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How can the judiciary branch be independent while still being interdependent of the other two serving as check and balance? Could the other two branches be similarly independent and interdependent at the same time? Could there exist a theoretical fourth branch standing in the middle, interconnecting with all three branches, standing in the place of their interdependence, rendering them truly independent of each other?

Disclaimer: I'm removing the united-states tag. My question was supposed to be about the theory of the branches and their separation along with their dynamics, not so much about how it's implemented in one particular country. My apologies if my original question had been ambiguous.

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A vast majority of the judiciary branch is independent from the legislative and executive branches. An interdependence emerges at the federal level; however, it is not as strong of an interdependence as this question makes it seem. While the president has the duty of appointing federal judges and they must be senate approved, these judges (including the supreme court justices) often outlast the terms of a presidency and also outlast the terms of many senators. While there is required approval from two different branches, as the judicial branch has the last say when it comes to legality and constitutionality, it makes sense to have some form of approval for those who obtain such a position. With supremacy comes more vetting.

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  • Thank you. Could the legislative and the executive branch rendered partially independent in a similar way the judiciary is? Also, my final question is more an abstract one, not specifically about the US government (and here I'm disregarding the fact that the US doesn't have a separate head of state independent of the head of government and that I'm not completely convinced a separate head of government is indeed required). Dec 3 '16 at 22:00
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How can the judiciary branch be independent while still being interdependent of the other two serving as check and balance?

In the United States (US), members of the federal judiciary are appointed by the executive and confirmed by one of the legislative chambers (the Senate). But once approved, federal judges can only be removed for cause by coordinated action requiring a two thirds supermajority in both legislative chambers. This is extremely rare and the supermajority requirement makes it difficult to do on a partisan basis.

This leaves judges independent of the other branches unless they do something actively illegal. Yes, the other branches can control who becomes judges but once confirmed, the judge is independent. Judges are limited in that they can only adjudicate cases brought to them. The executive has the power to bring cases to the judiciary. The legislative branch controls the laws that they are adjudicating.

Could the other two branches be similarly independent and interdependent at the same time?

In the US, they are. The president and Congress are separately chosen, but most presidential hires are subject to Senate confirmation. Further, the executive can only enforce laws that Congress passed and spend money that Congress appropriated. Congress can't enforce laws or spend money. The president has some influence in the lawmaking process with the veto power, but overrides mean that power is not absolute.

Could there exist a theoretical fourth branch standing in the middle, interconnecting with all three branches, standing in the place of their interdependence, rendering them truly independent of each other?

They wouldn't be truly independent, only directly independent. There would still be indirect dependencies among the three branches unless you basically centralized everything to the fourth branch. At which point, why do you need the first three branches? The three branches might be independent of each other but entirely dependent on the fourth branch.

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  • Wrt. the last one, yes, this has been my dilemma as well: there still would be an indirect interdependence between the three branches as well as all of them would be dependent on the fourth one. My approach on the feasibility of direct independence was whether the branches can be realized on all layers of a country, and the device for that would have been something similar to the mesh->star transform with the introduction of a fourth power. Dec 4 '16 at 2:12
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I suspect there is a misunderstanding of what "independent" means. Literally independence means that the branch is not influenced by other branches - this is the spirit of the word used in the question. However, that is not what we typically mean when discussing the independence of a branch of government.

What is independence?

As noted in the question's tags, the idea of independence is closely related to the separation of powers (and checks and balances). The best source for reading about this is Montesquieu's "Spirit of the Laws". If you don't want the primary source, consider at least reading about it on SEP.

A branch is independent when it's functions are performed independently. For the judiciary, it is independent when it is capable of deciding cases without regards to the will of either the executive or legislative branch. Obviously both branches have input into the judicial process (the executive through law enforcement and the legislative through writing laws), but the actual decision is only a matter for the judiciary.

This definition makes sense when put in the context of Montesquieu's work. His concern (shared by many influential people, including many of the Founding Fathers) was that the people need to be protected from the government. The best way to accomplish this is to separate powers into discrete units - "branches". Each branch is interrelated - they have to be in order for government to function - but they are each empowered with unique roles.

The Judiciary

How can the judiciary branch be independent while still being interdependent of the other two serving as check and balance?

The judiciary is independent because it alone is able to make binding interpretations of law. Obviously, it has inputs from the other branches, but those inputs don't infringe on its ability to independently come to a conclusion.

This can be contrasted with some other countries where judiciaries are frequently subject to pressure from the executive branch to rule in a certain direction. This pressure is sometimes formal (in that a judge can be removed from office if they rule against the executive branch's wishes) or informal.

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    As far as I'm concerned, Montesquieu intended the judicial branch to interpret only the constitution. I wonder whether making binding interpretation of any law isn't specific to the American governmental system only instead of being the original generic Montesquieuesque approach. Dec 7 '16 at 22:06
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    @AndrásHummer - I upvoted that for 'Montesquieuesque '. I hadn't been aware of that distinction in interpreting his work. I've always read it (and heard it said) that it is about all laws. Similarly the legislature can pass laws besides Constitutional amendments and the executive can enforce any law, not just the Constitution. Dec 7 '16 at 22:08

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