Sorry for the lack of a posting on Friday afternoon. I will make it up to my loyal readers later today. But today’s lesson on the U.S. Constitution focuses on Article I, Section 4 & Section 5, since four is so small. Again this will be dealt with clause by clause.
Section 4. 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 Place of choosing Senators.
This lays out not specifically a power of Congress but of the states, which Congress may regulate if needed. This is another example of Federalism (separation of power between the federal and local governments) inside of our Constitution. Each state holds its own elections and writes its own laws and regulations for elections. The right and powers to vote is granted by the state governments, not the federal government, to the citizens of the state.
This is where congress gets the authority to write laws regarding the federal campaign contributions. Earlier this year the Supreme Court struck down regulations in a recent campaign finance reform law. They also overturned previous decisions of the Court on corporate donations to political campaigns. Unfortunately most people have no idea of what the facts or decision of Citizens United v. FEC is about. I did a blog a few weeks on this very topic. Check it out for more information.
The major misunderstanding people have in an election, especially a presidential election is that there is no national election; there are fifty state elections. The electoral college is another way of proving this because it is up to the state legislatures to determine how electors are choosen for the presidency. I will deal more on this later when I address Article II, Section 1, Clauses 3 & 4.
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.
This clause ensures that the legislature must meet at least once a year. The major issue behind this clause was that the King of England could dissolve the Parliament at any time. The King also had dissolved the colonial legislators. This is one of the major reasons behind the revolution listed in the Declaration of Independence. The bold text was changed by the 20th Amendment.
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.
The Congress has occassionally used the listed here power to refuse to seat a duly elected member of the House or Senate. The most recent example was after the election of President Obama. Governor Blagoavich of Illinois appointed Roland Burris to the vacated seat of former senator Barak Obama when he was elected to the office of President. The main point of contention was the federal corruption investigation into the governor about how he was going to choose which person would be the second senator from Illinois. The Supreme Court has held though that Congress cannot withhold the seat of a person who has met all the Constitutional requirements for office. Also they stated in a separate case that a member may only be expelled in the term a wrong was committed, it cannot be retroactive.
The Constitution sets the quorum to do business as a majority of members, which would be fifty-one percent of its members (218 in the House and 51 in the Senate). The need for this limit on power is so that a small number of legislators could not pass laws. A few years ago during the August break a large contingent of Republicans and some Democrats stayed behind in Washington when recess was called for the month, despite lots of work to do. This clause prevents them from passing legislation. Though I thought it would funny if they were able to get a quorum and do business; they never did.
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.
This allows each house of Congress to make its own rules in how to pass legislation. The power to create committees is an implied power of this expressed power. The practice of filibuster (unlimited debate to kill legislation) is also found in the U.S. Senate because of this clause. The filibuster is a necessary power and part of the founder’s original intent for the Senate. The House may quickly pass something because of the popular fervor for a specific piece of legislation. This is because the House is the body of our federal government closest to the people. The senate is there to cool down the legislation and make it better and palatable to the states (Since the Senate was to represent the states in our government). Both parties have used it to their own advantage to kill good or bad legislation, or to stop presidential appointments.
This also is where Congress gets the power to punish its own members, like last year when Rep. Joe Wilson was censured (formal condemnation for an action) for yelling, “You lie!” during the President’s address to a joint session of Congress about the stalled health care reform bills.
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.
This clause for a journal of proceedings is a limit on Congressional power since it requires both houses of Congress to record the results of their meetings. Specifically it refers to the tallying of the votes in either house. This is so that the people may know what their elected leaders are doing. It requires that one fifth of the house must request that the yeas and nays of the members to be recorded in the journal. This is an example of minority rights or power in the Constitution. It only takes 20 people in the Senate and 87 in the House to get these votes recorded. Typically in today’s day and age though they do not need to call a vote to get them recorded. With the voting machines in the House we know in an instant who voted what way on any piece of legislation. Also in the Senate they almost always do a roll call vote so that those votes are also recorded.
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.
This is to make sure that the legislative actions of Congress are coordinated between the two houses of the bicameral. Also, it makes sure that joint actions was taken to move the place of where the legislature is seated. This is a throwback to the Revolutionary War when the capital moved several times to avoid capture by the British. Also it is to protect the people because of the power the king used to move colonial legislatures.
Well that is the end of today’s lesson. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend. Class dismissed.