To Support and Defend: Article III, Section I

The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The Constitution establishes a single Supreme court, and then allows Congress to establish other inferior courts. Judges hold office as long as they behave themselves. This is not defined in the Constitution itself, but over the years has been interpreted to mean that they get to hold the office as long as they want to unless they are impeached for a crime.

The idea here is that the other branches of government cannot remove a Federal judge because they don’t like the rulings. They can only be removed for criminal activity. (Ya know… like a bribe???)

To Support and Defend: Article 2, Section 4

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

If the President, Vice-President, or other officers of the US are accused of treason, accepting bribes, or committing other crimes, there is a vote to remove them from office and to have a trial to establish guilt.

Just because the word is bandied about a great deal lately, I do want to caution my readers that in the US, the crime of Treason is very specifically defined, and doesn’t mean, “You’re a rotten American” or even “You’re putting your own interest before that of the US.” We’ll be getting to it at the end of Article III.

To Support and Defend: Article 2, Section 3

Okay, back to work. Remember friends – layman here. I’m interpreting the text as it seems clear to me.

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

The President is the Commander in Chief of the Army and the Navy, as well as state militias when they are called into service.

If the President needs information about any of the executive departments, it is allowed to require that information or opinion in writing.

The President may grant reprieves or pardons for Federal offenses. The one exception is that if someone is impeached, the President may not issue a pardon. (Yes, Ford issued Nixon a pardon. Nixon also resigned before he could be impeached).

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein other- wise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

Treaties must have a 2/3 majority in the Senate to pass, but it is the President’s power to negotiate said treaties. The President does appoint ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices, and other positions of government responsibility not specifically spelled out in the Constitution, but have been established by law. (Meaning Congress has established the position…) Congress can give permission for appointments without approval if they want to. When the Senate is in recess, the President can fill any vacancies of these positions, but has to put an expiration date of the end of the next Senate session on them.

As an aside: While I am re-reading this, I am noticing that the President has considerably less legal power than is popularly believed.

To Support and Defend: Article 2 Section 1

Okay, everybody. Deep breath. We finished Article 1 of the US Constitution last week. Over the past few months, we’ve taken a look at the Preamble, our country’s mission statement. Then we moved on to Article 1, which deals with the Legislative branch of the US Government.

Section 2 is about the Executive branch, which is something we’re all giving some serious thought about these days. Here’s the thing that’s really important to remember: We have three branches of government. Each one is supposed to have checks and balances to keep the others from spiraling out of control. That’s why it was set up that way. We’re not at home to tyrants here in the US, but any branch of the government, unchecked, could be that tyrant.

Remember, guys, I’m a layman. I’m reading the text and interpreting what I think it means, but I am not a lawyer, nor am I formally educated as a Constitutional scholar.

So, lets jump in to the text.

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

I wanna talk about the title we use for our Chief Executive for a minute. The term is “President” which is not as grandiose a title as you might think. It quite literally means, “one who presides.” Not rules. Not governs. Presides. That’s an important concept here.

So, how do we choose the person who will preside over the Executive Branch?

We do not elect the President directly. Our Chief Executive is chosen by the Electoral College. Each state has as many as they have Senators and Representatives in Congress. If you are an office holder in the US, you’re not allowed to serve on the Electoral College.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.

The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice.

In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

Remember when I talked about the fact that the US Constitution is meant to be a dynamic document? This is a great example. The Twelfth Amendment has modified the above passage. While I’d intended to leave Amendment discussions until later, we need to incorporate the 12th into our discussion here.

So what’s originally happening is that the person who gets the most votes will become the President, and the person who gets the next closest number of votes becomes the Vice-President. Notice also in the text, there is no presumption of a two party system. (In fact, our first President rather warned against establishing such a thing. The two party system is a matter of custom and practice, not the Constitution.

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States. No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Given the political issues of the past fifteen years or so, most of us have read this one. Congress is allowed to set a date and time to choose Electors.

And then:

To be eligible to be President, you have to be a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the US at the time of the adoption of the Constitution. (Yes, someone not born a citizen, but naturalized before 1787 was eligible – I throw this out there as an idea for people who might want to have a vampire or other immortal running for President. Could be interesting fiction…)

You also have to be thirty-five and have been living in the US for fourteen years.

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice-President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

This establishes Presidential succession in case of death or disability of the person in office.

This was modified in the late 1960s by the 25th Amendment, as history was teaching us that we desperately needed a much better and more detailed plan in case of emergencies. The 25th Amendment does this, which we will be dealing with much later on when we discuss the amendments.

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them. Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: —”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The President will be paid for time in office. (Yes, the President can decline this payment, as has happened a couple of times). There are no raises or cuts for this compensation while in office. The President is also prohibited from receiving other perks or compensation while in office.

Before entering office, the President must either swear or affirm (swearing is considered a religious thing, and we were trying to allow for the fact that not all people have religions that allow for swearing – in fact, some people’s religious beliefs forbid swearing oaths) to fulfill the duties of President in full faith and defend the Constitution.

Support and Defend: Article 1 Section 10

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

Individual states cannot act as separate countries. Virginia cannot make an alliance with Russia, for instance. The power to coin money is reserved for the Federal government. California can’t make its own money. And, we’re a republic, friends. No-one gets titles of nobility. Notice this gets reiterated quite a lot in the Constitution.

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

Interstate duties and taxes are forbidden. We’re a collection of states, but legally one country.

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

If one state goes to war, the whole country does. Vermont can’t go to war with Canada, nor Texas with Mexico, ferinstance.

To Support and Defend Article 1 Section 9

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Yeah, that means what you think it means. It was saying we were still allowed to kidnap people from Africa, bring them to our shores, and keep them in involuntary servitude, and that we couldn’t open the discussion for banning it before 1808. Not exactly a shining moment.

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

Okay, this is about the rights of the accused. Y’all might to note that the term “rebellion” is not defined, and at some point may be twisted to what we would call a “protest.” A prisoner has the right to challenge imprisonment in court unless there are extreme circumstances. (Habeas Corpus basically means that a person under arrest must be brought before a judge to prove there is a legal reason for keeping them locked up)

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

You have to be tried under the law as it stands when you are accused of having committed the crime. Congress cannot pass a law and have you be retroactively guilty if what you did was legal at the time you did it.

A Bill of Attainder is a law that says a specific person is by LAW guilty of a crime. It is legislative rather than judicial judgement and is Unconstitutional in the US. Margaret Pole, Katherine Howard, Thomas Cromwell, the Duke of Norfolk, and many others were executed via this legal means during the Tudor period. It was a very feared piece of legislation because it could get you killed because the legislative body didn’t like you (or was bullied into it), not necessarily because you had been proved guilty of a crime. If the concept doesn’t scare you cross-eyed, read more history. It should.

No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid,[unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.

Congress was not allowed to impose a direct tax on people. This was changed by the 16th Amendment.

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

Interstate taxes on goods are illegal. If you buy it in New Hampshire and take it to Massachusetts (ahem! Cheap liquor on I-93…) there cannot be an interstate tax imposed on it.

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

Again, this is saying that we’re not going to have Interstate Tariffs or Duties.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

Congress must make a public accounting of how they spend money.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

The United States of America is Republic. There is no such thing as a noble class. We do not have monarchs. No-one who holds a public office of the US is allowed to accept a foreign honor, gift, or title without specific permission of Congress.

To Support and Defend: Article 1, Section 8

This section of Article 1 outlines Congressional Powers:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

Basically, Federal taxes have to be uniform throughout the states. You can’t give a cheaper import duty to Virginia and a higher one to California.

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

Yes, the US is allowed to borrow money, but only Congress has the power to do it or not.

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian Tribes;

International commerce regulations lie with Congress.

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

We decided we did want to allow people born elsewhere to become citizens. It is Congress’ responsibility to set up those rules. Also laws on bankruptcy must be uniform across the states.

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

It is Congress’ responsibility to regulate the value of the coinage (and paper money). We use pounds, miles, inches, feet and yards because Congress says that’s the standard.

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

Counterfeiting is a Federal offense and punishments for such are regulated by Congress.

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

The USPS was established right here in this sentence. Post Roads were merely roads maintained to help the mail go through easier. I haven’t looked it up, but one wonders about state roads used for the Postal Service and Federal responsibility.

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Patents and copyright laws are a Congressional responsibility in the US.

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

The Federal court system is also under Congressional power.

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

This is an interesting one. Privateering was an issue between nations was still quite an issue even if the Golden Age of Piracy was still past. It is a Congressional responsibility to define this.

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Only Congress has the power to declare war and to regulate the dispersal of the spoils of war.

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

See this? TECHNICALLY, we’re not supposed to have a standing army. Given the amount of training a private requires to be useful now in our highly-technical world, I am not entirely sure that’s practical. But since things have changed, perhaps an Amendment would be in order?

To provide and maintain a Navy;

But a standing navy is just fine, apparently…

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

Congress oversees the military.

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

Because we did not have a standing army, the idea was that civil disorder and invasion forces would be dealt with by local militias. Again, soldiering is a highly skilled profession these days. Not sure how that would work out.

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

Again, responsibility for the military forces is a Congressional responsibility. (By the way, this was for a very specific reason. We do not want the US military forces in the hands of one person.)

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; —And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

This allows for the establishment of a government center that does not belong to any state. The last clause is also known as the “Elastic clause” because it basically says, “Yo, if we need to make a law to run the country well, we can!” (You think the Bill of Rights was an accident, do you?)

Support and Defend: Article 1, Section 7

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

If a tax needs to be instituted, it must come from the House. The Senate cannot originate such a bill, although it must approve it before it goes to the President either to be approved or vetoed. The Senate can suggest changes to the bill.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Okay, Presidential Veto, here we come!

When a bill is to become a law, it will go to the President. If the President and signs it, it becomes a law. If the President does not approve, the bill is sent back to the House or Senate (depending on where the bill originated) along with the objections to the bills. The President is obligated to explain why in cases of a veto.

However, and this is where we really start getting into checks and balances, if Congress really disagrees so strongly that two-thirds (290 people in the House, and 67 in the Senate) of its membership will vote in favor of the bill, it becomes a law anyway.

If the President sits on a bill for ten days (excluding Sundays), it becomes a law anyway and it is presumed that the President did, in fact, approve the law.* If, however, Congress adjourns before the President can sign it, the clock stops ticking, and the bill does not become a law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

If Congress has to vote on something to be enacted, the matter must be referred to the President for approval or disapproval. This also re-iterates the override of the Presidential veto.

* Speculation on the part of the author: If this little clause could be used as a sort of weasel-worded way of claiming disapproval of a law while still allowing it to be enacted. Though being a layman, the author cannot recall if this is common practice or not.

To Support and Defend: Article 1, Section 6

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Congress gets paid, and that compensation is determined by law. Congress has to decide on it, then the President has to sign it into law. If they have not committed a felony, treason or are not actively being violent, they cannot be arrested while in attendance in Congress, and they’re immune from criminal prosecution for the things they do and say as a legislator.

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

You cannot hold another Federal office while you serve in Congress.

To Support and Defend: Article 1, 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 Behavior, 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.

Boy, this is a Quis custodiet ipsos custodies situation if I’ve ever seen one. Who decides if an election is legit? For the House of Representatives, it’s the House. For the Senate, it’s the Senate. They’re allowed force a member to attend, if they’ve been truant and they get to decide on the penalties for not showing up.

The House and the Senate may both establish their own rules for debate, voting and other proceedings, may punish disorderly behavior. If two thirds of them don’t want to keep a member, they can also chuck them out. Yep, they can throw out duly elected reps if they feel like the person isn’t behaving.

They must keep a record of what goes on and publish it. By the way, not only is the Congressional Record public these days, but if you really want to know how your reps vote, you might want to consider signing up for MegaVote. You get emailed about the voting records of your reps.

The Senate has to get permission of the House and the House the Senate if, during a scheduled session of Congress, they want to adjourn for more than three days. They are also forbidden to move their meeting place during a session without the other chamber’s consent.