The three branches of the United States government are the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The U. S. Constitution lays out the power and authority of each of these separate branches. It is important to note that the powers given to each branch are unique and separate and do not overlap or invade the authority of the other two.

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When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, much was made in the press of the perception that this event reflected voters’ fatigue with foreign entanglements and a turning inward to domestic issues. While there is truth to that, events are not controlled by voters’ sentiments and have a way of upsetting comfortable delusions. It might be said, with apology to Leon Trotsky, “You may not be interested in international conflict, but international conflict is interested in you.” Thus, by 2012, Russia rising, Iraq fracturing, Syria boiling, China blustering once again placed foreign relations on the political radar. Still, Mitt Romney’s warnings about, for example, Russia as the preeminent geopolitical threat, fell on insufficient numbers of listening voters’ ears, and Barack Obama was re-elected.

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Under President Obama, America has witnessed an unprecedented expansion of presidential power.  This is not merely the observation of political opponents.  Liberal law professor Jonathan Turley—who voted for President Obama—has reached the same conclusion:  “We are seeing the emergence of a different model of government in our country—a model long ago rejected by the Framers.”[1]  “What’s emerging,” according to Professor Turley, “is an imperial presidency, an über-presidency . . . where the President can act unilaterally.”[2]

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Criticism abounds regarding President Barack Obama and executive overreach. To name one example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as “Obamacare,” has raised the ire of many Americans. Expansive government and centralized approaches to political issues, admittedly, started before the Obama administration, but current executive overreach has accelerated the size of the national government and threatens individual liberty.  Various administrative divisions, whether classified as executive agencies or executive departments, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, have been scrutinized, too. Through “the administrative state,” what some have labeled the “fourth branch of government,” the executive branch seemingly continues to have its fingerprints on more and more aspects of American lives. Read more

Articles I, II, and III of the Constitution describe the roles of the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches of the federal government. It’s clear that the Founders intended for Congress to make the laws, the administration to enforce the laws, and the courts to interpret the laws.  Although this doctrine of Separation of Powers sounds simple, it’s not. The administrative branch holds great power to promulgate regulations and make executive decisions (orders and actions) that wield the force of law, and today, many fear that this power is being abused. Read more

Article. II.

Section. 1.

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. Read more

Guess Essayist: Horace Cooper, legal commentator and the Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty

Amendment XXV Section 3

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Since the nation’s founding there have been lingering questions about the presidential succession process.  As drafted by the framers, Article II of the U.S. Constitution provided that the vice president shall “discharge the Powers and Duties” of the president in the case of the president’s “Death, Resignation, or Inability.”

Seemingly clear enough in 1787, it increasingly became obvious there were serious gaps in the process.  Congress was given the responsibility to work out the details for what might occur if both the Vice President and President were incapacitated.  At the same time the Constitution was opaque over what constituted inability or scenarios in which a previously incapacitated President might have his authority restored.

Until the 25th amendment was ratified, the vice presidency had been vacant 16 times after a president or vice president had died or resigned. *

President Garfield tragic assassination was a major case in point regarding Presidential Succession.  Assassin Charles J. Guiteau disgruntled over not being able to obtain a federal post shot President Garfield.  The president would slip in and out of comas over the next 80 days.  As a result he would perform only one official act during this period – the signing of an extradition paper. President Woodrow Wilson was disabled by a stroke in 1919–1921. Many presidents have suffered shorter periods of disability. In no instance were the disability provisions invoked. *

Many in Washington thought that President Eisenhower’s heart attack in 1955 and then subsequent stroke in 1957 made clear that the modern presidency needed a succession plan.  However, the subsequent campaign between Nixon and Kennedy, either of whom would set the record for youngest president in US history moved the issue to the back burner.

Ironically, it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, which brought the issue immediately to the forefront.  This far into the 20th century the United States couldn’t answer long-standing questions such as when the president died, did the vice president automatically become president, or only serve as acting president? What happened when the vice presidency was vacant?  The Twenty-fifth Amendment, would at long last answer these questions.

Stymied during the Eisenhower administration, this time the urgency was clear.  Even The American Bar Association endorsed the proposal.  On January 6, 1965, Senator Birch Bayh formally proposed the amendment.  It was passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, and ratified on February 10, 1967, making it the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

Reportedly Presidents G HW Bush and Bill Clinton established detailed plans in compliance with Section 3 to deal with incapacity during their terms although ultimately they never needed to be invoked.

Horace Cooper is a legal commentator and the Director of the Center for Law and Regulation at the Institute for Liberty


June 7, 2012

Essay #79

Guest Essayist: Hadley Heath, Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women's Forum

Amendment XXV, Section 1:

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967 to clarify the Presidential line of succession established in Article II of the Constitution.  For the sake of national security, and to avoid the turmoil of contested authority – with which the Founders were familiar after a revolutionary war – the new nation established a clear, indisputable contingency plan in the case of a Presidential death, resignation, or removal from office.

This provision in the Constitution points to the underlying idea that America’s destiny does not live or die with one person or one leader, but that she is always ready to continue thriving, even in the face of a national tragedy or crisis.

Fully nine U.S. Vice Presidents have come to the office of President in this way – eight because of the death of a President.  One occasion, the resignation of President Richard Nixon, resulted in Vice President Gerald Ford taking the office of President in 1974.  This has also been the only such occasion (of a Vice President ascending to the office of President) that occurred after the ratification of Amendment XXV.

Previous to this Amendment, the nation looked to Article II, Clause 6 for guidance.  This clause states that in case of a Presidential disqualification or death, the “powers and duties” of the President will devolve to the Vice President.  However, the language of this clause left unclear whether the Vice President would indeed become the next President, or if he would simply execute the duties of the office until a new President could be elected.

Precedent resolved this controversy, when the first Presidential death occurred in 1841.  President William Henry Harrison died in office, and Vice President John Tyler took the oath of office to succeed him as President.

Amendment XXV finally clarified in supreme Constitutional law that the successor to the office of President would indeed become President, not simply become “acting President.”

Because they are established as first in line for succession, the Vice Presidents of the United States are subject to the same eligibility requirements as Presidents.  According to Article II of the Constitution, these requirements are that the person be a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years old, and have spent at least 14 years residing in the U.S.

The Constitution gives Congress the authority to further define the line of succession.  The Presidential Line of Succession Act of 1947 established that the next successors would be the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, followed by the members of the Presidential Cabinet in order of their department’s establishment.

The 25th Amendment – along with Article II of the Constitution and the Presidential Line of Succession Act – make provision for the United States to have continuous leadership, even in the event of the disqualification or death of the national leader.  This important establishment, in law, is meant to guarantee a peaceful and seamless transition.

So far in our history, although the occasions have been rare, this part of our government’s structure has provided new leadership in the face of national tragedy and hardship.  This clearly serves to underscore the American idea that the future of our nation is not in the hands of one man or one executive, but that as a people we’ve consented to the leadership of duly elected and vetted leaders, as designed by the Constitution.

Hadley Heath is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.

June 5, 2012

Essay #77

Guest Scholar: Hans Eicholz, Historian and Senior Fellow with Liberty Fund, Inc., an educational foundation based in Indianapolis, Indiana

Amendment XII:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists 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 for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing 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. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Circumstances allowing the Senate to choose the Vice-President

The twelfth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was born out of the immediate political experience of the fledgling republic as it strove to apply the provisions of its written fundamental law just over a decade after ratification.

Historically the powers associated with the executive branch have been among the most dreaded of all governmental functions. In the political struggles of seventeenth century England, the friends of both English and American liberty drew lessons about the need to constrain the prerogatives of monarchs and tyrants. That understanding shaped the indictment against the King of England in the Declaration of Independence, and shaped an important part of the debate over the original Constitutional provisions respecting the election of the American President and Vice-President.

What method of appointment would best assure the selection of leaders with the temperament and virtues necessary to remain under the law? This was the essential question discussed in the Philadelphia Convention when the second Article of the Constitution respecting the selection of the presidency was originally crafted.

Initially, no distinction was to be made in casting ballots for the election of the President and the Vice-President, but each elector was to nominate two individuals. It was hoped that such a process would filter out the influences of local prejudice if each elector were required to vote for a second person not of his or her state. Some consideration, it was believed, would then likely be given to criteria beyond merely local interests. Thus Madison observed, “The second best man in this case would probably be the first in fact.” It was hoped that such a mode of selection, combined with an electoral college, would result in a process far removed from political intrigue and discourage political commotions.

In point of fact, however, that process resulted in considerable discord when the electoral vote was equally split, as happened in the election of 1800 between the two Democratic-Republican candidates of Jefferson and Burr. The equal division of electoral college votes caused the election to be thrown into the House of Representatives.

At this point, and against all expectations, Burr attempted to negotiate with the Federalist representatives in Congress, to obtain the highest office. Eventually thwarted in his machinations, Burr’s dishonorable conduct negated Madison’s initial hopes, revealing that a man of lesser character could yet hold the second position, and if the process of election was not remedied, might at some later election, even take first place through political intrigue and backroom negotiations! For this reason, the Congress set in motion the process to amend the Constitution in the selection of both President and Vice-President on the 9th of December 1803.

The primary alteration of the 12th Amendment required the explicit designation of the office for which each candidate was being designated. It preserved, however, certain aspects of the older provisions of Article II.

The process of the electoral college was maintained to ensure the independence of the executive from the legislative branch.

In matters of tied elections, it continued to send the selection of the Presidency to the House of Representatives, but with the selection of the two officers now split, the selection of a Vice-President in cases of an electoral tie, would go directly to the Senate.

In both cases, this process arose from the general principle of the Founders that in addition to the popular element reflected in the selection processes of the electoral college, regional considerations should continue to have their influence. The United States was not to be seen as simply one homogeneous national democracy, but was also a federal union of distinct state governments, a vital part of ensuring against the over concentration of power.

To this end, when breaking a Presidential tie, the House was to assemble its delegates by states and each state was to determine its votes as one: “the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote.”

Likewise, the Senate, being already organized on the federal principle, would break an electoral tie vote for Vice-President. Indeed, under the old system, the Senate was to perform this function in the event that the next most popular electoral candidates after the Presidential selection, were also tied. This portion of the 12th Amendment merely preserved that order of selection.

Hans Eicholz is an historian and Senior Fellow with Liberty Fund, Inc., an educational foundation based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

April 20, 2012 

Essay #45 

Guest Essayist: Tara Ross, Author, Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College

Amendment XII:

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists 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 for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing 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. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Amendment XII: Reforming the Electoral College

America’s first four presidential elections were governed by Article II of the Constitution. The process worked well initially, which is perhaps unsurprising in retrospect. Nearly everyone expected that the revered General George Washington would be the nation’s first President. These expectations came to fruition when he was unanimously elected twice, in 1789 and 1792. The first contested presidential election did not occur until 1796.

This contested election nearly revealed a flaw in the voting process. But the next election, in 1800, brought the flaw more sharply into view, and it laid the groundwork for the introduction and ratification of the Twelfth Amendment. The provisions of this Amendment would replace Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution.

The problem stemmed from the fact that the original constitutional provision did not allow presidential electors to differentiate between their votes for President and Vice-President. Electors were simply expected to cast two ballots for President. When these votes were tallied, the first place winner became President and the second place winner became Vice-President. Such a process made sense in 1787, before the appearance of political parties. It made less sense after, as demonstrated during the election of 1800.

That year, the Democratic-Republican Party nominated Thomas Jefferson for President and Aaron Burr for Vice-President; the Federalist Party nominated John Adams and Charles Pinckney. Today, such nominations might seem rather routine, but in 1800, the practice of nominating separate candidates for President and Vice-President was relatively new.

When the vote was tallied, it was discovered that Jefferson and Burr had tied. Although the electors had intended to elect Jefferson for President and Burr for Vice-President, they were not permitted to distinguish between their votes for the two offices. The result was an electoral tie that threw the election into the Constitution’s secondary election procedure, known as the House contingent election.

At the time, the House was still controlled by the outgoing Federalist Party. Many Federalists did not like Jefferson and hoped to thwart his election by supporting Burr. Meanwhile, the Democratic-Republican congressmen continued to support their intended presidential candidate, Jefferson. A stalemate continued for the better part of a week. Neither Jefferson nor Burr could obtain the nine state votes needed for victory. Six days and thirty-six ballots later, one Congressman finally yielded, paving the way for Jefferson’s victory.

In the wake of such events, it was not long before a constitutional amendment was proposed to separate the voting for President and Vice- President. Such a solution might seem obvious to modern ears, but it was controversial in the early 1800s. The minority party, the Federalists, argued that the election process, as it then stood, made it possible for the minority party to have a representative in the executive branch. Some Democratic-Republicans also hesitated to change the election procedure. The Article II process had helped them in 1796 when John Adams, a Federalist, was elected President. Despite Adams’s victory, Jefferson had been able to defeat the Federalist vice presidential candidate, Thomas Pinckney.

The proposed constitutional amendment failed to pass the Senate by a single vote when it was first proposed in 1801. In 1803, however, the Twelfth Amendment finally gained enough support to pass both the Senate and the House. North Carolina became the first state to ratify the amendment on December 21, 1803. The amendment became effective when New Hampshire ratified it on June 15, 1804. Tennessee ratified it later, on July 27, 1804. Three states rejected the amendment.

The election process was tweaked and adjusted following the election of 1800, yet today it remains largely as the Founders created it. As a first step, the states cast electoral votes in the nationwide presidential election. If no candidate wins a majority of these state votes, then the House of Representatives must decide which of the top candidates will be the next President.

Tomorrow’s post will explain how this process—created by Article II and slightly modified by the Twelfth Amendment—continues to operate in presidential elections today.

Tara Ross is the author of Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. More information about Tara can be found at or on Facebook or Twitter.

April 18, 2012 – Essay #43


Guest Essayist: George Schrader, Student of Political Science at Hillsdale College

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 14-16

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

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

16:  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;

In discussions of the constitutional interaction between the federal government and the military, much of the conversation centers on the office of the president.  This is logical, as the president is declared the, “commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States” in Article Two of the Constitution.  What should not be overlooked, however, is the important role the legislature plays in how America’s armed forces operate.  While the president may have greater direct control over the military, especially in times of war, Congress’s powers under Article One, Section Eight provide both an important check on presidential power, as well as a means for maintaining security within the nation.

Perhaps the most prominent theme throughout this section of Article One is the intent of removing some control of the military from the president and placing it in the hands of Congress.  Examples of this are seen in Clause Fourteen’s allowance for Congress to, “make rules for the government and regulation,” of the army and Clause Fifteen’s reliance on the legislature to summon, “the militia to execute the laws of the Union.”  One may reasonably ask why the Founders, who spoke often in the Federalist Papers of having an independent and energetic executive, would make such enormous cessions of executive power to the legislature.  The answer appears to be rooted primarily in a fear of tyranny.

When one considers the concerns of average citizens during the time of the Founding, one of the most common fears was that America would slide into a tyrannical monarchy.  The most likely origin for such a monarch was the president, a suspicion supported by history.  Most popular forms of government, from the democracy of Athens to the republic of Rome, had collapsed into a tyranny once a sufficiently devious dictator found a weakness in the government’s structure.  Furthermore, these tyrants often obtained and secured their power through the use of the executive’s military control.  Examples of this abound, from Caesar in ancient Rome to Napoleon in France.  If America’s army were to overthrow the popular government it would most likely be at the behest of the president.

This fear of a powerful military president led to some problems for the Founders.  Legislatures, by their nature, make laws and do not independently enforce them.  Furthermore, it was generally understood that foreign diplomacy was best carried out by an entity separate from the legislature for reasons too nuanced to explore here.  Congress was therefore unfit to control the military by itself.  The military could also not be entirely entrusted to the states in the form of completely independent militias, as the nation’s experience under the Articles of Confederation proved that this system was too unorganized to react quickly to an emergency.  A president was literally the only solution.

Regardless of the necessity of independent executive control over the military, the Founders were still not comfortable simply allowing the president to wield unchecked control over the nation’s armed forces.  The limitations described in these clauses, along with Congress’s power over the budget, provide precisely these checks by creating situations in which the president’s normally supreme role in the military is eclipsed by the legislature.  It is interesting here to note that the limitations, particularly Clause Fourteen’s call for the legislature to create rules for the military, were carefully selected so as to only grant Congress powers that fit within its typical duties of creating law.  In this manner, the Founders reduced the threat of a military dictatorship led by an over-ambitious president without gravely distorting the purpose of the American legislature.

While not an issue which is frequently considered today, at the time of the Founding the threat of a military coup weighed heavily upon the minds of many Americans.  Though weakening the authority of the president over the military has its disadvantages, the Founders’ decision to do so in ways consistent with the purpose of Congress created perhaps the best possible compromise between presidential power and civic security.

George Schrader is a student of political science and German at Hillsdale College.

Guest Essayist: Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D., Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia

Article I, Section 1 : All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives

The Constitution of the United States established three separate branches of the federal government, namely the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. Superficially, therefore, one might think that it was a matter of chance as to the order in which each branch would be outlined and defined in this founding document.  Such thinking, however, would be incorrect.  The Founding Fathers did not write the Constitution without careful reference to the prior scholarship of Great Men, and without reference to the history of all prior republican forms of government.  James Madison of Virginia, in particular, drawing heavily upon materials sent to him from Paris by Thomas Jefferson, made certain that the Constitution evolved from the past experience of all the republics that had failed, and would not be written out (as would later be the case with the disastrous French constitution) as an act of constructivist rationalism.

John Locke’s seminal book, Two Treatises of Government – the book that provided the intellectual justification for England’s Glorious Revolution of 1689 – provides the rationale for placing the legislative branch of government at the very beginning of the Constitution: ‘The great end of Men’s entering into Society, being the enjoyment of their Properties in Peace and Safety, and the great instrument and means of that being the Laws establish’d in that Society; the first and fundamental positive Law, which is to govern the Legislative it self, is the establishing of the Legislative Power;…This Legislative is not only the supream power of the Commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the Community have once placed it; nor can any Edict of any Body else, in what Form soever conceived, or by what Power soever backed have the force and obligation of a Law, which has not its Sanction from that Legislative, which the publick has chosen and appointed.’ (Locke, II, para. 134)

The Founding Fathers wisely embraced Locke’s argument establishing the legislature as the central pivot of any social contract through which individuals would consent to place their lives, liberties and properties under the protection of a civil or political society.  It is no accident that Article I of the United States Constitution deals first with the legislature.  Although commentators frequently describe the three branches of government as ‘separate but equal’, the Constitution is silent on that issue.  Although the Founders designed the three branches to be inter-connected, each branch checking the power of the others, they surely relied on Locke’s Second Treatise in recognizing the legislative branch as the fulcrum of the social contract.

The decision to separate the three branches, as defined in Articles I-III, by no means was set in stone when the Convention first assembled in Philadelphia. James Madison, in particular, was deeply impressed by the 1765 Commentaries of William Blackstone, who favored a single unified branch system: ‘It is highly necessary for preserving the balance of the constitution, that the executive power should be a branch, though not the whole, of the legislature.  The total union of them, we have seen, would be productive of tyranny; the total disjunction of them for the present, would in the end produce the same effects, by causing that union, against which it seems to provide.  The legislature would soon become tyrannical, by making continual encroachments, and gradually assuming to itself the rights of the executive power.’ (Blackstone, Commentaries, 1, 149)

Following up on this argument, James Madison while awaiting the arrival of other delegates, etched out a Virginia Plan that envisaged one branch only – the legislative branch.  This branch would be responsible for appointing the executive and the judiciary, although these legislative agents jointly would be empowered to veto legislative decisions under certain circumstances.  However, even such vetoes would be subject to legislative override by some unspecified super-majority.

According to the Virginia Plan, there were to be two chambers of the legislature (a bicameral legislature). Each state would be represented in each chamber in proportion either to its financial contributions or to its number of free inhabitants.  The small states perceived such an arrangement to constitute an inordinate potential threat to their liberties by some effective coalition of the more populous states.  In the Connecticut Compromise of June 29, 1787, the delegates abandoned the Virginia Plan in favor of a bicameral legislature in which the lower chamber (The House) would be based on state populations and the upper chamber (the Senate) would have equal representation.  In reaction to this Compromise, James Madison etched out an ultimately successful case for separating the three branches of government as added checks and balances against the greatly-feared forces of faction.

The question whether the legislature should be composed of a single chamber (unicameral) or two chambers (bicameral) was far from fully resolved at the outset of the Convention.  When George Mason proclaimed to the gathered delegates that ‘the mind of the people of America’ was ‘well settled’ in its attachment to the principle of having a legislature with more than one branch, he was not truly asserting that the matter was beyond contention.  True, eleven of the thirteen states enjoyed bicameral legislatures. However, the Continental Congress consisted of but a single chamber and Pennsylvania, host to the Convention (and the home of the First American, Benjamin Franklin), operated with a unicameral legislature.

Ironically, the major forces in favor of bicameralism at the Convention were the example provided by Britain on the one side and the colonial experiences of the People on the other.  On the one side – and despite the War of Revolution – there lingered a long-standing admiration for the British constitution, at least in its mythic, uncorrupted, form.  From this perspective, the vision of a truly balanced legislature, government, and society gave special authority to the British model.  On the other side, most of the colonies had already developed an upper legislative chamber out of their governors’ councils, which typically represented the concentrated power of great landlords and wealthy merchants.

For persons of property, as all the delegates to the Convention assuredly were, an upper chamber that might check the predations both of a covetous popular assembly and of an aggrandizing executive was especially attractive.  For the populist-minded, the check provided by the upper chamber on executive powers was also not without its attractions.  Thus, the case for bicameralism could be argued both from a quasi-aristocratic and from a profoundly-republican point of view.  Thus it came to pass that discussion of a second upper chamber presumed that its’ membership would be smaller, that members would hold longer terms of office, and that members would be more select, than in the case of the lower chamber.

The lower chamber (the House of Representatives) thus came to be viewed as an embodiment of the popular will, an assembly of representatives who would come close to being reflexes of the people.  Such a body was widely viewed as a necessary foundation of popular government based upon consent.  Standing alone, however, the reflexes of such a body might become as passionate, tyrannical and arbitrary as those of the people that it represented.  An upper chamber (the Senate), capable of checking the foolish or irrational impulses of the population at large, could be viewed as an essential safeguard to the lives, liberties and properties of those who otherwise might be exposed to the untrammeled excesses of the popular will.  The later descent of the French Revolution – with its over-simplified constitutional settlement – into tyranny, bloodshed, and ultimately into the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, would amply justify these reservations advanced so serendipitously in 1787 by delegates to the Philadelphia Convention.

Eventually, the grand design fell into place in Philadelphia and, following a great national debate, was ratified into a magnificent social contract.  Article I, Section 1 of the United States Constitution merely sets the stage.  The full play unfolds in the remainder of this most precious of all constitutional documents.

Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D. is Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia.  He is author of Liberty and the State (The Locke Institute 1993) co-author (with Nathanael Smith) of Economic Contractions in the United States: A Failure of Government (The Locke Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs 2009) and the author of Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste (The Locke Institute 2010).  For further details see

22 Responses to “February 22, 2011 – Article 1, Section 1 of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D., Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia”

  1. Ron Meier says:

February 22, 2011 at 12:39 am

There are some excellent points in this essay to keep in mind as we watch events develop in the Middle East. We can see the passion of the people at work, but are there checks in place that will “safeguard the lives, liberties and properties of those who otherwise might be exposed to the untrammeled excesses of the popular will.” Also interesting to watch is how the checks in the state systems work to constrain the passions of the populace in Wisconsin and other states that will follow in Wisconsin’s footsteps as state budget problems are addressed. Very timely that we should be starting this study at this historical moment.

  1. Shannon_Atlanta says:

February 22, 2011 at 10:16 am

Thank you Dr. Rowley. It amazes me that these men created our government in a timely and relatively quick manner. Compare that to today where it takes months and months for our “leaders” to pass a budget; I am always amazed at what all they accomplished-filled with God’s will in my humble opinion!

  1. Susan says:

February 22, 2011 at 10:18 am

I found it interesting the evolution of the Senate. Out of the House of Lords via the wealthy to a voice of the States as a corporate entity as a counter balance to the tendency of democracies to devolve into mob tyranny.

  1. Shannon_Atlanta says:

February 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

Sue, good points. I think many of us feel that our Founders hated the British system. From what I have read, they actually admired many aspects of the government-thus they borrowed from it. They also were well read on the Anglo-Saxon political system, which England had slowly gotten away from; thus men like Jefferson wanted to get some of their ways back-free will, republican government, etc.

  1. Cutler says:

February 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

The relatively novel idea of having the legislative power invested in two distinct houses shows the genius (God’s?!) at work when the Founding Fathers created the House and the Senate.

  1. steve b says:

February 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I did not know Pennsylvania originaly had a unicameral legislature. Our Founding Fathers were indeed true statesman. I fear we will never again have the leadership and vision our Founding Forefathers had.

  1. Charles K Rowley says:

February 22, 2011 at 7:02 pm

It is indeed quite remarkable how well educated and knowledgable many of the Founding Fathers truly were. At a time when books were scarce, distances hard to travel, and in a country that had experienced a major internal war, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and others somehow made the effort to read and understand why past republics had always failed. On that basis they were able to craft a Constitution that would survive at least for two centuries, though now, of course, it is tattered and torn. In 2011, when books are easily available and the internet immediately accessible, how many American politicians, from the President down, are well read in such literature. Until January 2011, how many elected politicians had actually read the Constitution? Sadly, knowledge appears to regress as the opportunities to access it expand. I am sure that Benjamin Franklin would have had an amusing way of making that point!

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Part of the end run of the bicameral system came out of the right of sufferage. It became a grand principal that it is unjust to demand citizens to obey laws that they have no say in the writting and amending of such laws. So it was that the rights of land owning free-holders that were 90% in the majority at the time balanced against the future influx of non-land holding immigrants that was expected to come. The Founders thought it best that the bicameral system would be predominant land-holders in one house and populist commoners in the other house. This also did away with the “mixed government” feature of Parliament where the caste system of seats designated to caste members of society to represent the various interests of society. Congressmen now are elected upon full popular vote of the electorate in their district regardelss of class.

As for the presupposition that that the THREE branches of government are separate and EQUAL, the legislature is actually the most powerful branch of government. In Federalist #51 James Madison said: “But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.”

The legislature indeed is the most powerful branch for it has more checks on the other branches of government than any other branch. First, it passes statuatory law. The executive cannot act nor the judiciary pass judgement without laws to act on. And if the judiciary makes an opinion that is in a quandary with the law, Congress simply can pass more statuatory law. Congress consents to appointments of officers in the other branches; and has the power to impeach and remove the same. Congress has the power to tax and appropriate funds and so can effectively defund any operation of government and is another form of congressional oversight on the other branches of government. At the last, Congress has the power regulate the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court such that Congress may deny the SCOTUS of hearing particular cases among the states. And contrary to popular opinion: judges do not make or repeal laws. Judges simply decide whether or not one party in a case suffers harm from another party and then gives an opinion why they decide as such. Court decisions are not law therefor they are called OPINIONS.

  1. Debbie Bridges says:

February 22, 2011 at 9:01 pm

It is interesting to watch the three branches of Government in today’s political arena. Health Care for instance. This was originally passed in the Legislative but with the change of political power in the House and the will of the people the House has voted to defund it. Hopefully the Supreme court will hear the case and rule it unconstitutional. At the same time though, I worry because the President seems to circumvent the Legislative Branch through Executive Orders and appointing Czars not subject to the normal Advise and Consent process of the Senate.

  1. zac allen says:

February 23, 2011 at 12:11 am

This is an interesting discussion at this very moment in time in this country. We have educators, media pundints, and all sorts of people talking about democracy in action. Our Founders knew through the lens of history, that true democracy , mob rule, was no way to run a government. It eventually destroys the individual, as does collective bargaining.
Representative democracy with a republican form of Government is what they created…. and now we have Progressives trying to undermine that principle. Bi-Cameral houses with each a distinct role. Incredible… isn’t it….. sorry for the skipping around

  1. Charles K. Rowley says:

February 23, 2011 at 8:00 am

Ralph, Debbie and Zac all make great points on the issue of checks and balances and the role of the legislature. Before FDR, the constitution worked well. Then the legislature began to divest regulatory powers to the President and the Supreme Court buckled under the threat to increase its numbers with progressive appointees. In consequence, the balance shifted. Now the President is far more powerful than was ever envisaged, and the Supreme Court offers excessive deference to the legislature when reviewing laws for their constitutionality. Yet, save for a few bad amendments, the Constitution’s wording has not changed. That is the problem. How can America move back to the true Constitution under such circumstances?

  1. Janine Turner says:

February 23, 2011 at 11:45 am

Dr. Rowley, I thank you for your most informative essay!
It is worth noting how our founding father’s based their decisions, regarding the drafting of the Constitution, on two basic principles: knowledge and history.
They were well read and acquainted with what had worked and what had not, in regard to government, in the past. They also were well acquainted with superb political and philosophical works of great minds throughout history. Their prudence was based on practical precedents.
The checks and balances and bicameral legislature are of brilliant design and most relevant to today as we: 1) still practice it today 2) need to vigilantly maintain these principles.
Only with a keen knowledge of our Constitution’s contents can we preserve our liberties. I thank you for your generosity of time, as it helps me to understand more clearly my call to action!

  1. Ron Meier says:

February 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

re Dr. Rowley,
And, add to that the significant increase in the number of Czars in the current White House. This seems to be adding even more power within the office of the President. Should the Congress do something to disallow power to these czars?

  1. Jon says:

February 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

May I offer a few items in response to “How can America move back to the true Constitution under such circumstances?”
Thomas Jefferson, 1825 in response to William B. Giles who expressed his concern over encroaching federal power.

“I see, as you do, and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our Government is advancing toward the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power. Take together the decisions of the federal court, the doctrines of the President, and the misconstructions of the constitutional compact acted on by the legislature of the federal branch, and it is but too evident, that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them…”
“And what is our resource for the preservation of the Constitution? Reason and argument? You might as well reason and argue with the marble columns encircling them. The representatives chosen by ourselves? They are joined in the combination, some from incorrect views of government, some from corrupt ones, sufficient voting together to outnumber the sound parts…”

“We must have patience and longer endurance then with our brethren while under delusion; give them time for reflection and experience of consequences; keep ourselves in a situation to profit by the chapter of accidents… meanwhile, the States should be watchful to note every material usurpation on their rights; to denounce them as they occur in the most peremptory terms; to protest against them as wrongs to which our present submission shall be considered, not as acknowledgments or precedents of right, but as a temporary yielding… This is the course which I think safest and best as yet.”

William B. Giles took Jefferson’s advice; he ran for and won the Governorship of Virginia in 1827.

Jefferson alluding to our success, the law of nature IE; Locke.
“A great revolution has taken place at Paris. The people of that country having never been in the habit of self-government, are not yet in the habit of acknowledging that fundamental law of nature by which alone self government can be exercised by a society. Of the sacredness of this law, our countrymen are impressed from their cradle, so that with them it is almost innate. This single circumstance may possibly decide the fate of the two nations.”. 1800 Thomas Jefferson

Adam’s regarding education, including the law of nature IE; Locke
“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature…” John Adam 1765

  1. Ray Simoneaux says:

February 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Janine, I found out about Constituting America by watching Freedom Watch. Thank you and your organization taking on the project. I am truly amazed of just how many people I talk with daily, who have never read the Constitution ( I personally have three pocket size editions; home, office and vehicle). I look forward to learn more of the analysis of OUR Constitution!

Dr Rowley, your reply to Ralph, Debbie and Zac is exactly how I feel about the Constitution! I really get frustrated when talking with friends or co-workers who “believe everything the see or hear on the news.” I often get strange looks/comments when those people close to me, hear me make the statement, “Where in the Constitution does it give them (the politicians) the authority to do that?” I have come to the conclusion that they have never read/understood the Constitution, therefore they don’t know what our politicians can/can’t do. Thank you for your assistance to the Constituting America Organization in their project.

  1. Shelby Seymore says:

February 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Again, I agree with Cutler. They actually set up this government out of the Bible in Leviticus. This wasn’t a just a remarkable appearance of a government that worked. It’s not the big bang theory! There was Divine Providence and they knew it.

  1. Charles K Rowley says:

February 23, 2011 at 4:47 pm

The insights offered by Janine and Jon are very important at this time. The checks and balances written into the Constitution serve a great purpose in slowing down the popular impulse. But this works both ways. When the political situation becomes bleak, as it surely was prior to November 2010, the checks and balances slow down constitutional recovery. The good constitutionalist acknowledges this and bides his time. Any true reversal of fortune must await November 2012, a change in President and a change in Senate majority. This can only occur if key actors understand the Constitution and work cautiously to reinforce constitutionalism rather than to skirt around it. This will irritate the impatient, but the long-run objective must always be kept in mind. In the meantime, some Republican Governors are performing well in their attempts to re-assert states’ rights.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 24, 2011 at 5:08 am

Chares K Rowley said: How can America move back to the true Constitution under such circumstances?

Tom Woods has an answer to the question: State Nullification

The premise of the State of Virginia ratifying the U.S. Constitution was on the very question of what if the general government department assumes powers not given in Art 1. Sec 8? The answer was that the State of Virginia is a sovereign state free to disregard such federal acts.

  1. Charles K. Rowley says:

February 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

Ralph’s point is exactly correct. But the principle was overriden by the War of Northern Aggression and the victory of the North over the South. Since then nullification has not proved to be an attractive option for States even when the rights of their citizens have been seriously eroded by the federal government.

  1. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

February 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

@Ray Simoneaux,
My new favorite phrase for townhall meetings is:
“3/4ths the states never ratified such a measure!” More astonished looks.

@Charles K. Rowley,
Another remedy is another Constitutional Convention. Three times we came rather near to having one. Just the imminence of a ConCon can make Congress react. There is a lot of anxiety about having one as there really is no agenda that can be enforced on a ConCon. On the other hand, much of the “horse and buggy” provisions in that 1787 instrument is exploited by political graft no matter whose administration is in office. I have a draft instrument coined “Congress 2.0″ of nearly two dozen amendments which includes a confederate vote measure where a 1/5 dissent on germaneness of a bill, or a bill riding measure, in both federal houses then remands the measure to the states for a confederate vote of 2/3rds majority. A compact soveriegnty of states measure. I also have a lame duck provisional legislation and adjournment/recess appointment and pocket veto bypass amendments, and measures to assure members of Congress spend more time with their constituents; and for Senators, the constituency is the state capitol, affording remote visual conferencing be allowed for members to vote. It sure could use more scrutiny and maturation with tweaks and polished.

  1. Seth Richardson says:

February 25, 2011 at 9:52 pm

This section, in conjunction with Article II, Section 1 and Article II, Section 3, delineating the powers and duties of the President are of particular interest at this moment, what with the President deciding all on his own that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is “unconstitutional” and his directing Attorney General Eric Holder not to further defend it in court.

The question of a President’s authority to refuse or fail to enforce duly-enacted laws of Congress is a serious one which I address in some detail at my blog, The Broadside.

The essence of the problem is that if the President has authority to decide for himself what laws are constitutional and what laws are not, he is usurping both the legislative authority of Congress and the judicial authority of the Supreme Court.

It is my view that this comprises an impeachable offense. This very matter was the subject of an impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868. Johnson only survived removal by the Senate by one vote.

As for Holder, he is employed by the United States, which is the People, to represent our interests in court, and to zealously defend ALL laws duly enacted by the Congress, not just the ones he wants to defend or that the President tells him to defend.

He should therefore be disbarred and fired.

  1. Charles K. Rowley says:

February 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

Ralph’s suggestion about a constitutional convention has been discussed recently with respect to the balanced budget amendment proposal. As yet, it falls short of the number of states (two-thirds) required to call the convention. Ralph is correct that even the threat of such a convention tends to bring Congress to heel. The risk is whether a convention – once called – can be constrained to the issue it is supposed to address. After all the 1787 convention ignored its mandate, which was to reform the Articles of Confederation.

Seth’s concern about Presidential overreach is really important. If the United States enjoyed an independent judiciary that is precisely where the federal courts should intervene. But they are filled with inadequates who will not challenge a President. Impeachment is now an entirely political issue and the Congress does not have the votes to impeach and convict a Democratic President. So, such an attempt would be a huge waste of time. Holder holds his position pretty much at Obama’s discretion. And there is not a snowflake’s chance in Hell that Obama will remove a carefully selected ‘brother’ at this time.


Posted in Analyzing the Constitution Essay Archives | 22 Comments »

The Powers of the President, From the New York Packet (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

In Federalist 69, Hamilton responds to the charge by the Constitution’s opponents that the president is an American king. He compares the powers of the “president of confederated America” (interesting phrasing) under the Constitution with those of the king of Great Britain and the governor of New York. He chooses the latter for several reasons. First, the essays of Publius are written during the pendency of the New York and Virginia ratifying conventions and were obviously intended in the first instance to influence those closely-fought skirmishes.

Second, Hamilton was deeply involved in state politics as a member of the downstate faction that favored both the Constitution and, later, the Federalist Party. Though it is hard to believe today, New York City politically was, in many ways, a Tory town. It was a hotbed of Loyalist sentiment during the Revolutionary War, so much so that the British made it their headquarters. Hamilton was intimately familiar with the operation of his state’s government and, given the emerging significance of the city and state, would  find New York’s system more important than others’.

Third, the governor of New York was a rather strong chief executive compared to the state governors at the time. Comparing the president’s powers favorably to those of a republican American state executive would resonate particularly well with the persuadable delegates by avoiding charges that comparing the prerogatives of the president to those of the British monarch was irrelevant to the cause, as no American king was to be crowned.

But there is one more reason. The governor of New York, George Clinton, was the presiding officer at the convention and a staunch Antifederalist. He was also a member of the upstate Albany faction politically opposed to Hamilton. Clinton is the likely author of potent attacks on the Constitution in  “Letters of Cato.” Many historians believe that it was the publication of some of those letters that induced the Constitution’s supporters to organize the effort that became The Federalist. The executive was one of Cato’s particular concerns. In an essay published four months before Federalist 69, Cato labeled the president the “generalissimo of the nation,” assailed the scope of the president’s powers, compared those powers alarmingly with those of the king of Great Britain (especially the war power), and warned, “You must, however, my countrymen, beware that the advocates of this new system do not deceive you by a fallacious resemblance between it and your own state government [New York]….If you examine, you…will be convinced that this government is no more like a true picture of your own than an Angel of Darkness resembles an Angel of Light.” Hamilton had no choice but to respond.

The result is a brief comparative overview, the particulars of which do not matter much today, as the king’s prerogatives, already circumscribed then, are virtually non-existent now. The essay does provide an introduction to various powers of the president, most of which are in Article II of the Constitution. Hamilton will delve into greater detail of various of them over the course of Federalist 73 to 77.

The Framers saw Congress as the most dangerous branch, and the one most likely to encroach on the domain of the others. While there were dangers in an independent and powerful executive, the lessons from the Revolutionary War and life under the Articles showed the need for just such an officer. The turbulence of state governments with weak and dependent executives only proved the point. Most agreed that a strong, independent executive was needed. But, how strong?
What is significant for us is the dog that does not bark, the constitutional clauses that are not mentioned by Publius. Not long after the Constitution was approved, Hamilton used the occasion of Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation in 1793 to advance a broad theory of implied executive powers. His position, vigorously challenged by Madison during the Pacificus-Helvidius debates, was that the president has all powers that are not denied to him under the Constitution either expressly or by unambiguous grant to another branch. That approach has been used by subsequent presidents to fuel the expansion of executive power.

Article II is rather short, and the president’s powers few and specific. Beyond that, the boundaries are vague. It was broadly understood that George Washington would be the first president. The general recognition of his propriety and incorruptibility meant that he would have discretion to define the boundaries of the office. Indeed, Washington was expected to do so, and he was well aware of that responsibility. In addition to the oath of office, there are three clauses whose text suggests room for discretion. Those three, the executive power clause, the commander-in-chief clause, and the clause that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” have proved to be generous reservoirs of necessary implied executive powers.

Publius spends little time on the commander-in-chief clause, and essentially none on the others. He portrays the role of the president as if he would be confined to leading the troops in military engagements. While Washington, with Hamilton as his aide, actually dressed in military regalia and mounted up to lead troops during the Whiskey Rebellion, they soon delegated that project to General “Light Horse Harry” Lee. That is the least likely role of the president today. Indeed, even during the ratification debates, that was a questionable view not usually advocated, as it frightened republicans by blurring the line between civilian control and military command and was thought likely to lead to the election of “military chieftains.”

The executive power clause is the principal source for the president’s implied or inherent powers, those that the president’s detractors would disparagingly call royal or prerogative powers. The textual significance is that, while Article I says that, “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress …,” Article II declares that, “The executive power shall be vested in a President …”[italics added]. That affirmative grant to the president has to mean something, and –unlike Article I regarding Congress–it has to mean more than the powers mentioned later in the text. The question ever since has been, “Just what does it mean?” Presidents have massaged that ambiguity and the flexibility of the other elastic clauses mentioned to act unilaterally, as necessity demands, usually in military affairs, foreign relations, and national security matters. Executive unilateralism came under particular scrutiny by Congress, the courts, the academy, and the media during the Bush(43) administration, though interest in that topic has slackened since the election of 2008–perhaps not coincidentally.

Not surprisingly, as advocate for the Constitution’s adoption, Hamilton does not spend time defending, or even recognizing, the theory of implied executive powers that he embraced soon thereafter. The enumeration of specific limited presidential powers and Hamilton’s soothing interpretations in Federalist 69 do not give due credit to the possible sweep of the executive office. His next essay presents a more forthright defense of the need for an energetic executive.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law.  Prof. Knipprath has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  His website is


Federalist No. 73 begins the examination of the powers of the Presidency, with a discussion of the President’s role in the legislative process, specifically, the veto.  In writing about the veto power, Publius travels back to Article I of the United States Constitution, the section of the Constitution dedicated to the legislative branch.  Nowhere in Article II, the section of the Constitution dedicated to the Executive branch, is the veto power mentioned.

“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become 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.”–Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution

“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.”–Article I, Section 7, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution

Article II, the portion of the Constitution describing the executive branch function, states the President’s obligation to provide the Congress information through the State of the Union, recommend proposals for their consideration, convene both Houses in extraordinary circumstances, or adjourn both Houses in the case of disagreement between them with respect to the time of adjournment:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper….”–Article II, Section 3

The Presidential veto is one of the most important checks and balances in our system of government. By requiring 2/3’s vote in both Houses to override a presidential veto, the Constitution ensures that controversial bills must have overwhelming support of the people, through their representatives in Congress, to become law.

It is interesting that the President’s important power of the veto, never mentioned by the name “veto” in the United States Constitution, is located in Article I, the article describing powers of the legislative branch.  The President, as head of the executive branch, has the power to execute, or carry out the laws of the United States, through the various Departments and agencies.  But through Article I, Section 7, Clauses 2 and 3, he also has the power to enact legislation in two ways:

1. Sign the bill        OR

2. Refuse to sign or return the bill within 10 days (not counting Sundays), when the Congress is in session.

The President has the power to disapprove legislation in two ways:

1. Return the bill “with objections,” (his veto) OR

2. Fail to return or sign the bill within the ten day window during which an Adjournment occurs (known as a pocket veto).

The legislative process and veto power of the President was so important to the framers that they devoted unusual specificity to this subject, detailing the number of days the President has to make his decision to sign, return, or not act, even exempting Sundays in the 10 day period!!!  The 2/3’s required to override the presidential veto is also a well thought out measure addressed in Federalist No. 73:

“It is to be hoped that it will not often happen that improper views will govern so large a proportion as two thirds of both branches of the legislature at the same time; and this, too, in spite of the counterposing weight of the Executive. It is at any rate far less probable that this should be the case, than that such views should taint the resolutions and conduct of a bare majority.”

Professor Rowley brings up the issue of the line item veto, within the context of the “qualified veto.”  I have been a supporter of the line item veto for many years, ever since President Reagan called for this power in his State of the Union in 1986:

“And tonight, I ask you to give me what 43 Governors have — give me a line-item veto this year. (Applause.) Give me the authority to veto waste, and I’ll take the responsibility, I’ll make the cuts, I’ll take the heat.”

President Clinton finally received the power of the line item veto, but the Supreme Court has since ruled it unconstitutional.  It seems that the only way for the president to have the power of the line item veto would be with a constitutional amendment.  And given the forethought the framers put into devising the structure of the veto, as well as the specificity they devoted describing the process, a constitutional amendment would be the most appropriate way to grant the president this power.

Governors across America have found the line-item veto to be an invaluable tool in cutting spending.  And with the Congress’s propensity to pass 3,500 page pork-laden bills, I believe the line item veto would be a useful tool for the president to have.  I respect Professor Rowley’s arguments against it, however, and am thankful for this forum in which we can discuss policy options in a civil and respectful manner.  Thank you also to Professor Rowley for your ongoing blog comments, and your reminder of the inspiration of George Washington, his crossing of the Delaware, and his appeal to the spirit of Americans!

Thank you to all of you for your well thought out blog comments! Each of you sheds a little more light on the issues at hand with the insights you share!

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie
Friday, August 6th, 2010


Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Articles IV through VII of the Constitution are, even for many educated Americans, terra incognita. People may know about the first three articles, important as they are in defining the separation of powers at the national level among the three branches and in drawing basic divisions between the national government and the states. Despite their brevity, these often-overlooked articles play significant roles.

When the Constitution was adopted, the framers hoped, as the Preamble declares, to form a “more perfect Union.”  They recognized (in part out of political calculation) that a union already existed under the Articles of Confederation. They wanted to tweak the system enough to place it on a sounder political and economic footing. Part of their plan was to give more independence to a revamped United States government, as the first three Articles demonstrate. But, given the size of the republic and the dispersion of its population, the national government was expected to remain a comparatively restrained political player. While the suspicion over “consolidation” was often in the open, the enumeration of formally limited powers and the practice of a part-time Congress were evidence of the expected state of affairs.

Quite naturally, then, much was left to the constitutional domain and the political discretion of the states. Inter-state collaboration and cooperation were practical necessities. Half of Article IV deals with that fact of political life. The “full faith and credit” clause of Section 1 and the “privileges and immunities,” “extradition,” and (now superseded) “fugitive slave” clauses of Section 2 are testaments to the Framers’ concerns about potential interstate frictions that might undermine union. All but the last were also in the Articles of Confederation, and the same continue to be significant today.

One area of potential constitutional conflict in the future is whether or not a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage is constitutionally obligated to give full faith and credit to a same-sex marriage granted in another state. Currently, the federal Defense of Marriage Act protects non-recognition of a same-sex marriage granted in another state. But that law itself may be unconstitutional under Article IV. It’s a close case, though there is some judicial precedent for the position that a state need not recognize an act of a sister state that is repugnant to its own public policy.

The other half of Article IV deals with obligations of the federal government to the states. In little more than 100 words, Section 3 sets forth Congress’s powers to create new states and to dispose of territory and property of the United States. That section was the source of critical federal policies during the great westward push under Manifest Destiny through which unorganized territory became organized and, eventually, advanced to statehood.

Section 4 obligates the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, to protect each state against invasion, and to render assistance against domestic violence if asked. The state of Arizona may well ask whether the federal government has breached that second obligation in failing to protect the border against armed marauders, thereby necessitating the state to take stronger actions against illegal aliens. The last part of Section 4 is one explanation for why the federal military response to Hurricane Katrina was so “late.” The federal government was constitutionally obligated to wait for a request from the governor for assistance, a request slow in coming.

Article V may be the most important part of the Constitution, as it provides the formal means of amendment. This was an area of laborious compromise and reflects a combination of experience with the Articles of Confederation and the various state constitutions, and the development of American constitutional theories of popular sovereignty that broke with English constitutionalism.

There are two methods of proposing amendments and two methods for ratification. The method used for all amendments to the Constitution, though not for the drafting of the Constitution itself, is to have a vote by 2/3 of each house of Congress. Though the matter is constitutionally not free from doubt, by long-accepted practice, the president’s signature is not needed. Many framers feared, however, that the Congress would not advance amendments that might curtail federal power. Hence an alternative permits 2/3 of the states to petition Congress for a convention to propose amendments. Though this method has not been used, some proposals have come close. There are almost the needed number of states for a balanced-budget amendment, a matter that is taking on added urgency in view of trillion dollar deficits.

If an amendment is proposed, 3/4 of the states must approve, either by legislatures (a “republican” principle) or state conventions (a “quasi-democratic” principle), as Congress directs. All but the amendment to repeal prohibition have gone the legislative route. These supermajority requirements were a compromise between the English constitutional theory (also used in early state constitutions) that allowed constitutional change by simple majority vote of the legislature and the unanimity requirement for constitutional change under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution, the Framers concluded, must be amendable, but not so freely as to promote instability. Note, though, that the Constitution does not have the “democratic” option of amendment by petition or vote of the people directly, as many states have.

Article VI contains a pillar of our federal structure, the “supremacy clause.” That clause makes the federal Constitution, treaties, and statutes superior to conflicting state laws. The clause is an enhanced version of a blander clause in the Articles of Confederation. It enshrines a principle central to the revised structure of the Constitution, that of a sovereign United States independent of, and—within its delegated functions—superior to, the states. From a political perspective, it is not an overstatement to say that, for better or worse, this is the most significant provision in the development of the current (im)balance that exists between the national government and the states.

Equally important, Article VI expressly binds the state courts to abide by the federal supreme law when there exists a conflict with state law. That provision recognizes that, since the Supreme Court is the only constitutionally required federal tribunal, state courts might operate as inferior federal courts. It also creates a judicial “branch” that straddles the divide between federal sovereignty and state sovereignty more than the political branches do.

Article VII provides for the process of ratification. There are many fascinating historical undercurrents at work in the Article. First, it encapsulates the revolutionary nature of the process that led to the Constitution. It must be recalled that the Articles of Confederation required that the Congress approve any amendment, which then also had to be approved by the legislature of each state. Also, the charge from the Confederation Congress to the Convention was “for the sole and express purpose” of reporting to Congress and the states proposed revisions that still had to be approved by Congress and the states, all in conformance with the existing structure.

The Framers, however, created a completely new structure to replace the Articles. In Article VII, they made it sufficient for initial ratification that only nine states approve. In the resolution to send a courtesy copy to the Confederation Congress, the Philadelphia Convention very pointedly required approval by the states but not the Congress. Moreover, the approval was to be by conventions in the states, not by the legislatures.

The non-unanimity requirement is significant because the Framers faced a practical problem. Rhode Island was so opposed to the project that they had not even sent delegates. They were, therefore, hardly likely to approve. Rhode Island’s non-attendance, by the way, is one reason why the Committee of Style changed the Preamble of the Constitution from “We, the people of [then listed the states]” to “We, the people of the United States.” Moreover, the Articles had taken four years to approve. The concern was that unanimous approval would encourage a similar delay. Delay works against constitutional change, as the supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment found out in the 1970s. The Framers gambled that adoption by nine states would create its own momentum for adoption by the other four. The gamble worked, but it turned out to be a close-run thing.

The requirement for conventions was both practical, in that the anti-Constitution forces were more likely entrenched among the political interests in the state legislatures than among more broadly selected conventions. Conventions also reflected better the emerging American political theory that, while legislatures made ordinary laws, constitutions were expressions of shared fundamental political values that went to the very purpose of government. Constitutions, then, were social contracts resting on more direct exercise of popular sovereignty. They were, in the words of George Washington, “explicit and authentic acts” of the people. Since the entire population of a state could not be brought together to deliberate and vote on the Constitution, a convention selected for that purpose from the people of the state was the next best alternative.

A final oddity in Article VII is that the signatories made a rather sterile declaration of witness. In the Articles of Confederation, the signatories declared that they fully ratify and confirm everything said therein and pledged their constituents’ support. In the Constitution, the signatories merely attest that the “States present” (i.e., no Rhode Island) unanimously approved the Convention’s actions. A number of delegates had left the convention because they personally disapproved of the result, as did some of those who remained to sign. In this manner of attesting, there was no personal commitment of support that could prove politically problematic back home. It is like being a witness to a will signing. The witnesses merely attest that the process, such as having the testator sign the document after declaring it to be his will, was completed properly. The witnesses are not declaring their support for the substance of the will. Therefore, if the testator disinherits his family and gives everything to his golf buddies, the witnesses are not morally implicated.

In the end, it was somewhat of a political miracle that the Constitution was adopted at all. It is not a perfect document, and, had the people then been able to see the political reality in which it operates today, they might well have preferred something else. But it endures for many as a symbol of what should be, not only what is—the idea of the Constitution as much as its function.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Professor Joerg W. Knipprath

Southwestern Law School

Los Angeles, California

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.

Posted in Articles IV – VII of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Scholar Essays | Edit | 47 Comments »

47 Responses to “April 262010 – Articles IV – VII of the U.SConstitution – Guest BloggerJoerg KnipprathProfessor ofLaw at Southwestern Law School

  1. Daniel Smith says:

    Could states like California and Texas, with the approval of Congress, be divided thereby avoiding the presidential problem of 2000.

  2. Shannon C. says:

    The supremacy clause allows Federal Law to supersede State’s law. But doesn’t that mean the state’s don’t have to adhere to federal law if that federal law is unconstitutional-such as mandated healthcare?

  3. Shannon C. says:

    Do states have the right to secede from the Union?

  4. Susan Craig says:

    The provision for states to propose amendments makes a Constitutional Convention a lot more likely in the present situation as I (and I think most) thought it would entail a redo of the entire document. As I read it, at the next Governors meeting they could convene a convention specificly to draft a balance budget amendment or a strengthening of the 10th amendment change to put before congress. This makes the objections to a ConCon less daunting.

    I, also, appreciated the reminder of the drafters humanity with the inclusion of the errata sheet in the last article.

  5. Reed W says:

    Thanks for clarifying and bringing it all into current events.

  6. Carolyn Attaway says:

    @Shannon – according to sources, Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869) was argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1869. The Court held in a 5–3 decision that the Constitution did not permit states to secede from the United States, and that the ordinances of secession, and all the acts of the legislatures within seceding states intended to give effect to such ordinances, were “absolutely null”. However, the decision did allow some possibility of the divisibility “through revolution, or through consent of the States”.[29][30]

    I find the last line fascinating, given all the current legistlation that is being formed in many states since this current administration came to office. It seems the 2 major issues, healthacre and immigration have caused the most uproar given the current number of states suing the federal gov’t over the healthcare mandate and commerce laws, and the new immigration law that was just signed in Arizona.

    However, all states appear to be working on their State Legistlation to prepare for any possible future conflicts with Federal Law. For example on April 1, 2009, (as I understand it) the Georgia State Senate passed a resolution 43-1 affirming states’ rights based on Jeffersonian principles; and for other purposes. Acts which would cause a nullification of federal law include, but are not limited to:
    Further infringements on the right to keep and bear arms including prohibitions of type or quantity of arms or ammunition; Any act regarding religion; further limitations on freedom of political speech; or further limitations on freedom of the press, and Requiring involuntary servitude, or governmental service other than a draft during a declared war, or pursuant to, or as an alternative to, incarceration after due process of law.

    It will be interesting to follow the Supreme Court procedure regarding States Rights in the HealthCare Case. And as I understand it, the healthcare law cannot be challenged until it goes into effect and some one or entity is harmed by the law. Such as a shareholder of a company that goes out of business due to the costs/taxes imposed by the law, they can sue the gov’t for theft. Also, the commerce laws makes no provision to force someone to engage in interstate commerce.

    Also, I appreciated the point made about the Federal gov’t being constitutionally obligated to wait for a State Governor’s request for assistance before intervention can be enacted. The contrast between Katrina and Arizona is striking regarding the assistance from the Federal Gov’t.

  7. Susan says:

    This is so interesting. Yesterday, my husband and I were having a discussion about the new immigration law in Arizona. I see it as unconstitutional and he see’s it as the state having to do something since the Federal Government has not fulfilled its obligation. We had to agree to disagree on this one.

  8. Robert Shanbaum says:

    Shannon C. wrote, “Do states have the right to secede from the Union?”

    Apparently not. See, U.S. Civil War, 1861-1865; an example of a Constitutional dispute not settled by the judiciary.

  9. Robert Shanbaum says:

    Susan Craig, I don’t see where a “Governors meeting” could enter into any call for a Constitutional convention – a petition by “the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several states” is the requirement. The executives of the states are left out of the process.

    Note that there’s no language that suggests that there would be any limit to the amendments that could be proposed at such a convention.

    There’s a requirement in the Connecticut Constitution that requires, every 20 years, a referendum on whether to hold a constitutional convention to amend (or conceivably replace) the state constitution. This was most recently held in 2008, when 59% of voters answered “no.”

    The reason the question failed, I think, is that it was seen as likely to attract activists – persons having one axe or another to grind – to a disproportionate degree. In the pursuit of one’s objective by that means, one runs a substantial risk of getting something one doesn’t want .

  10. Robert Shanbaum says:

    By the way, Shannon C., you may be interested in Andrew Jackson’s response to your question, given 33 years before the issue was settled with finality:

    Jackson could run on; here’s the most apposite passage:

    But each State having expressly parted with so many powers as to constitute jointly with the other States a single nation, cannot from that period possess any right to secede, because such secession does not break a league, but destroys the unity of a nation, and any injury to that unity is not only a breach which would result from the contravention of a compact, but it is an offense against the whole Union.

  11. Susan Craig says:

    State Suffrage? Hasn’t that been abrogated by the XVII amendment? Article V: The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

    The only thing that has been changed is that the State has been deprived of its Suffrage by the XVIIth amendment which removed from the state the right to select its Senators.

  12. Article V is my favorite part of the entire Constitution, for it puts into the hands of the states a way to bring our runaway Congress back under our control. We need additional amendments to:
    1. Impose lifetime term limits of 12 years on Congress
    2. Impose a requirement for a Balanced Budget
    3. Repeal the 16th Amendment and force implementation of a consumption tax(i.e., the Fair Tax.
    4. Impose Congressional integrity that: (a) forces a statement of Constitutional authority to be attached to every bill, (b) forces an affidavit that they have read and understand every bill, (c) prevents them from exemting themselves from any law, and (d) prevents them from enacting any program for themselves that is not available to the general public.

  13. Ron Meier says:

    Thanks, your comments provide some interesting additional color and current relevance that I had not picked up on my initial reading and note taking.

  14. Susan Craig says:

    There is an annual meeting of Governors. If at this years convocation of governors, they got 34 of them to agree that an amendment was needed (say on clarification of the commerce clause, immigration or a balanced budget) would that be a call to convene a Convention for that limited purpose?

  15. Lillian Harvey says:

    I was thinking the same thing, Susan, after reading the Articles and Prof. Knipprath’s blog. Given the political climate today, we certainly can not count on Congress to act on behalf of the People as their will appears to serve the interest of their political party and ideology instead. That’s my opinion anyway. I also don’t feel we could count on all the state legislatures for the same reason. But, some guidance on setting up conventions within the States would be a start.
    A question for the participants: if you were part of a constitutional convention in your state, what issues would you want addressed? Where do you think our biggest problem is? The one condition I would suggest is that the 50 United States remain intact, as I believe our strength has always been in our unity.

  16. ERL says:

    Could the State Legislatures limit the agenda of a Constitutional Convention? For example, could 2/3 of the states approve a resolution calling for a convention, but only to consider specific amendments? Any other topics would be off-limits, and the state delegation would be given strict instrutions to withdraw if any other topic was discussed. The only amendments that could be discussed and acted upon would be those approved by at least 2/3 of the states.

    This would be a means to “control” a convention, and prevent it from spiraling out of control and overthrowing theConstitution itself.

    This method thus imposes three “filters” (or checks, if you will), on a Constitutional Convention.

    First, the agenda items would have to be approved by 2/3 of the states. No other topics would be permitted.

    Second, the Convention, made up of delegations from each state that chooses to participate (even if they did not approve a resolution calling for the convention in the first place), would debate each proposed amendment. The Convention would decide (by majority vote) whether to propose an amendment, and would also approve the final language of the amendment. The debate at the convention would thus be a second “filter” (or check).

    Third, any proposed amendments would be sent to the States for consideration (either by state legislatures, or by state conventions). This would provide the third “filter.”

    Finally, the Convention would be public, and would probably generate a great deal of media coverage and discussion. This openness would serve as a sort of “brake” on the convention, because the public would not accept a radical departure from the Constitution.

  17. Shannon C. says:

    Lillian Harvey , I live in Georgia. My desires would be the following Amendments:

    1. Balanced Budget
    2. Term Limits-one term each, as I am so anti Congress:)
    3. Repeal the 16th Amendment and say a human’s labor cannot be taxed (income tax). A consumption tax would be my choice.
    4. Reword the 10th Amendment to make it understandable to the Big Government Lovers: If it isn’t in theConstitution, stay out of it!

  18. Susan Craig says:

    I feel the relevant portion is as follows; on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; If called for by their governors the individual states legislatures concurring would constitute a call for such a convention and it also says nothing about needing to start from scratch the scope could be as confined as necessary.

  19. Thomas Soyars says:

    @Susan — can you point out a section of the Constitution that makes the Arizona law unconstitutional? What about Article IV Section 4. “and shall protect each of them against Invasion” Look sto me like the federal government has failed in their duty and the state is taking it upon itself to remedy the problem. Congress has also failed to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization” (Article I, Section 8).

    @Mike Lowry I agree with most of your recommendations but I have a problem with a balanced budget amendment that is too strict. There may be times (war, severe natural disaster, economic upheaval) that would require the government to run a temporarily unbalance budget. I would propose a measure that teh government be required to have a balanced budget over a rolling five year period. That way you could run a deficit in one or more years and be able to make it up in other years. It would give more flexibility but still provide for a balanced budget overall. I would also add an amendment that the federal government cannot pass unfunded mandates onto the states.

    @Joerg Knipprath — the best blog yet (in my humble opinion).

  20. Joe Rech says:

    -Term limits – three for House, two for senate, two for Pres. Retirement gained in thirds for House, halfs for Senate and Pres.
    -Balanced budget – except in times of national emergency (disaster or war)
    -Repeal taxes – any current taxes enacted for a specific purpose and that purpose no longer exists, immediate repeal.
    -VAT replace income tax, started at some level like 11% and NEVER to exceed 17%, not always levied on all levels of production and not always the same on all products (can be 11% on food, 17% on yachts?)
    -limits on other taxes – 25% inheritance tax on $1mil or more, cap gains tax limits 15%
    -reiterate oath – support and defend the constitution – not interpret the constitution.

  21. Donna Hardeman says:

    Lillian – I agree with Shannon’s List (which is almost identical to Mike’s list). The one thing I would point out, however, is my belief that Congress – either house – be allowed 2 terms. I believe you need some members in Congress who are not “lame ducks” i.e. who know they will have to vote with the will of the electorate if they expect to get elected again. However, by denying the long term benefits of continued “service” we would be denying the chance to get so firmly embedded that political favors, etc. become more important than the people.

    Susan – could you clarify your point about Suffrage being denied? I’m responding to what I think you said but am not totally sure I understood you. Suffrage (voting) rights in the U.S. Senate have not been denied to the States. All States still have 2 Senators representing them. What changed was the manner of selecting the Senators. Originally it was the state legislature and now it’s by popular vote.

  22. Shannon C. says:

    Suasn Craig, You tell ‘em! Good points. Man, I am so glad this site exists. The only thing I wish was a little different is if the guest bloggers could opine in on a few of these a few times a day to answer a few questions.

    Great site!!!

  23. Donna Hardeman says:

    Susan – you and your husband seem to be on 2 different issues in discussing the immigration law. He is certainly correct in saying Arizona took action because the federal government wouldn’t. You may also be correct in saying it’s unconstitutional. Problem is, I couldn’t find the actual text online so I can only comment on what news is out there. It has been suggested that immigration laws are federal rights and not states’ rights. However, if the Arizonalaw simply mirrors the federal law in making it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally, I don’t think this would pose an issue. Also, it’s been suggested that you can’t racially profile by stopping someone solely for the purpose of checking identification. Jan Brewer claims the law simply requires identification to be carried so proof of legality can be shown if someone is stopped for a crime. This also would pose no constitutional problem. If you figure out where the text is, let me know and I can blog a little more intelligently on the subject. Do you have a specific challenge to the constitutionality?

  24. Carolyn Attaway says:

    Hello Shannon C. from a fellow Georgian!

    Our State has to have a Balanced Budget, so I agree that those same rules should apply to the Federal Gov’t. The Pay As You Go is a complete disaster and Congress cannot even stick to their own rules.

    I think it should be a 2-term limit, just because I personally feel that 1 term is not enough time some really good congressmen need to get issues addressed and completed. However, I feel every congressman should pledge to uphold the Constitution, and that impeachment should be allowed if they abuse their time in Congress.

    Along with the 16th, I think the 17th Amendment should be repealed. Senators should represent their State’s interest, and quite going rogue.

    The 10th Amendment can be reworded to be more specific, but I think the problem lies with the States giving to much of their power away in exchange for funds. Over time, all those little crumbs they have been throwing away to the Fed. Gov’t, have now been gathered together, and the States are realizing half their bakery is gone, and managed by someone else.

  25. ERL says:

    Another amendment that should receive serious consideration is a “Single Topic Legislation” requirement. Several states have a provision that each bill considered by the legislature must have a single topic only. So-called “omnibus” bills are prohibited, as are “earmarks” and “riders” that are unpopular expenditures attached to an important bill. (The Stimulus Package passed last year was a hodgepodge of pet projects. It is unlikely that those projects would pass if they stood alone).

    In other words, every proposal considered by Congress would have to stand or fall on its own. This would help reduce deficit spending by forcing Congress to look at each proposal separately, and not as small earmarks on a gargantuan bill.

  26. Debbie Beardsley says:

    “Equally important, Article VI expressly binds the state courts to abide by the federal supreme law when there exists a conflict with state law. ” I am taking this to mean that the states must follow Federal law at a minimum. If so, how and why are the states allowed to “decide” to not follow federal law. Ie, California and the medical marijuana or the wonderful mayor of San Francisco declaring a sanctuary city????? Doesn’t this behavior and the lack of action on the part of the government a big slap in the face to the Constitution?

    I am loving reading and learning but at the same time it is very disheartening to see how far away from theConstitution we have strayed.

  27. Chuck Plano, Tx says:

    In regard to Texas being able to devide itself as was suggested by someone, reference California and Texas dividing in order to prevent a repeat of the 2000 Presidential election, Texas has that right as stated in the Joint Resolution for the annexiation of March 1, 1845 . This right was mantained and specifically quoted in other settlements of border disputes with Mexico in the Treaty of Gadulape Hidalgo and the Treaty of The Gadsden Purchase. This is only one question regarding Texas as Texas entered the United States as a free and Soviourn Nation and yet it’s annexiation was by joint resolution and not a treaty. The Senate rejected a treaty to annex Texas four times in 1844 so did Congress have the right under the Constution to Annex a Nation?? The Constution is silent on this as it refers to territories, article IV Section 3, and not nations.

  28. Andy Sparks says:

    @Robert: Does might make right? Historically there have been many occasions where states have threatened secession: some of the western states when it seemed the U.S. would support a Spanish decision to close off the Mississippi during the early days of the Republic, some radicals in the New England states during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson even initially had secessionist language in the Kentucky Resolutions he drafted in 1798 (he was convinced to remove the offending passage before it was submitted). Why would parties threaten to secede if they didn’t think it was a viable option. While the Texas vs. White case put a law on the books regarding the legality of secession in 1869 after the Civil War, it would be interesting to see if it could be held up if challenged. The fact is that the Constitution is fairly quiet regarding the constitutionality of the issue.

  29. Donna Hardeman says:

    Guest bloggers coming in at the end of the day to review some of the comments and questions is a supremely good idea. Shannon – I must admit, it had occurred to me also but I’m glad you put it in writing. Maybe this idea could be incorporated into our learning process. We all have great comments and questions but the experts here could help.

  30. Susan Craig says:

    States Suffrage has been taken away and another Representative has been put in the Senators place. As I read the original articles the House of Representatives was to have been the representative body of the ‘vox populi’ whereas the Senators were to be the corporate representation of the State as a corporate whole. Now there is no longer a corporate representation of the the State but another directly selected Representative of the people.

  31. WeThePeople says:

    Making it so that 2/3 was needed for ratification seems very strategic to me. It seems that the government enjoys that they don’t need everyone’s approval. (As in the 3/5 Compromise in 1787– WHY would being black ever make you less of a person?) I also appreciate that in Article 6 it is stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” If religious discrimination isn’t acceptable in government, why is it still so prevalent?
    If one state has a controversial law, like legalizing same sex marriage, would holding a convention be the first step towards creating an amendment? After that it would run through both the houses and then to the people…

  32. Hi all, great stuff again.AZ,Govner is a brave soul, she has pushed the hand as no one has managed to.After reading J, Knippraths comments it seems to me that in Art.4 section 4,(protection fom invasion) might be the key in fighting for the Constitutionality of the States new law.However I have this nagging feeling that there is probably grounds to overturn it… in that perhaps it could be construded that the long, long history of NOT inforcing the laws that are on the book already my be percieved as consent.On top of that when an act that is against the law is ignored, people begin to think of it as “their right” to continue an set aside the law they know exists,but have rendered it without any reach.
    Is this the reason that the laws have been ignored so long, was this the grounds that were maturing as the years wore on( I know that sounds like conspiracy stuff)but I find no sense is the past lack of willingness to act by DC.

  33. hey! It’s Janine Turner. I agree! I would LOVE to get the Constitutional Scholars of the day to chime in at least once more during the day to answer questions. This was my original intent. I am working on it! I am so glad y’all have joined our blog. Isn’t it wonderful to have this opportunity to study our Constitution. I am learning so much – such as why the Preamble states, “We the People of the United States..” That’s a cook piece of trivia. Yes?

  34. Shannon C. says:

    Janine, GREAT thing you are doing. As a dad of two little girls, this is so important for their futures.

    Can someone tell me if I have this right? The Supremacy Clause, as I understand it, means that federal lawsupercedes state law. However, I take the last sentence to mean in today’s language , “UNLESS the federal law is unconstitutional or goes against an existing state law.”

    My point is, just because the federal government mandates somthing like healthcare purchasing, that does not mean it is constitutional.

    Any thoughts?

  35. J.D. Wiggins says:

    Please comment on Article VI “Supremacy Clause.” Couldn’t this be used as a back door for making the Second Amendment null and void?

  36. There are a lot of terrific questions here. I wish we could have a seminar to discuss them all. Let me just address a couple. ERL asked whether the states could limit a constitutional convention to a particular topic. If 34 states call for a balanced budget amendment, technically Congress would call a convention to discuss only that topic. But what if the delegates decided to push further? This is unknown territory, and why most constitutional law professors and most politicians oppose this method. It is less the states than the Congress that is likely to fear a run-away convention. Congress could refuse to forward to the states anything that went beyond the charge to the convention. However, there is a precedent for a run-away convention going beyond their charge and then submitting their product directly to the states. That would be the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Their action is based on the 18th/19th century theory of popular sovereignty that the people, as soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice James Wilson said at the time, “The people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please.” Kept within the context of Article V, this is not even that radical. Could the people change the Constitution outside Article V, simply by gathering in convention (say, a huge town hall meeting over the internet)? That issue was argued before the Supreme Court in 1849, arising out of just such an attempt to adopt a new constitution in Rhode Island (which controversy produced a small “insurrection”—the Dorr War). The attorneys, including Daniel Webster and other high-powered talent, argued the issue of popular constitutionalism exhaustively; the Supreme Court then ducked the issue, deeming it a non-justiciable political question not suited for the courts. There is insight in that. Ultimately, these basic constitutional issues are political. Could today’s Congress refuse to pass along other constitutional changes demanded by a convention, without appearing to disregard popular will? The Confederation Congress couldn’t oppose the political appeal of the Convention’s action. On the other hand, today’s Congress may not be as sensitive to the popular will.

  37. Let me answer a couple more. The single topic issue. There is a historical argument exactly like that. It arose out of the “line-item veto” controversy, when Congress in the 1990s tried to give the President a limited line-item veto over certain budgetary and tax issues. The Supreme Court found that to be unconstitutional. One argument in support of the law is that the Constitution requires each “bill” or joint resolution to pass both houses and be presented to the President. Some historians analyzed the term and argued that, at the time of the founding, the meaning of “bill” was understood to focus on a single subject. Plausibly, that would have required each budget item to be approved separately, rather than as one “Omnibus Budget Bill.” However, the practice since nearly the beginning has been to allow bills to address more than one subject.
    Merely having governors call for a convention is not enough. Legislatures have to act. Do legislatures have to phrase their petitions identically? Or just enough for Congress to get the message? Again, that is ultimately a matter of political pressure. Could states rescind their petition before a convention is called? Probably yes.
    As to the Supremacy Clause, for the states to be bound by a federal law, it would have to be constitutional. But sometimes states are prohibited from acting, even if there is no specific federal law against them. Sometimes the mere existence of a federal power in the Constitution prevents a state from acting is the state’s action conflicts with the purpose of the provision in the Constitution. That’s called “dormant federal power” theory. If the Constitutionis said to make a certain power “exclusive” in the federal government, the states cannot act in that area at all. One possible example is the federal power over immigration and naturalization. That is one potential problem for parts of the AZ law. If the Constitution intends for federal power to be exclusive, then states cannot act even in trhe absence of federal regulation or even in support of similar federal law. I have posted about this further on my blog.

  38. Robyn says:

    ERL, I agree with a Single Topic/Issue Legislation. Not only would the ‘we, the people’ see the text (hopefully), we would also know who supports the legislation (or is beholden to special interests/lobbyists. And need I say, it would be a short bill! KIS – Keep It Simple!

  39. Lillian Harvey says:

    Hi Georgians and others… Virginian here :-) ). These are my thoughts on the Constitutional Convention.
    First fix some problematic fixes: Repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments.
    -Repealing the 16th returns to Congress the authority to impose import and excise taxes only. How they work within that framework would be an interesting national discussion, whether it be through VAT or Fair Taxation. One thing I like in the Fair Tax proposal is that the percentage of your purchase that is the tax is on your sales receipt. If it is increased, the consumers, We the People, can demand to know why. I am against the Flat Income Tax because we all know that flat tax percentage will increase. Repealing the amendment that allows income to be taxed is critical to me.
    -Repealing the 17th would put Senators back to work for the States they represent. If they are going to be there forever, they better be working for the State legislatures that sent them instead of a political party machine.
    -I would love to see the language clarified on the recess appointments clause. If the Executive can’t get an appointment through the Senate during regular sessions, there is something wrong with the appointment. It sets up too much game playing and distracts from the work that needs to be done. Although worrying to me, it is not as important as the repeals of the aforementioned amendments. I am in a “less is more” mood.

    From what the Professor has written, the Omnibus-type bills Congress seems to love appear to be the source of our budgetary problems. When I think about it, the greatest objection to the Healthcare bill was its size and scope. The call to kill that bill and deal with each component separately so the issues of access, cost and the overall impact on the economy/businesses could be better anticipated was the loudest from We the People. But the Executive and Congressional leadership absolutely refused to do this. Why?
    Now we are in a real mess. You can’t just repeal the bad parts; the whole thing has to go. And it is my belief that it should. If the Congress can not do something correctly, that power to manage these issues should remain with the States. Then Congress can clean up their act or we clean up the Congress in the next election cycle.
    Is there a way to write constitutional language insisting upon one bill, or issue, being dealt with at a time? It seems that the Supreme Court ruling against the line item veto was based on the notion of Congress legislating one issue at a time. Since that is not the case, is the Supreme Court decision relevant?

  40. Shannon C. says:

    Mr. Knipprath, thanks for your willingness to come back and answer some questions!!! You did a good job.

  41. Gitel says:

    @WeThePeople – nobody ever said being black made someone “less of a person.” Remember, the more people in the state, the more representatives the state receives. The problem was if black slaves were counted as part of the population, the southern slave states would be entitled to more representatives. The northern states were against that. Of course, the southern states wanted to count the slaves so they could have the extra representatives.

    The compromise was made so the south wouldn’t be “over-represented” in the northerners’ view. It never says anywhere in the Constitution that a black is “less of a person.”

    Practically speaking, a state would get 1 representative for 30,000 white citizens, but it would take 50,000 black slaves to get another representative.

  42. Robert Shanbaum says:

    @Andy: I do not think that “might makes right”, but I think that might sometimes makes fact.

    As you suggest, the Constitution itself is silent on the issue, although one can trace the commitment to a “perpetual” union stated in the Articles of Confederation through the “more perfect union” objective stated in the Constitutionas one approach to arguing in favor of the voluntary act of union being legally undoable.

    Given that there is no power of secession clearly reserved to the states in the Constitution, it’s hard to see how the question matters much from a practical standpoint. Whether a state would be “allowed” to secede would be determined by the actions of the remainder of the Union, which could either force the issue or not – just like the last time the question arose. There’s no court in which the controversy might be meaningfully resolved; the seceding state would hardly be likely to recognize the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.

    Given our avowed (or maybe I should say “presumed”) commitment to the right of self-determination, at least when it comes to other peoples, I don’t think that the actions of the U.S. in the Civil War were necessarily “right”, but I think I’m glad the Union was preserved – “right” or not.

  43. Chuck Plano, Tx says:

    So Robert if preserving the Union is something that is best for the whole why did the United States at the time Texas declared it’s independence from Mexico the United States was one of the first to recognize that or when the State of Georga declared her independence from the USSR and the other Baltic and Eastern Block countries did the same we seemed as a Nation to think that was the “right” thing to do. It was because we believed that “People” retain the right to self determination and that right is granted to us by “God” not the state.

  44. Mary Lou Leddy says:

    I am so excited about this project. Studying the Constitution has been a real eye opener for me. I must admit it is frightening to see how far this great country has veered from the Constitution . I am however uplifted by reading the blogs from all of you. I firmly believe that by becomimg more aware of the founders thoughts and words we can make much better choices of candidates who run for office. Candidates who are believers and supporters of theConstitution.
    Special thanks to Janine & Cathy

  45. In readiing about a state honoring a homosexual marriage as law when they were not entered into this law was quite surprizing to me. This is what we call a slippery slope where it comes to recognizing something a violitile as this subject is. I would have a difficult time condoning this as constitutional but evidently it is. This is one thing I think the Framers of this constitution would never condone nor would give credence. So the amendment to this law had to be made so that a state would not have to be forced into an immoral state simply because they disagree and have a moral duty to uphold. These fianl articles have an impartail upholding in passing that they needed only witnesses and not a quorum of 2/3 of the staqtes representatives. This was so because one state never was there to cast its vote nd thereby be apart of this constitution.

  46. Andy Sparks says:


    Well put. I would point to the 10th amendment which specifies that those powers not specifically delegated to theConstitution are reserved to the States or the People as an argument for (at least) the possibility of secession. While I may disagree (somewhat) to your argument, I do not disagree with your sentiment. I, for one, am glad the Union won despite being born and raised in Texas.

  47. yguy says:

    “Currently, the federal Defense of Marriage Act protects non-recognition of a same-sex marriage granted in another state. But that law itself may be unconstitutional under Article IV. It’s a close case…”

    It shouldn’t be. The push for same sex marriage is clearly an attempt by some for whom liberty means license to impose their immorality on society at large, and clearly the full faith and credit clause was never intended to facilitate such perfidy.


Howdy from Texas. I thank you for joining us on our day 3 of the “90 in 90 = 180 History Holds the Key to the Future.” Juliette read Article III to me in the car today and I found it to be just fascinating how it all fits together like pieces of a puzzle. I hope you are reading the Constitution with your children and/or family or friend and spreading the word about our contest for kids the “We the People 9.17 Contest.” Entries are due July 4th!

It is exciting that you are participating in our national conversational blog/reading. The blog entries are stimulating and though provoking and I thank you for your time and dedication. I also thank Lawrence Spiwak for his perceptive and provoking essay!

I am in awe in regard to how the checks and balances continue to unfold. The Republic of the United States continues to offer the people their voice through their elected representatives even with the Supreme Court Justices. The people in essence nominate and confirm through the President and Senate that we elect. Check. The people may impeach a Supreme Court Justice through the President and Senate whom we elect. Check.

Thus, the relevancy today is to be very careful whom we elect and to know our representative’s thoughts and opinions about the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s job is to uphold the Constitution yet we know in modern society there are differing views about the relevancy of the Constitution and it is continuously under attack, even if subtly.

The other aspect of today’s relevancy that fascinates me is in regard to the Constitution’s diligence in making sure that tyranny could not raise it’s ugly head. The checks and balances came full circle today in reading Article III and in reading Lawrence Spiwak’s essay. Once again it is the mastery of the checks and balances that motivate marvel.

The Legislative Branch legislates potential laws of the land, written indirectly through the people who elected the representatives. Check. The President executes the bill by signing it, fulfilled by the people who elected him. Check. And the Supreme Court, who is indirectly chosen by the people through their elected President and Senate, evaluates the law to make sure it does not violate the Constitution and/or the rights of the citizens or states. Check. The Legislative bill is empowered or disempowered by the President who may execute it or veto it. Check by President. Yet, Congress may override the President by voting the bill into fruition by 2/3 of the vote. Check by Congress. The Supreme Court may hold the new law to the light of Constitution and may either render it valid or invalid. Check by the Supreme Court.

And all the while, the people are ruling through their representative Republic. The people, by voting, have the ultimate check. Vetting and voting seem to be the pivotal words gleaned from Article I, II and III. We need to check out our candidates thoroughly. Mysteries do not serve the process well. But, men are not angels and thus, we have the Constitution to keep us honest.


See you tomorrow!!!! Articles 4-7.

Have a great night. Check!

Janine Turner

April 23, 2010

P.S. I hope this makes sense. I am exhausted and can barely hold my eyes open!

Posted in Article III of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Essays by Janine | Edit | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “April 23, 2010 – Article III U.S. Constitution – Janine Turner”

  1. The theory behind checks and balances was established so that not one agency could rule like a dictator. When that came to pass the most logical angecy to stop unwantent power grabs was the Supreme Court. Today we need that august body more then ever to help us as they did when laws were being unconsttutional. This will promote not only a balance but will put the office of the President under strict checks. When he realizes his error he will have to back down once and for all.

  2. “What is human?” GOD’s answer…

    Keven J. Hasson, President of the Becket Fund, recently stated, “…the American and Soviet systems…offered differing visions of freedom and human nature.” The missing element in every human ‘solution’ is an accurate definition of the creature.

    In the Bible, God’s Word has accurately defined the human being as ‘the earth creature endowed with the ability to choose.’ His natural Rights, therefore, are merely an extension and application of natural human endowments, which all humans – everywhere in the world – possess. Even as goldfish, canaries, and puppy dogs require an environment based on their natural features, so humans require external freedom to fulfill their natural internal abilities of choice, selection, election, and consent. Uniquely, America was founded on this definitive paradigm in human nature. All nations should reject foundational human opinion that teaches otherwise.

    Further, God’s gift of criteria for choosing between alternatives supplies us with superior standards for successful visionary choice-making. Humans cannot invent (or replace) criteria greater than self, ACLU to the contrary.

    Defining ‘human’ accurately is the first step in establishing accurate and successful environments, institutions, and creative relationships for earth’s Choicemaker. Middle East governments, and all leaders, would do well to pay attention: nature and nature’s Creator speak with an authoritative voice. Psalms 25:12 119:30, 173 Joel 3:14 Selah

    No one is smarter than their criteria.

    Jim Baxter Sgt. USMC WWII & Korean War semper fidelis

  3. Susan Craig says:

    I have never seen such an accurate and succinct definition of human, Jim. Fair winds and following seas.

  4. Reed W says:

    Reading done through Article III. It’s great to have lesson plan and a course to follow. Keeps me going. Thanks to Cathy for being so kind as to write us! Carry on!

  5. Ken Brown says:

    The purpose of the Supreme Court is to rule on laws based on the Constitution. However, recently it has been viewed as “interpreting the Constitution”. The Constitution is not a living, breathing document as many us of were tought in school, rather it is writen in ink on parchment. Our founders were smart enough to know that some changes were in evitable and thus they left a way to change it thru the ammendment process. Unfortunately, the 17th ammendment altered the checks and balances system that the founders left for us because the ultimate check on the federal government was the States. The only way to restore the full compliment of checks and balances is to repeal the 17th ammendment. That way the States would have a voice before these unfunded mandates were ever passed into law.
    P.S. Well said Jim

  6. Gitel says:

    I want to call people’s attention to the following web site:

    Although the Constitution you have on linked to your site is good, I feel this other site is easier. With one click you can get a definition of an unfamiliar word, and there are also links to explanatory notes.

  7. Kay says:

    Not only reading through the Constitution and the essay are valuable in and of themselves, the comments following by readers shed additional light on the reading. I am so excited to be part of this project, and have spread the word. Next fall I am privileged to teach the Constitution to homeschooled high schoolers, the fourth time in about 10 years. Knowing a short history of what precipitated the writing and thought that caused the Constitution to be written the way it is sets the stage. Not particularly what led up to the Constitution, but way back, back to the events surrounding the Magna Carta, the printing press, the Reformation, the ancient philosophers’ impact on the education of the principal players/writers of the Constitution all produced our document. The time was ripe for a Madison, a Hamilton, a Jay, etc. to put it all together.

  8. Hello to all.I was wondering if there is anyone who would like to opine on the current actions by the AZ.Gov? My take is ,although it seems to be powers given to Congress, I am sympathic to the State acting in it’s own behalf as a result of Congress failing to act at all and for such a long time.What is a state to do (any State) when there is such a gigantic failure of the Legislature to act.Everyone is afraid to be politically incorrect or acting out side the law and possibily stepping on the toes of someones civil rights etc. The inaction of the Feds is at the root of the festering problem and I believe it has to do with seeking and securing a voting block,not enforcing a rule of law .When the motive for action or inaction is not inspired by the rule of law but rather the self interest of Politicians a lobsided foundation results and sets all citizens up for irrational outcomes.

  9. Susan Craig says:

    It is the right thing. It is about time. The State has the duty to do all that it can before it kicks the ball upstairs. But it will be an interesting squabble to watch.

  10. Pricila says:

    What Arizona did is legal. The states still have the right to govern their police as they see fit to protect their citizens living in the state. Thats why the President said that they are going to keep an eye on Arizona.

    Check out the last video, number six.

  11. Louis Palermo says:

    The Supremacy Clause of Article IV declares that the “Constitution…shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” This declaration demonstrates that there is a hierarchical organization of the federal government as it relates to the states. Also known as ‘Preemption’. Under preemption if there is a conflict between this hierarchical relationship, federal law wins. The Supreme Court has interpreted Article IV as limiting the ability of states to discriminate upon ‘out-of’staters’. This is also known as the Privileges and Immunities clause. Article VI reiterates the Supremacy clause.

    Article V of the Constitution prescribes ways to alter the Constitution as is evidenced in your blog. Article VII as we shall see was the Constitutional Convention’s mandate to change the ‘Articles of Confederation’ and thus ‘ the Ratification of the Conventions of nine States shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States”. So the relevant meaning of all Articles of the Constitution have remained virtually unchanged since its inception. We may quarrel over its interpretation but we must not question the divine wisdom of its underlying principles! The founding fathers’ thoughts created this ‘Document’ for the people then and now!

  12. AllisonW says:

    More and more evidence of the checks and balances system seem to emerge with each Article and Section!
    According to Section III of Article III, the Supreme Court shall determine if a person shall be convicted of treason, while Congress “shall have power to declare the punishment.”
    Isn’t it a marvel how the founding fathers allowed the three branches of government to function with balance and fairness?

What an exciting first week we have had!  Articles I, II, and III of the United States Constitution, with some outstanding guest bloggers: David Bobb, Andrew Langer and Lawrence Spiwak.

A big thank you today to Lawrence Spiwak for his thoughts on Article III.  Mr. Spiwak clearly explained the delicate system of checks and balances working  in concert with a strong and independent judiciary.  I loved Mr. Spiwak’s point that the best mechanism for change in the judicial branch is to let the electoral process play out.  That is the best mechanism for change in any branch of the government, but it first requires informed, educated, engaged, and enthusiastic citizens, citizens who know the United States Constituion and our country’s founding principles!

When reading Article III, I was struck by its brevity, as compared with Articles I and II, and how much latitude Congress was given in establishing the Court system – another example of checks and balances at work.

I was also very interested in the Alexander Hamilton quote Bill posted from Federalist 78, so I looked it up and thought it worth posting in its entirety:

“Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that in a government which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them.  The executive not only dispenses the honors, but holds the sword of the community.  The legislature not only commands the purse, but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated.  The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse, no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither Force nor Will, but merely judgement; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of  its judgments.”

“Neither Force nor Will, but merely judgement.”   I had never thought of the differing powers of the three branches in those terms before, but it is true – the executive and legislative branch have many more enforcement mechanisms and sheer power and will at their disposal, than the judicial branch.

Thank you for joining us this week as we explored the three branches of government in Articles I, II, and III of the Constitution.   The Assignment for the weekend is to read Articles IV, V, VI, and VII and be ready to blog on them, on Monday!  Tuesday we will blog on the Amendments, and Wednesday we will blog on the the first Federalist Paper.

Have a Blessed weekend!

See you on Monday!!

Cathy Gillespie

April 23, 2010

3 Responses to “April 23, 2010 – Article III of the U.S. Constitution – Cathy Gillespie”

  1. Jim Baxter says:

    The Founding principles of our Constitution clearly state that
    the powers of government are permanently in the mind and
    hand of The People of the United States of America. Thus,
    every elected person is a temporary steward of their office
    and obligated to serve The American People while in office.

    Such elected officials need to be reminded that they do not
    own the office. WE, The American People, are the owners and
    may give orders to the elected & appointed stewards of the office.

    I have yet to hear this important point-of-failure on the part of
    those who seek to ‘change’ our way of life to an historically
    failure-oriented system of non-representation of stewardshp
    to The People. Why?

    Begging compromise won’t work with the ignorant! Freedom is
    the proper enlargement – not fewer choices for the choicemaker!

    semper fidelis
    Jim Baxter
    Sgt. USMC
    WWII & Korean War

    pointman/follower of The Lion of Judah

    + + +

  2. Clearly our Founding Fathers constructed our Republic on Biblical Principles and like anything else our morality MUST have a “Standard of Measure”, because God’s Word never changes and is always JUST. If we depend on what man’s values are we will always fall short of Justice and the Scales will no longer be balanced. Observing how politicians try to “fundamentally” change our society and inplement their idea of “values” is it any wonder why our country is so divided? Consider what would happen if we changed the “Standards of Measure” for other things, (Science, Mathematics, Music, etc.) The Bible says that the “devil is the author of confusion…..” All this does is separate and divide. However I see many coming back to their conservative principles and I’m thrilled.

  3. valerie says:

    In 1787, the year the constitution was written, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. It states that formal education is to include religion, a “fundamental system of beliefs concerning man’s origin and relationship to the cosmic universe as well as his relationship with his fellowmen.”

    In his farwell address Washington stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained w/o religion.”

    Jefferson wrote a bill for establishing elementary schools in Virginia. It includes the following statement, “No religious reading, instruction, or exercise shall be prescribed or practiced inconsistent with the tenets of any religious sect or denomination.” He must have assumed religion would be taught.

    Franklin outlined five fundamentals in all “sound” religion: one God, the Creator of the universe; said God should be worshipped; the most fundamental good we can do for him is to be good to others; and the soul of man is immortal and will be treated with justice in the afterlife in regards to his conduct here.

    Samuel Adams called the above the Religion of America and equated it with the religion of all mankind.

    These tenets run thru the founder’s writings, and they thought they were so important in “providing good government and the happiness of mankind” that they wanted them taught in school.

    It is obvious from the founder’s own words that they viewed separation of church and state very differently than it is seen today.

    Above facts come from The 5000 Year Leap

Howdy from Texas! Thanks for joining todays reading of Article II of the U.S. Constitution! I read it with my daughter in the car today.. well, she read it to me because I was driving! Isn’t it all fascinating? I LOVE studying the brilliance of our forefathers. I bet they are rather pleased that we are taking an interest and instilling a passion in our children and/or loved ones regarding the Constitution. Please remember to read it to your kids or share it with a friend or loved one! Perhaps your child or a child you know will want to enter our “We the People 9.17 Contest.” Entries are due July 4th, 2010.

I want to thank Andrew Langer  for his wonderful blog today! I learned so much. It is awesome to have such Constitutional knowledge shared with us, isn’t it?

I was intrigued with Article II Section I, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” What first struck me is that it states, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  It doesn’t state, “change, disregard, or go-around” the Constitution of the United States.

I was also most intrigued with the fact that it does not state, “I will preserve, protect and defend the PEOPLE of the United States.” As I pondered upon this I came to the realization that if we have no basis, no thesis, no principle, no foundation for our country, if we have no government of checks and balances, a government that is accountable to the people, then how can the government help the people. Without the Constitution, without a roadmap, we have cannot preserve, protect and defend the people of the United States. Thus, if we lose the Constitution, we lose our country, we lose the people.

I conclude with my final observation about Article II, which is that if the President is to, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” then I should, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I must hold it dear and near to my heart. I must read it, absorb it, understand it, treasure it, value it, live it. And most importantly, because we are a Republic, because we are a people who rule through our elected officials, then it is my duty to thoroughly “vet” the candidate for whom I am voting. I must make sure that the candidate, with all his/her heart and all his/her might, in all sincerity will, “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

So, goodnight. I am looking forward to tomorrow! Article III.  Check out my behind the scenes video pod casts. They are on our Facebook. They are also going to be on our website soon.

God Bless,

Janine Turner

April 22, 2010

Posted in Article II of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Essays by Janine | Edit | 3 Comments »

A big thank you to Andrew Langer for his thoughtful post today!

As I read Article II, I am struck by the incredible wisdom and foresight of the founders.   While the electoral college is true to the Republic form of government they envisioned, it is more necessary today than ever.  With massive population centers concentrated in a few large states, if it were not for the electoral college, states such as New Mexico, or New Hampshire, would simply be “fly over” territory in today’s Presidential campaigns.  The electoral college system ensures that individuals running for President in our country visit many diverse areas and states, and that a wider group of American citizens have an opportunity to affect the Presidential campaigns, and election outcome.

Section 2 is timely as well, as we may soon be seeing more Supreme Court nominations.  It is interesting to note the punctuation in this phrase: “he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate shall appoint….”   It is soley the President’s prerogative who he nominates, but the Senate is empowered to give “advice and consent,” on the actual appointment.  “Advice and consent” of the Senate for the President’s Supreme Court nominees is a rare convergence of the three branches of government, and differing philosophies have prevailed over the years as to what standards the Senate should utilize in determining their “advice and consent.”  Should the Senate evaluate the President’s Supreme Court nominees on their judicial experience, intellect and temperment alone, or should the nominee’s ideology and judicial point of view be taken into account?  The Constitution provides no definition of what criteria the Senate should utilize in their “advice and consent” duty, and different standards have been applied over the years.  It does seem that in recent confirmation battles, ideology has been a more predominant factor in the process.

As we watch the next Supreme Court nominee’s confirmation, whenever it occurs, we should remember that we are watching our founders’ vision in action.

Thank you to everyone who has shared such thoughtful and insightful comments.  Please spread the word about “90 in 90″ through Facebook, Twitter, and email!  We want to grow our national conversational blog!

See you tomorrow for Article 3!!


Cathy Gillespie

Posted in Article II of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Essays by Cathy | Edit | 1 Comment »

Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty

While much attention has been focused on Congress and Article One’s legislative powers, the Constitution provides for three branches of government and Article Two  of the U.S. Constitution outlines powers for the executive branch i.e., the office of the President and those who serve under him. In addition to enumerations of the powers to nominate appointees (with the advice and consent of Congress), the power to make treaties (which have to be ratified by the Senate),  and his executive or enforcement authority Article 2 also discusses the wholly unique system of electing a president, known as the electoral college.

In this particular post, we will focus on two aspects of Article Two: the enforcement of laws passed by Congress, as well as the issue of the Electoral College.

As is clear through the structure of the Constitution itself, power flows from the people to the government via the legal structure called the Constitution.  In its opening statement, Article 2 reaffirms this concept, making it clear that power “vests” in an “executive” branch of government—meaning that it administers, oversees, and “executes” what is the legislative “will” of the people.

Because the system is one of checks, balances, and diffusion of power (the founders were skeptical of concentrated government power), powers enumerated to the federal executive are undercut by powers enumerated to Congress under Article 1 (and vice-versa).  The President is  Commander-in-Chief of the military under Article 1, but it is only Congress that can declare war.  On the other hand, while Congress passes laws, Article Two vests with the Executive Branch the requirement that those laws are “faithfully executed”.  In the modern executive branch many of these tasks are carried out under what is called “administrative law” via the federal regulatory state.

Issues have arisen when the agencies carrying out the execution of Congressional laws appear to exceed their statutory mandate and often challenges arise charging that an agency has effectively undermined Congress’ power to make the law.  While there may be an inevitable tension between the executive and the legislative branch in terms of the scope of their power, Article Two contemplates that the Executive branch engage in enforcement and execution of laws with little to no lawmaking like behavior occurring.

Critics charge that as Congress grows more unwilling to take proper care in writing laws that are clear and limited in scope, they have invited the Executive Branch to assume far more authority in the interpretation and execution of those laws leading to a greatly convoluted regulatory state.    However as the writers of the Constitution make clear the powers of the executive are to be checked by those of the other two branches such that a significant deviation from the Constitution could be subject to challenge in Court or by Congress through its powers to tax and appropriate etc.

Now let us turn to the electoral college.

When envisioning the Republic, the founders recognized that competing interests would require that the demands of a majority group be weighed against the impact of those demands against the rights of minority groups (political or otherwise).  Thus, we are not a pure democracy, but a representative republic—and, the American Electoral College was born out of those notion.

One of the challenges to the Republic, the founders knew, would be the inherent conflict between the interests of rural Americans and those who lived in cities.  Different things are important to people living in farming communities than to those who live within urban centers—there are different public policy priorities, at the very least, and possibly different sets of values and societal mores.  But in a pure democracy, regions with the highest populations would drive the public policy agenda, potentially sacrificing the interests of those in rural or desolate regions on the altar of the regions with the most people.

The founders didn’t want the selection of the President to be by “urban center fiat”, so they devised a mechanism to level the playing field.  It is akin to how the World Series is played:  it isn’t decided in one single game, or which team scored the most runs in a series of different games.  It is broken down into a “best of seven” contest, leveling the playing field by allowing each time numerous chances to score incremental victories.

As initially envisioned, each state gets a number of votes equal to the sum of the number of House members plus the number of Senators.  That way, even the states with the smallest population have a minimum of three votes, and are thus equalized.  Moreover, when combined, the electoral votes of these smaller or less populous states could challenge or overcome the electoral votes of larger and more populated ones.  Thus, the common interests of more rural states could be effectively aggregated, and their rights protected.

Unlike many other systems which rely on simple majorities our system ensures that the President actually presides over “united” states and has a built in constituency that is broad and enduring.   The end result is the President of our nation ultimately chosen by the electoral college far more broadly represents the interests of the nation as a whole.

April 22, 2010

Posted in Article II of the United States Constitution, Constitutional Scholar Essays | Edit | 73 Comments »