Article I – The Legislative Branch. This article provides for the establishment of the Congress as the legislative branch of government which makes our laws. The Congress includes a Senate and a House of Representatives. Each member of the House of Representatives is elected to office every two years by the registered voters in their state district. House members must be 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for seven years, and live in the state that elects them. To replace a member who dies while in office or cannot complete his/her term, the Governor of their state calls a special election. Article I also explains how the number of representatives from each state is determined. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment changed how people were counted and in 1842, the Congress imposed a district system on the United States. Each Congressman represents a specific district in his/her state. There are 435 members (districts) in the House of Representatives.
The members of the Senate face election every six years. They are elected on a staggered two-year basis so that not all Senators are first termers or freshmen at the same time. One-third of the Senators are up for re-election every two years. Each state has two Senators. Senators must be 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for nine years, and live in the state that elects them. Originally, Senators were appointed by their state legislatures.
Originally Senators were appointed by the Governor of each state. They were to represent the state’s interests and be a safeguard against the federal government usurping the rights of the states (part of the balance of power). Unfortunately, the Seventeenth Amendment, 1913, changed the rules to allow for direct popular election of Senators. Because of this the Senate is now working with the federal government and against the states.
Each chamber (House and Senate) elects their own leaders and establishes their individual rules of order and conduct. The Vice President is the President of the Senate and only votes to break a tie. The Senate elects another person as President to preside over the group when the Vice President is not present. To replace a Senator who dies in office or cannot complete his/her term, the Governor of that state appoints a replacement to complete the term. The replacement then stands for election during the next voting cycle.
The process of removing somebody from office, known as impeachment, begins in the House of Representatives that is like a trial and ends with a verdict of impeachment or acquittal. Once a president is impeached, a trial is held in the Senate to determine whether he is removed from office. Two-thirds of the Senators must vote yes in order to remove the offending official from office.
Congress also has power over the conduct of federal elections and can alter such regulations at any time. The states actually draw up the Congressional district lines. The Supreme Court in 1962 dealt with proper apportionment of election districts in its decision in Baker v. Carr, which allowed voters to go into a federal court to force equitable representation. This decision was based on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Article I also establishes how members are to be paid and how many need to show up to conduct official business. It also institutes the Congressional Record where all proceedings and business done in each chamber is officially documented. All bills for increasing taxes begin in the House of Representatives, as do all funding for government programs, but the Senate must also approve them, just like any other bill. If the House approves funding and raising funds they can also defund programs that are no longer valid.
All other types of bills can begin in either chamber but must be approved by both before going to the President for his approval. The President has ten days, excluding Sundays, in which to approve or veto a bill. If he takes no action within those ten days, that legislation automatically becomes law. If he vetoes a bill, it goes back to the Congress where further changes can be made. Or they can simply vote on it again. A two-thirds vote to approve the bill will over-ride the Presidential veto and the bill becomes law.
Article I also lists the stated powers of Congress such as:
• raising, spending, and borrowing money;
• providing for armed services, providing for organizing, arming and training of the military;
• setting rules for citizenship,
• establishing post offices, building roads and building post offices;
• regulating commerce,
• establishing federal courts to support the Supreme Court, etc.
• protecting the sanctity of contracts.
The “commerce clause” which gives Congress the right “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states,” has been used and abused as a strong argument for the expansion of federal government power in the 20th century.
Besides its enumerated and inherent powers, the Congress has implied powers under Article I “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the enumerated or expressed powers.” In other words, they can make laws that would aid in carrying out the stated powers in the Constitution. Finally, Article I contains guarantees of the writ of habeas corpus, prohibits bills of attainder (laws passed to declare someone guilty of a crime) and ex post facto laws (criminal laws passed by Congress can be applied only from the time they are passed – not retroactively), and also improve certain limitations on state power.
Next Week: How Article I fits into the Separation of Power Concept
Question for Discussion: According to Article I’s definition of the duties of Congress discuss the explicit duties outlines above and what they actually do today.