Separation of Powers in the Presidential System of Government

The separation of powers in the presidential system is much clearer than it is in the parliamentary system. In the presidential system of the United States, for example, there is a distinct separation of powers in terms of institutions, functions, and personnel.

Congress performs the function of law-making while the Executive is concerned with law implementation.

The function of interpreting the law is the sole preserve of the Judiciary.

In fact, personnel in each of these three arms of government in the presidential system of the US are, to a very large extent, restricted to their respective institutions and functions only.

Find below a further explanation of the concept of separation of powers and how it operates in the presidential system of government.

This post will, once and for all, help you to be certain about if there is a separation of powers in the presidential system.

What is Separation of Powers?

Let’s begin with a brief definition and explanation of the concept of separation of powers.

Separation of powers is the sharing of governmental powers among the three organs of government. These are the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. It was first discussed by John Locke but popularized by, and therefore associated with, Baron de Montesquieu.

Montesquieu argues that in order to prevent tyranny the three organs of government must be separated from, and act as a check on, one another.


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Below are some basic tenets of the separation of powers.

  • Separation in terms of personnel: A single individual or person should not form part of more than one organ of government.
  • In terms of function: No single arm of government should perform more than one function.
  • Separation in terms of institutions: The three major arms of government (legislature, executive and judiciary) must be completely separated from one another.
  • Checks and balances: Each organ of government should act as a check on the other. This will help prevent abuse of power. There is always a delicate balancing act to prevent a possible situation where any of the organs is/are dominant rendering the others ineffective (principle of reciprocity). Note that the practice of checks and balances complements, rather than competes, with separation of powers. Both are two sides of the same coin.

Separation of Powers in the Presidential System

See below the major points describing the separation of powers in the presidential system of government.

  • According to the first three articles of the US constitution, legislative power is vested in congress (legislature), executive power is with the president (executive) and judicial power lies in the hands of the superior courts and inferior courts established by Congress.
  • No member of congress is a member of the executive
  • The President (and other members of the executive) is not a members of Congress in the United States.
  • The Supreme Court judges, though appointed by the president, are independent of the executive and Congress.
  • Congress has a fixed and independent term of office.
  • The president has a fixed and independent term of office
  • Functions – each organ performs separate functions
  • Checks and balances – Just like in the parliamentary system, there is co-ordination of functions or checks and balances as part of separation of powers in the presidential system. Consider these practices in the government of the US.
  1. The president, though not a member of Congress, will have to give his assent to congressional bills for them to become law. He may choose to veto them.
  2. Congress may override the presidential veto by a 2/3 majority vote.
  3. Again, Congress may impeach the president for acts of gross misconduct.
  4. Senate will have to sit as a court, try the president. They must find him guilty before they can remove him/her from office
  5. Senate should ratify presidential treaties and confirm presidential appointments for them to become effective.
  6. The judiciary through judicial review checks both congress and president from usurping(taking) each other’s power or that of the judiciary


In the presidential system (as in the US), therefore, there is the separation of powers. It operates in terms of institutions, personnel, and functions. There is also an effective system of checks and balances. This makes it impossible to have a rigid separation of powers.

Recent events in the political history of the United States have proven one point. The doctrine of separation of powers in government is capable of preventing the emergence of dictatorship, abuse of power, or arbitrary rule.

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