this year. The vent opener can be adjusted to open and maintain a constant temperature inside. It has been working perfectly and has saved me on several occasions when I would have forgotten to open the vent in the afternoon or close it at night when the temps dip below 50 degrees.

This greenhouse has held up remarkably well considering the framing is untreated and unpainted pine. The greenhouse film is rated for 5 years and hasn’t cracked, ripped or yellowed despite being exposed to the northeast bitterly cold and snowy winters.
This fall I am planning on building a new greenhouse. It will be a more permanent one so I am going to construct it out of 2 x 4 cedar. I am planning on making a larger one- probably 8′ x 12′. It will have a crushed stone and paver floor, running water with irrigation system, more vents, shade screens and possibly a propane heater. I am also considering using polycarbonate panels instead of the 6 mil greenhouse film to try and better control heat loss in the winter.
****** Update 9/29/12 – Greenhouse Plans are now available! ******
You can purchase them from my website or ETSY store
and they are available in both PDF and Print.


Dessert Recipe: Mini Strawberry Cheesecake

Amazing Easy Mini Cheesecake Cupcakes:

Mini Cheesecake Cupcakes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Super Easy Mini Cheesecake Cupcakes. Layered with a graham cracker crust and creamy tangy cheesecake. Top with salted caramel sauce, chocolate or strawberry sauce!
Serves: 12 cupcakes
Mini Cheesecake Cupcakes
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • caramel sauce or strawberry sauce for topping, optional
3 Ingredient Strawberry Sauce
  • 1 cup strawberries, halved
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Easy Caramel Sauce
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 stick plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • sea salt for serving, if desired


Mini Cheesecake Cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Line a muffin pan with paper liners. (I recommend using the paper liners over foil)
  3. Combine graham cracker, butter and sugar in a small bowl. Texture should be similar to wet sand. Divide crust evenly into the bottom of the lined muffin tin.
  4. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Take out of the oven and cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile assemble the cheesecake filling. Beat cream cheese in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  7. Add in sour cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix until combined. Make sure to scrap the sides of the bowl.
  8. Pour cheesecake mixture into cooled muffin tin. It will be about 2 tablespoons of filling each. Fill almost all the way to the top.
  9. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheesecakes are set. They will still jiggle a bit. Do not over cook them. If they start to crack they are getting over cooked.
  10. Allow them to cool in the muffin tin completely. Place in the refrigerator to chill and serve cold with your favorite toppings.
Ingredient Strawberry Sauce
  1. Add strawberries, lemon juice and sugar to a small saucepan. Simmer on low for 15 minutes, mashing up strawberries with the back of a wooden spoon. Take off heat and allow to cool.
  2. Place in a food processor and pulse until creamy and thick. Place back in the fridge and serve cold.
Easy Caramel Sauce
  1. Add all of the ingredients except for the vanilla to a saucepan. Cook over low-medium heat until thickened stirring occasionally. About 8 minutes. If the sauce isn’t getting a lot thicker turn up the heat a bit and keep and eye on it making sure to whisk constantly. (The sauce will thicken as it cools in the refrigerator).
  2. Stir in vanilla.
  3. Take off of the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan. Transfer to a container and place in the refrigerator to firm up and cool.