The Constitution: Article Two (Part Two)

Article 2: Part 1

Section Two

Section 2 relates to the President’s duties as far as administrative function.  He is given the right to fill vacancies in the executive department (providing that they are confirmed by Congress), and to take into consideration the opinions of those people. He is also allowed to fill vacancies in Ambassadorial positions.  This part of the job is well shown on Media these days as Congress goes through the process of confirming nominations for the cabinet positions.   It is rare that nominations are not confirmed.  In some cases Nominations are pulled before they take a vote if it proves problematic.  However, there have been a few over the years (Senate.gov).

For most confirmations a simple majority vote is taken, from precedent from the first cabinet confirmations.  In current history, Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate President –  Vice President Pence – breaking a tie. This was not a usual occurrence, and all sources I find at the moment point to it not having happened before.

He is also the head of the military services, and can call state militias into the national service. When the US was first created, the national military was very small, and depended on state militias to fill out the ranks. Over the centuries as the National military grew, and due to experiences in the Civil War and Spanish-American war, this was altered.  Each state now has a National Guard, whose primary use is for State needs, but can be called up for Federal service.

For example, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard to “prevent anarchy” and to enforce the law passed by Congress requiring schools to integrate races.  The story of Little Rock 9 is often told as a major point in race relations in the US, as is Eisenhower’s decision to use the National Guard to overrule the school/Governor defiance of the law.

Some states still have their own Defense Force outside the National Guard. Several states had them at one point but are currently inactive either due to States dismissing them due to liability issues or other reasons.  Pennsylvania had a reserve militia, for example, but only during WWII and Korea.  Then again Pennsylvania’s history with state militias is an interesting story for another time.

Section 3

This section essentially lays out the State of the Union address.  The constitution requires that the President occasionally present before Congress his plans for the nation and the status of the nation.  When originally used, it was not required that it happened every year but it has become customary now that it happens every year.

And because I love using segments of West Wing:

This section also makes him the chief diplomat, in that he is expected to meet with Ambassadors and other dignitaries of the world.  He is also to make sure that laws are faithfully adhered to.  Which really goes back to the oath of office.

Section 4:

This section adds that the President is subject to impeachment.

Further Reading:

Civil War Army Organization (Civil War.org)

State Defense Force (Wikipedia)

President Sends Troops To Arkansas  (New York Times; September 25, 1957)

The National Constitution Center: Article Two

The National Constitution Center: Five Presidential Cabinet Rejections

The Constitution: Article Two (Part One)

So as Article One created the Legislative Branch, Article Two creates the executive branch.  Notably this branch contains the President and Vice President, but it also contains the cabinet and their departments as well as a few other smaller government offices.

Section One

This section sets up the Presidency.  Who it is, how long he/she is in there, and how they are elected. Continue reading “The Constitution: Article Two (Part One)”

The Constitution: Impeachments

When I first started this essay series, I really had no real understanding of what an Impeachment meant.   I assumed that it was akin to governmental criminal trial, that you weren’t “impeached” till they found you guilty.  And that it was only for Presidents.

Most of that was wrong.  Reading the mentions in Article One’s sections 2 & 3 had me doing some research into what exactly is an impeachment and what is the result of it.  Turns out it was a lot different then the image I had in my head.

Impeachments are basically administrative reviews in our government.  This is one of the many governmental transfers from our time as a colony of Great Britian, where impeachment was a power of Parliament. A committee is formed in the House to look into and investigate claims that are impeachable offenses (which honestly tend to be a little vague and on occasion partisan).  After the investigation, the House can either decide there isn’t any evidence (or perhaps not enough) or they feel there is enough and Impeach the person in question.  So basically being ‘impeached’ is being accused of doing something that goes against the office you hold, or laws.

Once the House impeaches the officer, it then goes over to the Senate.  Impeachments are supposed to be high priority over any other business the Senate might be looking into, and they prepare to hear the evidence on the impeachment.  In order to be found guilty, the Senate must vote with a 2/3 majority.

There have been several impeachments over the years, the most known are probably the 2 presidential impeachments:  Andrew Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton. Also within the Watergate Scandal, Impeachment was implied.

In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House for breaking the Tenure of Office Act, which had been passed the year before overriding Johnson’s veto.  The law restricted the President’s ability to remove office holders (like cabinet members) from office without the okay  of Congress. This was also part of an ongoing feud between him and congress over the reconstruction plan for the south.  The President wanted to accept all the states back immediately while Congress preferred to wait and have them under military law till they proved they could be loyal.  (personally, I side with Johnson on this).  Johnson wanted to remove his Secretary of War, who was a Republican and indicted under Lincoln’s tenure.  When he did, the House began to investigate him for breaking the law. This law would later be thrown out by the Supreme Court and later Congress in 1887 itself for being unconstitutional.  He ended up being acquitted and going on to serve as Senator before his death in 1885.

Bill Clinton’s Impeachment trial is probably more familiar to more of us, as it happened only recently in history.  Clinton was impeached by the House on December 18, 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice brought on by an investigation by Ken Starr into the President’s behavior during a recent sex assault trial brought by one of Clinton’s former employees.. The trial was hotly debated and Clinton ended up being acquitted by a single vote.

Richard Nixon was never impeached, although it is considered that had he not resigned and turned over the office to Gerald Ford (who pardoned him) he would have had to go through an impeachment trial.  So in effect, his presidency was ended by the threat of impeachment rather then the impeachment itself.

So that explains why I knew of it as being a way to remove a President from office.  But it turns out its a way to remove other governmental officials from office. There have been 19 federal impeachments.  The Majority of those impeached by the House of Representatives were judges.   Only four were not.  These were the aforementioned Presidents, a Cabinet Secretary and a US Senator.  Only 8 of the 19 were convicted, the rest were acquitted.

Notable impeachments include:

  • William Blount, a US Senator  in 1799.  He was the first person tried by the Senate on impeachment and was acquitted as the Senate decided that they didn;t have jurisdiction in this matter as members of the house and Senate did not classify as officers and also because both houses had the option to remove members of their own house by 2/3rds vote.
  • John Pickering, a judge in 1804.  He was the second impeachment, and the first to be found guilty of the charges and removed from office.
  • William Belknap, a former Secratary of War in 1876.  Was acquitted because the Senate believed that due to his retirement, they did not have jurisdiction.
  • Alcee Hastings, a judge in 1989.   Hastings was found guilty  of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for taking a 150,000 bribe for reducing the sentencing of people who came before him in court.  Earlier these charges had been put against him in criminal court and he was acquitted of them.  However the House wasn’t as sure, and impeached him with over 17 articles of impeachment.  He was removed from office.  However, he was not banned from public office and later served as a representative.  Ironically, he was able to vote in Clinton’s impeachment trial during his time in the Senate.
  • G. Thomas Porteous, Jr.  A judge in 2010.  Porteous was the most recent Impeachment by the Senate.  He was found guilty of taking bribes form lawyers while overseeing their cases.  He was removed from office.

An impeachment trial does not end up like a criminal case does.  They are only given the power to remove a person from their position in the government and disqualify them from future office, not to sentence them for their crimes, which would have to be seen to under a civilian criminal court.

During most cases, the Vice President resides over the trial as leader of the Senate.  However, during Presidential impeachments it is left to the Chief Justice. The prosecutors are members of the House, choose to represent them in the case.  The Senate acts like the jury.

The House has looked into over 60 impeachments, but only 19 have actually been passed on to the Senate.

Further Reading/Sources

The Impeachment of Bill Clinton (Wikipedia)

Impeachment in the United States (Wikipedia)

The Impeachment Trial of Alcee L. Hastings (Senate.gov)

Briefing on Impeachment (Senate.gov)

Complete list of Impeachment trials by Federal Senate (Senate.gov (same link as above, only more specific)

Impeachment:  US House of Representatives  (House.gov)

The Constitution: Article One (Part Two)

In our previous post, I talked about Article One’s second section, which developed the House of Representatives.  The third section likewise develops another branch of the government

Section Three:  The Senate

In the Articles of Confederation, our original constitution, there was only a single body legislative branch.  It gave each state one vote, with the ability to have a delegation team making said vote.  Many people wanted to keep this when they sat down to revise and come up with a new Constitution.  The Senate is inspired by the Ancient Roman equivalent, which each region had  Senator representing them.  These were meant to be wise statesmen who had the best interests of their people at heart.

Well, in compromise with those who wanted more democracy and less republic, they made two.  The House of Representative which contains representation by population, and the Senate which has representation by set amount.

Under Section Three, the senate gives each state two votes.  This has not changed.  We continue to have 2 Senators per state admitted to the union (So the first Senate had 26 Senators.  much smaller room then the 100 Senators we have now.)

Each Senator had to abide by a few guidelines.  They had to be over 30,  been a US citizen for at least 9 years.  This was important because when the nation first started, there were no technical “naturally born” US Citizens as the country hadn’t existed at the time.  Now, it allows for immigrants to be a part of their new country’s government.  

Term limits were given at 6 years per term to provide them an ability to avoid being caught up in short term trends and fads on the political scene.  Starting during the first congress in 1789, they began a three class rota of elections (Class A would be elected the first 2 year election, Class B would be at 4 years, class C would be at 6 years, this making sure that every six years we didn’t end up with all our Senators running for re-election.

Section three also talks about the Senate leadership.  The House of Representatives chooses their own head, known as the Speaker of the House.  The Senate on the other hand does not, instead the Vice President (and Section 3 is the first to mention the post) is the lead officer.  There are various other leadership positions that are elected by their fellow senators but the Vice President presides over the Senate, only voting when there is a tie.

When it was originally written, the constitution supplied Senators by appointment rather then public elections. They were voted on by the state legislatures.  However in 1913, this was changed to public elections with the 17th Amendment, which we still hold. It also allowed for the Governor to have a election to fill the spot if there was a vacancy for some reason during a non election year.  Originally they could only fill the vacancy until the next meeting of the legislature who when then choose who would fill in.

The Senate also has the power to try all impeachments made by the House of Representatives.   I have decided that because it would take up a lot of space to do a separate post on Impeachment.  In summary however, the basic process is the House makes the charge, and then the Senate is the jury/judge.  

The Senate convened for the first time, according to their website, on March 4, 1789 in New York City’s Federal Hall. It had to wait till April 6 to complete business, as that required that half +1 of the elected were present.  (Currently that would be 51 people).  Their first act was to elect a doorkeeper, who kept the public out till the Senate was open for public viewing in 1790, and afterwards kept the galleries in order as well as make sure any shipment of Senate materials be kept in order as the Capital changed.

That position still exists, actually.  Currently it is held by Frank J. Larkin.  The position is elected by the Senate and serves as an officer of the law, protocol enforcement, and administrative managing.

Further Reading/Sources

The US Senate: Origins and Development (Senate.gov)

Senators of the 114th Congress (Senate.gov) – You can find contact information for your senator here.  They have it available to filter by class, state or last name.

Office of the Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper (or the dude who does everything but sit and vote) (Senate.gov)

The Constitution (2007 Edition, GPO.gov)

The Articles of Confederation (Yale Law School: Lillian Goldman Law Library)

 

The Consitution: Article One (Part 1)

The Constitution in its first article goes about the design of our legislature.

Section One: Congress

This section is brief.  In fact, It’s probably shorter than the paragraph I’m writing about it.  It essentially gives the powers to legislate to ‘Congress’  and explains its design. In the United States, we have a bicameral legislature – meaning we have two governing bodies.  In the original Articles of the Confederation, we were unicameral and each state got one vote when it assembled. There was quite a debate about staying that way.  However, in the end, it was decided that a bicameral design was best for the new nation.

Section Two: The House Continue reading “The Consitution: Article One (Part 1)”

New Series: The Articles of the Constitution

Since I did a series on the amendments of the constitution, I decided to do a series on the actual articles.  The seven sections of our constitution that tell us how our government is set up and the basic rules it is guided by.

This page will be set up as both the introductory Post (as of July 9, 2016) and afterwards as a master-post of all the posts I write about it.  This may become more than just seven posts, as each article has sections that might require their own post, or in the case of the 7th, discussion on who actually signed.

I hope you enjoy this series of blog posts.

Introduction:

In 1776 the Continental Congress, a group made up of representatives from various colonies in British North America, got together to write and release a document known as the Declaration of Independence.  This was already a year into what would become known as the American Revolution.  On November 15, 1777 they adopted the Articles of Confederation to base their new government on.  It was not untill March 1, 1781 that it was finally ratified by all 13 of the original states.

However, it was soon found to be problematic as it had too weak of a central government.  The Central government relied heavily on the states for finding funds to fund all their responsibilities and also required unanimous votes during key issues, which caused many problems because as with today, hardly ever is America 100% unanimous.  As a result, a Constitutional Convention was brought together to work on a new and improved constitution in 1787 with delegates from 12 of the states (Rhode Island stayed home).  Two years later on March 4, 1789, the new and improved (and still existing) Constitution of the United States was created.

However the balance of power between the central and state governments remains a heated debate in American Politics.  In the years since the creation of the current constitution of the United States, the government has found it necessary to “amend” it 27 times to strengthen or restrict the central governments powers.  On occasion it was a necessary need due to social improvement, and other times it was simply to change to suit the needs of a continuously changing people.

It has one of the most well-known opening lines.  Here is the Preamble:

We The People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution fo the United States of America.

Continue Reading:

Article One  Part Two  Part Three

Constitution:  Impeachment

Article Two  Part Two 
Article Three
Article Four
Article Five
Article Six
Article Seven

The Amendment Series

Intro | One | Two | Three  | Four  | Five  

Six | Seven & Eight | Nine & Ten

Eleven | Twelve | Thirteen | Fourteen | Fifteen

Sixteen | Seventeen | Eighteen | Nineteen | Twenty

Twenty One | Twenty Two | Twenty Three | Twenty Four | Twenty Five

Twenty Six | Twenty Seven | Unratified

The Constitution Tag  (All posts related to the Us Constitution, the Articles of the Confederation and the Amendments to the Constitution)

Sources/Other Reading Material/Further Reading

Articles of Confederation (Library of Congress)

The Constitution of the United States  (Archives.Gov)

The Constitution (WhiteHouse.gov)

Happy Independance Day

Today is the American holiday celebrating our declaration of Independence from Great Britain and aliens. We celebrate by eating copious amounts of food, singing Bruce Springsteen, and blowing up sparkly gunpowder in the sky.

On an interesting note, it is neither the day we choose to declare independence (that was July 2nd), nor the day we finally won it (that was September 3, 9 years later).  Its not even the day the war started. That was earlier, in April of the previous year.  The day the treaty following the war was ratified was May 12, 1784.

What does this day actually celebrate?  The formal release of the Declaration of Independence, which had been written earlier in the month but had to have some revisions done.  On July 4, 1776, we formerly declared that we wanted Independence from Great Britain.  (except Delaware forgot to sign so it took till August 2nd for everything to be completed).

After 8 and a half years of fighting, and several months of talking it was formally recognized that the American Colonies, now called the United States, had won their freedom.

Not that it was the end to our growing pains, but thats a subject for another day.

Happy Fourth of July to all my American readers and all alien fighters.