As citizens and voters, it is important that we understand our Constitution and the structure, rules, and limitations that it sets forth for our government.  We need to understand the system and why it was designed this way so we can tell when our elected leaders are doing the right things or attacking our rights and liberties.  Because of this, I will be addressing the roles and authority of each branch of the government as defined in the Constitution.  I encourage everyone to go read the Constitution for themselves.

Congressional Seal

Previously we discussed the President in The President: his roles, responsibilities, and powers and the Supreme  Courts/Judiciary system in The Supreme Court: Understanding it’s role and responsibilities.  Today we are covering the Congress/Legislative branch of the United States as defined in Article I of the United States Constitution and modified in the 14th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 20th Amendments.  Article I is the biggest of the three branches in the Constitution and describes the role and responsibilities of the Congress as the legislative branch of the government.  Article I is broken into the ten sections and we will be cover sections 1 through 5 in today’s post.

Section 1:

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

This is straight forward.  This creates the Congress with the House of Representatives and the Senate.  They will have all the legislative power.  No other entity can create or change laws.

Section 2:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Section 2 describes the House of Representatives.  The bold section was modified by the 14th Amendment.  This section  states the following for the House of Representatives:

  • Terms are two years
  • They must be 25 years old
  • A citizen for at least seven years
  • They must be a resident of the state they are representing
  • When counting for representatives, free persons count along with 3/5 of slaves and taxable Indians(native americans) for purposes of representatives and taxes. aka the Three-Fitfths Compromise
  • The first count was to be withing the first three years after the first meeting of congress and the every ten year.  This is the census.
  • Each state has one representative for every thirty thousand citizens, with at least one representative no matter the population.
  • The original starting representatives for each state before the first census was: Hew Hampshire with 3, Massachusetts with 8, Rhode-Island with 1, Connecticut with 5, New York with 6, New Jersey with 4, Pennsylvania with 8, Delaware with 1, Maryland with 6, Virginia with 10, North Carolina with 5, South Carolina with 5, and Georgia with 3.
  • If a vacancy occurs, a special election shall be held to replace the representative.
  • They shall choose the speaker and other officers.
  • They have the sole power of Impeachment.

Section 3:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Section 3 describes the Senate and was modified by the 17th Amendment:

  • Senators serve a six year term.
  • Each state gets two Senators
  • They are to be elected by the people instead of the legislator as modified by the 17th Amendment.
  • They each have one vote.
  • Initial they were divided into 3 classes so that every 2 years, 1/3 third of the Senate would be up for election.
  • If a vacancy occurs, there will be a special election held.  The state legislator may appoint an officer temporarily until the election is help as modified by the 17th amendment.
  • Senators must be at least 30 years old
  • They must be a citizen of the United States for at least 9 years.
  • They must be a resident of the state they are representing.
  • The Vice President is the President of the Senate but has no vote except to break a tie
  • They shall choose their own officers and a temporary President for when the the Vice President is absent or acting as President of the United States.
  • They have the sole power to try all Impeachments.
  • It the President of the United States is being tried through Impeachment, the Chief Justice shall preside.
  • An Impeachment conviction requires agreement from 2/3 of the Senate
  • An Impeachment conviction  can only remove a representative from office and disqualifies them from any other position within the government and can be subject to trial and punishment under the law.

Section 4:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

Section 4 states the following:

  • Each state will decide when and where it will hold the elections for their Senators and Representatives.
  • Congress can make laws to regulate the elections except for the place where Senators are chosen.
  • Congress is to meet at least once every year.
  • They are to meet the first Monday in December unless they pass a law to appoint another day.

Section 5:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

Section 5 addresses some of the operations of what both the House of Representatives and Senate:

  • They are responsible for judging their own elections and members qualifications.
  • If a majority is present, they can perform normal business.
  • A minority of members can adjourn/not be present each day.
  • They can decide there own penalties for not attending to “Compel” attendance if needed.
  • They can decide there own rules for proceeding.
  • They decide their own punishments for bad behavior and can expel a member if 2/3 of the members agree.
  • They are required to keep a journal of their proceedings that needs to be published occasionally.
  • Parts of the journal that are deemed secret do not have to be published.
  • If 1/5 desire, votes are to be entered into the journal.
  • Neither house of Congress can adjourn for more than 3 days or relocate without the others consent

 

And that covers the first 5 sections of Article I of the US Constitution.  I tried to keep it simple.

Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

 

Sources:

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html

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