Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told Justice Antonin Scalia during oral arguments this week that while the Constitution’s clear limit on presidential powers “looks unambiguous to you,” it “has been the subject of contention… [and] thought to be ambiguous from the time of George Washington…to the present.”

Justice Scalia responded with wise sarcasm, clarifying, “It’s been assumed to be ambiguous by self-interested presidents.”

Essential to our system of government is the system of “checks and balances” incorporated within the United States Constitution. This system limits the role of the federal government to areas specifically delineated within the Constitution; and it dilutes even this limited federal power by assigning specific roles to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the federal government. Furthermore, internal “checks and balances” within each branch safeguard our republic against the despotism and corruption emblematic of concentrated power.

Article 2, Section 2 of the United States Constitution explains the limits of presidential power. One of the most important responsibilities of the President is nominating and appointing ambassadors, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other “officers of the United States.” But this power is not without limit! The same clause within the Constitution dictates that the appointment of these nominated officials only goes into effect “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

What does “advice and consent of the Senate” entail? It simply refers to the process by which senators question nominees and then vote as a body whether or not to “consent” to the appointment. If a presidential nominee fails to receive a majority of the votes, the appointment cannot be made. In so doing, the Legislative and Executive branches have a say in which individuals are “executing” the law of the land. The President recommends people for the various roles; the Senate must approve the President’s choices.

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