plural noun
limits imposed on all branches of a government by vesting in each branch the right to amend or void those acts of another that fall within its purview.
plural noun
(government, mainly US) competition and mutual restraint among the various branches of government

a system of constitutional government which guards against absolute power by providing for separate executive, judicial, and legislative bodies who share powers and thereby check and balance one another
Usage Note


A fundamental principle of American government, guaranteed by the Constitution, whereby each branch of the government (executive, judicial, and legislative) has some measure of influence over the other branches and may choose to block procedures of the other branches. Checks and balances prevent any one branch from accumulating too much power and encourage cooperation between branches as well as comprehensive debate on controversial policy issues. For example, to enact a federal law, the Senate and the House of Representatives must each vote to pass the law. In this sense, each house of Congress can check the other. Furthermore, even if the two houses do agree, the president must sign the law. If he chooses to veto the law, it can still be enacted if two-thirds of the members of both houses vote to override the veto. Under this arrangement, both Congress and the president can check each other. (See also appropriation, impeachment, judicial review, and separation of powers; also see chart, next page.)
System whereby each branch of an organization can limit the powers of the other branches, as in The union has used a system of checks and balances to prevent any large local from dominating its policies. This system was enacted through the Constitution of the United States in order to prevent any of its three branches from dominating the Federal government. The term is occasionally transferred to other mechanisms for balancing power.


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