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The Roles of Government

There are three branches of government at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure that democracy is upheld through checks and balances between the branches. The separation of power principle reinforces that no division of government should ever be too powerful. Get to know how each branch works together at each government level (i.e., local, state, federal).

<> Executive Branch- This branch enforces the laws the legislators created and selects cabinet members and the heads of the federal agencies. [1f]


<> Legislative Branch - This branch creates the laws, declares war, accepts or denies appointments, and has investigative powers. [1g]


<> Judicial Branch - This branch clarifies the law. [1h]

Federal Level 

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Executive Branch [1f]

Department Lead: President

Appointment/Election: Elected by electoral college

The electoral college elects the President and Vice President.  Then, the President appoints the Cabinet members. The cabinet is made of the Vice President and the 15 executive departments.

Federal Executive Branch

Legislative Branch [1g]

Department Lead: Congress 

Appointment/Election: Elected by citizens of the State

The Senate is composed of 100 Senators (two from each state), and the Senators are elected for six years by the people of their respective state. The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. Members of the House are elected every two years.

Federal Legislative Branch
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Judicial Branch [1h, 1u]

Department Lead: Chief Justice

Appointment/Election: Appointed by the President

The federal judicial branch is made up of nine justices.  The President appoints the justices for life, and the Senate confirms them.  The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. There are eight Justices and one Chief Justice in the Supreme Court. There are 13 appellate courts that sit under the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are called the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The 94 federal judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a court of appeals.

Federal Judicial Branch

State Level 

Executive Branch [1v, 1w, 1x]

Department Lead: Governor

Appointment/Election: Elected by citizens of the State

The people elect the Governor and, if applicable, a Lieutenant Governor. Same as the President of the U.S., the Governor appoints the State Cabinet members. There are approximately 13 State cabinet positions that are common, but the existence of some positions vary by State.

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State Executive Branch
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Legislative Branch [1y, 1z, 2a, 2b]

Department Lead: General Assembly

Appointment/Election: Elected by citizens of the State

A general assembly consists of the upper house and lower house. The Upper House is the Senate, which could ratio one-half to one-third of the House of Representatives members. The Lower House is the House of Representatives, which could have up to 400 members. Legislative terms vary from state to state; however, once an official has served the maximum term, s/he could be banned from running for the same position for a lifetime or consecutive years.

State Legislative Branch

Judicial Branch [1k, 1u, 2c]

Department Lead: Chief Justice

Appointment/Election: Varies by States

States use one or more of the five main methods to select judges: Partisan elections, Nonpartisan elections, Legislative elections, Gubernatorial appointments, and/or Assisted appointments. To find out about your states' judicial selection process, click here.

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State Judicial Branch

Local Level 

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Executive Branch [2d]

Department Lead: The mayor (or city manager) 

Appointment/Election: Varies by towns/cities

The Charter determines the city's governing structure. Historically, there are five ways to govern a city/municipality: council-manager, mayor-council, commission, town meeting, and representative town meeting. In a Mayor-Council government structure, the Mayor can appoint a City Manager to supervise city departments and services.

Local Executive Branch

Legislative Branch [1q, 2e]

Department Lead: City Council/Aldermen

Appointment/Election: Elected by citizens of the town/city

In a Council-Manager government structure, the City Council can appoint a City Manager to supervise city departments and services. City Council can have 5 to 51 elected aldermen or councilors. Some cities place term limits on city council members.

Local Legislative Branch

Judicial Branch [1k, 1u, 2c]

Department Lead: Municipal court

Appointment/Election: Varies by town/city

It varies by town or city. The local court judges may be elected, selected through assisted appointments, legislative elections, or gubernatorial appointments with advice and consent. 

Local Judicial Branch
1a. Ballotpedia. (n.d.). Early voting. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from
1b. (n.d.). The Legislative Branch. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from
1c. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. (2019). Court Role and Structure. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from
1d. Murse, T. (2020, October 8). List of Early Voting States in America. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from
1e. Ballotpedia. (2021, November 27). Absentee/mail-in voting. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from
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