There was a time in American history — nearly all of it up to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson — when the federal government followed basic constitutional norms. With some unique and discrete exceptions, like the Civil War, Congress wrote the laws, the president enforced them, whether he agreed with them or not, and the judiciary interpreted them and assessed their compatibility to the Constitution. This is the separation of powers.
My late friend Justice Antonin Scalia often argued that the constitutionally mandated separation of powers is the most uniquely American and liberty-insuring aspect of the Constitution. James Madison, who essentially wrote the Constitution, believed that tension and jealousy between the three branches would enhance personal freedom by preventing the accumulation of too much governmental power in the hands of too few. But he publicly worried about that accumulation, and the branch he feared the most was the presidency.
When the federal courts have addressed challenges to the separation of powers
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