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In the American political system, the fourth branch of government refers to a group that influences the three branches of governance defined in the American Constitution (legislative, judicial, and executive). Such groups can include the press (an analogy to the French Fourth Estate), the people, and interest groups. U.S. independent administrative government agencies, while technically part of the executive branch (or, in a few cases, the legislative branch) of government, are sometimes referred to as being part of the fourth branch.
In some cases the term is pejorative because such a fourth branch has no official status. The term is also widely used as a picturesque phrase without derogatory intent. Where the use is intended to be pejorative, it can be a rhetorical shorthand to illustrate the user's belief in the illegitimacy of certain types of governmental authority with a concomitant skepticism towards the origin of such authority.
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