Government is the system of rules and laws that takes care of a country or state. Its responsibilities include social welfare, law and order, defense, foreign affairs, and economic matters. Governments come in many forms, but all have the same basic responsibilities. Governments also differ in the amount of control they exercise. If they are more concerned with security, they may allow police to tap people’s phones or restrict what newspapers can publish. If they are more concerned with equality, they may establish taxes to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities.
Most Americans believe that the government should play a major role in their lives. This includes helping to solve problems that cannot be solved by market forces alone, such as pollution or racial discrimination. There is little consensus on what roles the government should play in society, however. Democrats and independents alike generally support a greater role for government, while Republicans are more divided.
At the local level, government agencies help to build roads and schools, maintain parks, and provide health services. They also develop and pass laws to regulate the activities of businesses and other private organizations. The judicial branch makes sure that these laws are enforced fairly and in accordance with the Constitution.
Local governments are made up of elected officials, such as city councils and town supervisors, or appointed officials, such as judges. The legislative branch of the local government, which is overseen by a mayor or other chief executive, makes laws and policies for the community. These decisions are usually based on the needs and desires of residents. Municipal courts deal with low-level offenses such as traffic tickets and disorderly conduct, while cases that violate local laws go to higher-level district or circuit courts.
The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government. It is made up of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Each of the 50 states has two senators, and members of the House are elected by their constituents. Congress makes the laws of the United States, and all bills must be approved by both houses to become law (unless the president vetoes them, and then the bill becomes law without the President’s signature).
The executive branch, headed by the President, helps the other branches of government work together. The President also carries out the nation’s policies, such as when he or she negotiates with leaders of other countries. Finally, the judicial branch, which is led by the Supreme Court, evaluates the legality of laws and regulations passed by the other branches of government. They make sure that the laws comply with the Constitution and are not unjust or overly burdensome on the citizens. The Judicial branch is much like referees in a sport. It is the final arbiter of a conflict between the other branches of government and the people.