I was thinking yesterday about the three branches of democracy: The legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch.

The idea is that each has limited responsibility and powers, and through the principle of checks and balances, the three of them cooperate to maintain a stable and sane government, avoiding individual players from growing in power and becoming corrupt. If any of the three branches does a wrong move and tries to increase in power, the other branches can reproach it.

When a judge goes to work in the morning, he knows he's responsible for judging and only for judging. He can't be blamed for how the government does its work (executive branch) or for how ridiculous the laws might be. He knows that he doesn't need to answer to the executive or legislative branch. He's only responsible for the judging part, and it's always nice to avoid responsibility, especially when bad things happen.

My question is: Were there cases in which the three branches went to war? Were there cases where, for example, a government refused to comply with the court's decision? Or where a court refused to respect a law made by the legislative branch?

What do the branches do if any other branch is not cooperative, and any attempt to reproach it fails?

Were there cases when a court's armed guards fought against the government's police force?

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    I think that the term "went to war" is probably just going cause confusion. What you're describing in most of these examples isn't a war or even close to it. – Steve Bird Jun 7 at 7:18
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    The term you may be looking for is "institutional crisis". In fact, depending of how wide your description is, you could count Joe Arpaio's conviction for contempt of the court and his pardon by Trump as one instance of "war" (albeit very far away from any definition of "war"). – SJuan76 Jun 7 at 7:39
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    What countries besides the USA use a 3 branches balance of power scheme? – axsvl77 Jun 7 at 8:02
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    @axsvl77 In fact the three branches of the USA (executive, legislative and judiciary) are the "classical" ones as defined by Montesquieu and the most common in countries with separation of powers.... so, like a lot of countries. – SJuan76 Jun 7 at 8:06
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    @SJuan76 Nope. Even though Wiki lists many countries on that page, the UK (eg) is not close to having a separation of powers. There's no written constitution for the courts to enforce and the executive simply is the legislative leadership. None of the parliamentary systems have much of it, and the US is fairly singular in having its system not turn into a dictatorship. Most of its Latin American clones eventually took advantage of all the autonomous enforcement powers given to the US's strongly separate executive. – lly Jun 7 at 9:19

To assume each branch of government will "go to war" is simply a misunderstanding of parliamentarism ("Parliament is supreme").

If OP did not mean, literally, the branches fight each other physically, but a more modest "in conflict" -- whereby the legislature's intention was not interpreted by the judiciary appropriately, and in similiar vein, the government did not enforce laws consistent with intent of legislature -- the answer would of course have to be yes.

Conflicts Between Each Branch of Government

There have been conflicts between each branch of government. How often are they in conflict? Almost every single (working) day -- just watch the evening news of most liberal democracies ("democracy", of course, is the other key pillar without which seperation of power is meaningless).

Do branches of government actually function as per the trias politica philosophy whereby there has to be a strict separation between three independent powers in every nation? Of course not.

Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws, published mid-18th century, which inspired both the French and the American intellectuals during their revolution, is still merely theory. Very good political theory albeit. To my knowledge, there is no single accepted indicator of a nation's perfect implementation of this model.

So, conflicts between branches happen often. If it deteriorates further it would be called "civil war" and the end of democratic institutions because martial law would be imposed to restore order, failing which a new nation will be formed. A successful imposition of martial law is known by another name, "coup d'état". That ends a democratically elected (legally derived powers of) government. How many martial law regimes have there been? Well, we can count that (I haven't).

Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws: In Practice

How do branches actually work in daily life, if it approximates, but not achieve a clear separation of powers? Too much for me to explain all the details, and I'm not sure I'm capable of it. In any case, this was answered by Bagehot in his book, "The English Constitution" (1865). This book was for the British system of government (parliamentary democracy, whereby the head of state is a distinct person from the head of government).

For America, it would be presidential system, whereby the head of state is the head of government. And Bagehot's contemporary, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, wrote "Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics" (1885).

In sum, how do democratically elected branches of governemnt function imperfectly (according to the Trias Politica model)? Both Bagehot and Wilson answered this in their respective 19th-century books.

(I suppose this is a historical answer).


Your question is primarily terminological and cannot have a historical answer.

Australia in the early 2000s had federal parliamentary elections combined with a court found constitutional separation of executive and judicial functions.

The executive function and judicial function found themselves in conflict over the executive's position on torturing UN refugees. The court repeatedly found laws to be unlawful, but lacked equity power. Parliament repassed the policy of the executive. The executive defunded the judicial, increasing its workload.

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