Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

002 What does the Constitution do?

2. What does the Constitution do?
• It sets up the government
• It defines the government
• It protects the basic rights of Americans

The United States would be a very different country if it did not have the U.S. Constitution, because it does three very important things. First, it sets up (or
organizes) the government, just like you would organize any organization or business. The U.S. Constitution divides the government into three branches (or
parts): the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. The legislative branch creates (or makes) the new laws. The executive branch enforces (or makes sure people follow) the laws. The judicial branch is the court system, which interprets (or decides what something means in) the laws and determines (or decides) who is guilty of breaking (or going against) the laws.

All three branches are important. The Constitution makes the branches share power equally, which means that no one branch is stronger than the others. One branch cannot take all the power for itself. We call this sharing “checks and balances.” To check here means to control, and to balance means to make things equal. These checks and balances help control the three branches and keep them equal to each other. If one branch tries to take too much power, one of the other branches can put a stop to it.

The second important thing that the Constitution does is to guarantee (or promise and protect) the rights of all Americans. The representatives at the Constitutional Convention didn’t want the government interfering too much in the lives of the people. So they wrote a list of rights – a list of things that everyone could do – and made them part of the Constitution. These are rights that the federal government guarantees. The federal government is the national government, which makes laws for all of the states. There are also state governments that make laws for each individual state.

The third thing the Constitution does is to define (or explain) what powers the states have and what powers the federal government has. The states have to make laws that agree with the U.S. Constitution, since the Constitution is the supreme (or highest) law in the country.


branch – a part of something, usually of the government or an organization; one of many parts
* Which branch of the military are you in: the Army, Navy, or Air Force?

legislative – related to making laws; related to the part of the government that makes laws
* The U.S. president doesn't have any legislative power and cannot make laws.

executive – related to enforcing laws or making sure that people follow laws; related to the U.S. president
* One of the president's executive powers is to declare war against other countries.

judicial – related to interpreting the laws (deciding what laws mean) and deciding who has broken a law
* When did the court make its judicial decision?

to interpret – to determine or decide what something means
* When I saw the "no smoking" sign, I interpreted it as meaning that I couldn't smoke indoors, but that it would be okay to smoke outdoors.

to check – to control; to monitor or observe something to make sure that it is done correctly
* The vice-president of finance checks the company's spending.

to balance – to make or keep things equal, so that no part is stronger, bigger, or more powerful than another part
* It is difficult for him to balance his time between his work and his family.

to guarantee – to promise and protect something; to make sure that something happens
* Freedom of religion guarantees that Americans can be part of any religion they want to.

federal – national; related to the entire country
* Federal highways are built by the national government; state highways are built by the states.

to define – to explain; to say what something is or what something means
* In this business, a "good year" is defined as a year with more than $1 million in sales.