Our Nation’s Foundations – Lesson Nine: Legislative Branch

by Oletta Branstiter


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In Article I, the framers of our Constitution described the powers and limitations to the powers of the Legislative Branch of our Republic. It contains ten sections. 

Section 1 creates and grants power to a bicameral legislature – a House of Representatives and a Senate.

Section 2 establishes specific rules for the House of Representatives, elected for two-year terms by the citizens of state districts. This section also includes the 3/5th Compromise, which allowed slaves to be counted as less than a full person for purposes of representation in Congress. This rule was designed to restrict the representation of slave-owning states. The Civil War and subsequent Fourteenth Amendment rendered this clause moot.

Section 3 establishes rules for the Senate. From brighthubeducation.com:

  • Two senators are elected by each state’s legislative body. The election of Senators was changed to popular vote by the 17th amendment to the Constitution.
  • Senators serve 6-year terms
  • The Vice President presides over the Senate but does not have a vote unless there is a tie.
  • The Senate tries all impeachments. Impeachments jurisdiction only extends to removal from office.
group portrait of the Freshman class of House Members of the 112th Congress
group portrait of the Freshman class of House Members of the 112th Congress

If a Congress or Senate representative blatantly violates Constitutional law or basic morality, he or she can be impeached – fired.

The impeachment process starts in the Congress.

The Senate must vote to approve the impeachment for that representative to be removed from office.

This is a way of eliminating an irresponsible representative before his or her term ends.

Section 4 establishes procedures for elections and meetings. All elections for representation are the responsibility and privilege of the states.

Section 5 establishes membership rules for Senators.

Section 6 sets the rules for pay and protection of our representatives in the Senate.

Section 7 explains the bill process. All bills intended to raise revenue must originate from the House of Representatives. All bills must receive a majority of votes before being passed on to the president. The president can sign the bill into law or veto, or reject it. Congress can override the veto with a 2/3 majority in each house. The president has 10 days to sign the bill into law or to veto it. Not signing the bill has the same effect as approving it. (ibid.)

A law can be proposed by representatives in the Congress or Senate. Even the President can propose a law. Citizens like you and me can convince our representatives to propose and write a bill of law. Then, these laws must get majority votes in both Houses – the Congress and the Senate – before the President decides whether to sign them into laws that must be enforced.

The President may not like certain laws and may veto them. Then, if our Representatives still want to pass those laws, their “bills” must receive a super-majority in both Houses to override the President’s vetoes.

Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress. Congress can:

  • collect taxes
  • borrow money
  • regulate commerce
  • coin money
  • establish post offices and roads
  • promote science and art
  • declare war
  • raise an army or navy

Section 9 limits the power of Congress

  • The importation of slaves cannot be outlawed before 1808.
  • Congress cannot pass a law that allows the arrest of citizens without just cause.
  • Congress cannot pass laws punishing citizens for breaking laws that did not exist at the time they were broken.
  • Congress cannot tax state exports.
  • Congress cannot give preference to one state over another.
  • Congress cannot grant titles of nobility.
  • Congress cannot withdraw money from the Unites States Treasury without following proper procedures. (ibid.)

Article 10 limits the powers of the states.

Do you know who your Legislative Representatives are? Do they truly represent your interests? Do they know and protect the Constitution? Do they represent you under the rule of law?

These people work for you. Your tax dollars pay their salaries. They should represent you and your principles. You can email them, write them or call them to tell them what is important to you or to ask questions about legislation they are considering. If you don’t know who your representatives are, please click this link: Ballotpedia.org

Staying informed is an important part of being a responsible citizen. Imagine what would happen if nobody paid attention to what our politicians were doing in Washington! It would be like a boss not caring what his or her employees do.

The best way to make sure that our representatives will do their job well is to find out what kind of person they are before we elect them!   

To read more in this series, click this link.

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