Welcome back! This is the second edition of Constituesday, our weekly series exploring the U.S. constitution from historical and contemporary perspectives. With knowledge in our pockets, we can combat willful ignorance and purposeful deceit.
Here is the link to last week's first edition: Constituesday - Preamble.
In today's edition, we tackle Article I, concerning the legislature.
I've gone ahead and made the executive decision to split Article I into two sections. Firstly, the thing is just long, its three times longer than any other article or amendment at least. Secondly, I really want to get into the Enumerated Powersin detail. If I did Article I in one post, I'd have to skim over stuff, and I don't want to do that.
Cross Posted at http://leftturnsonly.wordpress.com/
So for today let's take a look at Article I, sections 1-5. Sections 6-10 next week. Here's some info: http://www.usconstitution.net/...
There was a great deal of debate at the Constitutional Convention about how to structure the legislature. Both the large, southern, slave states and the small, northern non-slave states had a lot at stake. James Madison's Virginia Plan supported proportional representation, while William Paterson's New Jersey Plan called for equal representation.
In today's political climate, things probably would have broken down, or one side would have stomped their feet or kicked and screamed until nothing got done. But the framers, in their wisdom, developed the Great Compromise and America's ingenious bicameral legislation was born.
There were bicameral proposals before the compromise, but the differences between the houses involved electoral procedures, not representation levels. Roger Sherman proposed the Connecticut Compromise and, in the spirit of get it done, and to the betterment of all, the United StatesHouse of Representatives and Senate were born.
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 the vesting clause. It basically just says that Article I will grant the legislative powers to the congress, and names the houses.
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.
This clause has been highly amended. At the time of the writing of the constitution, the states chose who could vote in national elections, but the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth amendments have expanded voting rights to blacks, women, blacks and 18 year-olds. (Yes, they had to amend the Constitution twice to ensure equal voting rights for blacks, but we'll get into more detail in further weeks, when we explore the amendments.) We vote for the entire House every two years.
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.
If you're 25, a U.S. citizen for 7 years or more, and you live in the state you represent (not necessarily the district you represent) you can serve in the U.S. House. Congress can use no other reason to deny your seat in Congress, as decided in Powell vs. McCormack.
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;
The history of the size of the House is a little wonky and clunky, but one thing is for sure; We have less representation today than we ever have before, and as long as the U.S. population grows, that trend will continue.
Faced with an ever growing House, congress passed Public Law 62-5 which caps the House at 435 members. Less populous states have smaller districts, and therefore more Representatives per person. The 1-30,000 minimum isn't even close. Most of us live in districts with almost a million people or more.
This clause of the Constitution also establishes the U.S. Census. Isn't it funny how the Tea Party and ultra-libertarian types claim to be pro-constitution but are actually anti-Census? Well you can't have it both ways. The U.S. Government uses the Census not just for enumerating House districts, but to collect a swath of other demographic information. Without this information, the government would have no way of knowing who it's populace was, and would be forced to govern them blindly. Since World War II, the Census' information has been kept private, even from other government agencies.
If the Connecticut Compromise is known as The Great Compromise, then the Three Fifths Compromise should be called The not so Great Compromise, or the Really Bad Idea for $100 Alex.
After the Great Compromise, the southern delegates in Philly saw their numerical supremacy threatened. The Senate already had equal representation amongst the states, and, without counting slaves, the proportional representation in the House wouldn't favor them as much as they'd like either.
The south wanted to hold slaves, deny them their humanity and citizenship, but count them as people for purposes of representation in the House. More cake-and-eat-it-too logic.
And it worked too, for a while, as southern politics dominated in Washington. Why do you think so many early presidents were Virginian?
The Three Fifths Compromise sewed the seeds for the inevitability of southern secession and the Civil War.
When vacancies happen in the Representation from any state, the executive authority thereof shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.
Special elections replace Representatives, arranged by the Governor.
The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.
This established the Speaker of the House, America's second most powerful political figure. The speaker holds enormous political sway, and the majority party in the House holds a lot of power. It also grants the House the power of impeachment, which we'll touch on more in Article II.
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.
This lays out the equal representation from the Great Compromise, and the six year term.
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 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.
This lays out the staggered election system. We elect approximately one third of the Senate every two years. It also gives Governors the power to appoint replacement Senators. (The 17th Amendment changed this, and now different states have different replacement policies.)
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 qualifications for Senators are more strict than those of the House, but are also exclusive.
The Vice President is given his only constitutional duty here, as Senate tie-breaker and sitting Senate President. No actual Vice Presidents actually do this constitutional duty. John Adams did, but since his time, the Vice Presidency has become primarily an Executive branch position.
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 the President of the United States.
This President Pro Tempore is the person who does the actual "President of the Senate" duties, as the V.P. is most always absent.
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.
The House has the power of impeachment, but the Senate has the trial, and two-thirds supermajorities are needed for conviction.
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 choosing 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.
Election Day! Congress has, by law, made Election Day the first Tuesday in November, and Congress no longer begins its session in December. In 1787, it could take weeks by horse-trailer to get from one's home to the Capital city. Plus, there weren't professional politicians, so Congress was considered a part-time job. Laughable by today's standards.
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 behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member.
Rules. This is where things like filibusters, secret holds, committees and other soul-crushing, cynicism-educing, sausage-making procedures stem from. Congressional rules of order, especially those in the Senate, were inspired by, though not identical to, British Parliamentary Procedure.
The Senate's rules give the minority party (or faction) more power than in the House (remember the powerful Speaker). James Madison's Federalist #10 influenced this arrangement, though Howard Zinn says that, in actuality, everyone was scared shitless of another Shays Rebellion.
This clause also provides each house the opportunity to 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.
The congressional record can be accessed here: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/... Great for journalists and Poli-Sci majors.
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.
There is a difference between adjourning, and "adjourning."
Okay that's the first half of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. A lot of it is technical and procedural, and not so much political. But the history of, and ramifications of the compromises of the Constitutional Convention, forthcoming voting rights amendments, three fifths debacle and the Census make for a wealth of information and governance.
Next week we'll get into sections 6-10, separation of powers and enumerated powers and junk. It's going to be a whole heck of a lot of fun! See you then!