The Constitution: Article 7 & Conclusion

Article 7 is a bit of a misnomer, its more of a conclusion (hence the title of this post.  It merely states that a majority of 9 states out of the 13 then involved would be required to ratify it before it was made officially law.  9 is 2/3rds of the original 13 states, a standard that continues today with amendments needing to pass 2/3rds of the States.  That is currently 33 states, since we now have a total of 50.

Of course, given that it is the constitution, it was prefered that all states would ratify it (which they eventually did)  Otherwise some states may still have been under the governing of the Articles of Confederation, which would be very awkward when trying to make laws, or making governing decisions between states.  It also was a political move to make the states ratify it early to be able to be on the decision-making team when it came to alterations (Amendments) and putting together the details that the constitution left vague. Continue reading “The Constitution: Article 7 & Conclusion”

The Constitution: Article Six

Article Six addresses various other items that were of a concern with creating a new constitution and a new Federal government.

Clause 1:  The US will still honor its debts.

There was some concern that with a new constitution/government that the US wouldn’t honor debts or contracts entered into under the Articles of the Confederation (The First constitution that the United States had ratified).  The first clause addresses this concern by saying that the Constitution will uphold anything debts that occurred or engagements (such as treaties and contracts) shall be continued under the new constitution.

Basically it means that the US is under new management, but the old deals still apply.

Clause 2:  The US Constitution shall be the ultimate law of the land.

This directs that any law, judgement or other actions by the government must adhere to this document.  It also states that all states are subject to the Constitution and Federal law, effectively bringing them under the same umbrella.  One of the ongoing issues with the Articles of Confederation was the lack of power the federal government had to do anything.  The confusion as states formed their own money etc couldn’t be corrected by the federal with much power behind it.  This government however was stronger, and made sure to specify that this document was the supreme law.  This also effectively transitions the country from working under the Articles of Confederation to having a new constitution.

Clause 3:  All officers of the government shall uphold the oath.  None of them will be forced to prove their religious faith.

There are two elements to the third clause.  One is that every officer of the government is to swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the constitution when taking office.  The other element is that no officer has to prove his religious choices to get into office.

This particular element has come under recent speculation,  This clause basically assures that there is no government backed religion, that no person who works in the government will have to prove their religion in order to take office.

With fundamentalism of many religions being more visible, many people are being asked unofficially to prove that they belong to one religion or another. Personally I believe that this clause in the Constitution makes it unconstitutional to make someone prove that they are part of a religion (regardless of said religion) in order to do their job (i.e. take office), or seek services from the federal government.  Many have alternate points of view on the subject.

The Supreme Court expanded this clause to the states in 1961’s Torcaso v. Watkins. Now no governmental employee, federal, state or otherwise, is required to prove one’s religious conviction or religious orientation to take office.

I found Heritage Guide to the Constitution had an interesting background for this particular clause (I’ve included the link below in the further reading) which also goes into people’s concern about secular language (a argument still had today).

Further Reading:

Law.com – Article 6 – Kids

Us Constitution.net – The Constitution Explained

Heritage.Org – Religious Test

Justia.Com – Supreme  Court Case Torcaso v. Watkins (1961)

 

The Constitution: Article Five

Article Five is unique because it only has one section.  It also has only one job: To explain how we can alter the constitution.

To change the constitution to suit the evolving needs of its citizenship, Congress can pass Amendments.  Amendments must be passed by two-thirds majority of both houses, and then present it to the legislatures of the states.  It must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states before it can be accepted into law.

There are currently 27 Amendments that have been ratified as part of the constitution.  Several amendments have been proposed but not voted on, others have been voted on and not quite made the cut vote wise.  There are even a few amendments that missed ratification due to a time limit and lack of state ratifications.

Some examples of failed or still pending Amendments include:

  • The Equal Rights Amendment
    First introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, this amendment keeps poping up as society seems reluctant to catch up with equal rights in reality rather then theory.  It got as far as being ratfied by 35 states, falling short by 3 by the deadline of the 1972 edition.  It has still come up for a vote in Congress in recent years
  • The “First” Amendment.
    When the Bill of rights was proposed, there were actually 12 amendments, not 10. 11 of those Amendments have been ratitifed as Amendments 1-10, and 27 (which took the longest of any amendment to be ratified). It dealt with the size of congress, and basically deals in thousands when we have millions of citizens now so it doesn’t really fit the current needs of the population.
  • The Nobility Amendment
    This is still on the books to be ratified, but doesn’t really come up often.  It was a restriction on American’s ability to hold international nobility titles.  Basically it came down to Americans could not receive any gifts, income, title from a foreign government without the permission of Congress. Otherwise they must surrender their citizenship to the US
  • The Corwin Amendment
    While James Buchanan was president, an amendment came up that actually protects slavery, and would have made it unconstitutional to do away with slavery.  Its still technically out there to be ratified despite the 13th Amendment which makes it moot and unconstitutional.  Its one of two Amendments that the President actually signed (again, Presidents really have no input in Amendments offically).  The other is the 13th, which was signed by Buchanan’s successor Abraham Lincoln.
  • Child Labor Amendment
    This Amendment would have regulated child labor and made it a federal issue, removing the power from the States.  It has been ratified by 28 states.
  • District of Columbia Amendment
    This amendment would have granted DC representation in Congress.  It wasn’t ratified before the 7 year limit posed on it was reached.
  • 1876 – Anti-Congress Amendment
    As you can well imagine, this one never passed Congress.  The Amendment would have abolished the Senate.

Most Amendment proposals don’t make it out of their respective house.  The last amendment to be ratified was the 27th, which was one of the original 12 amendments made in  1789. It was ratified in 1992, 203 years later.

Further Reading

The Amendment Series

Constitution Center – Top Ten Amendments that haven’t made it (Yet)

US Consitiution.net – Failed Amendments

Lexis Nexis – Failed Amendments

 

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)