Saturday, April 30, 2016

Constitution Series Part 26: Article V

Today, we'll see how we can edit the Constitution to add to or change it. After all, though it's a fascinating document and the basis for a pretty good government, all things considered, it's also flawed; incomplete in some ways, and poorly thought out in others. So, rather than starting over, we can simply amend it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Constitution Series Part 25: Article IV, Sections 3 and 4


Section 3
New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Constitution Series Part 24: Article IV, Sections 1 and 2

With the major stuff out of the way, only a few details remain before we can put a pin in this document that details what constitutes our government. The biggest detail (and, therefore, the biggest article of what remains) is about the relationship between the states and the federal government, and the relationship between the states and themselves.

As a reminder, when I quote the Constitution in these posts I'm quoting from the transcript of the Constitution at the Federal Archives website.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Constitution Series Part 22: Article III, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3

The first clause of Section 2 listed the cases that federal courts were designed to handle. As I noted, the vast majority of federal cases are handled by the district and appellate courts, and only a few actually reach the Supreme Court.

The remaining clauses of Section 2 clarify which cases go directly to the Supreme Court (spoiler: almost none) and where juries figure into all of this.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Constitution Series Part 21: Article III, Section 2, Clause 1

The first three articles share a natural pattern: first, they establish a branch of the government. Then, they organize the powers and limitations of that branch, detailing their unique functions and how they interact with the other branches.

Today, we start digging into the powers of the judicial branch, digging deep into the workings of a branch of our government one last time. It's fairly dense, so this process may take a few posts.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Constitution Series Part 20: Article III, Section 1

Article III establishes the federal court system, the third and final branch of the United States government. Each branch is separate and more or less independent from each other, each serving a vital function. Congress is re-elected frequently, representing the various peoples of the country to create laws and control the budget. The President controls the military and foreign relations while enforcing the nation's laws.

Let's see where the Supreme Court falls in this dynamic.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Constitution Series Part 19: Article II, Sections 3 and 4

Starting now, we're going to be breezing through sections and, eventually, whole articles of the Constitution with each post. With much of the framework of the country laid down in Article I and the bulk of the President's processes and powers laid out in Sections 1 and 2, the Constitution will begin handling the rest of its details with impressive brevity.

That's not to say the remaining parts are any less dense than what we've seen already, though. I'm preparing to spend quite a bit of time on two relatively short paragraphs today, after all.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Constitution Series Part 18: Article II, Section 2, Clauses 2 and 3

By far the most common accusation lobbed at any given President is that what they're doing is "unconstitutional." I've tried to offer a multi-faceted view of the Constitution so far, and given certain interpretations of the Constitution many such claims have some substance to their argument. It's often the very definition of debatable due to the interpretive nature of the document.

However, the powers listed in this section are theoretically not debatable. (Well, that's not strictly true, as well see, but anyway) These are the explicit powers of a President granted by the Constitution. There's still some room for interpretation here, but simply put, these powers are literally Constitutional.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Constitution Series Part 17: Article II, Section 2, Clause 1

In Section 1 we established the office of the President and went over how to elect one. But what does a President do? There are two basic schools of thought on this: the first is that a President gets all of the powers implied by an executive office, as established in Section 1. The other is that a President is only allowed to do that which he is explicitly allowed to do as laid out in the Constitution and as granted by Congress.

Historically, Presidents have acted mostly under the former assumption, with implicit powers as an executive. In Section 2, however, we're going to go over the President's explicit powers.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Constitution Series Part 16: Article II, Section 1, Clauses 5 through 8

Today we'll finish Section 1 of Article II, which mostly details the process by which a President is elected. Honestly, the fact that this process has remained more or less unchanged for the past two centuries is pretty incredible. Our Constitution is ridiculously scale-able.

Constitution Series Part 15: Article II, Section 1, Clauses 1 through 4

Article II of the Constitution of the United States established the office of the president. Article II, Section 1 is the longest section in the Constitution, with a higher word count than Article I, Section 8. However, despite its length, it's not nearly as dense as Section 8, so don't worry--it won't take five different posts to get through.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Constitution Series Part 14: Article I, Section 10

Article I of the United States Constitution is ostensibly about Congress, but in fact it touches on every branch of the government, as well as governments below the national level. It's due to this scope and laying down the foundations of what's to be expected of our government as a whole that Article I takes up approximately 50% of the entire Constitution. The rest just kind of builds upon the groundwork laid by Article I.

Section 10 in particular focuses on limitations placed upon the states. Some are absolute limitations, while others require Congressional approval to circumvent. I assume it's these Congressional consent clauses that make these limitations appropriate for Article I.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Constitution Series Part 13: Article I, Section 9, Clauses 6 through 8

Of the eight clauses of Section 9, only three seem really necessary to me: clauses 2, 3, and 7, which we'll be getting to today.

Clause 1 is a weird and uncomfortable reminder of our nation's past, but I understand it and I appreciate this reminder of how far we've come from where we started.

Clauses 4 and 5 are about taxation, and it's hard to say how vital these clauses were. Each one has some benefits and some drawbacks from an economic standpoint.

Clauses 6 and 8 each annoy me somewhat, for very different reasons. I'll be discussing them today!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Constitution Series Part 12: Article I, Section 9, Clauses 3 to 5

In continuing our exploration of the limitations placed on Congress by the Constitution, heads up that we're about to run head-first into some jargon. I'll do my best to explain it, but I'm no lawyer, so if you see me trying to explain something incorrectly, please correct me!

Constitution Series Part 11: Article I, Section 9, Clauses 1 and 2

After Section 8 detailed all of the things Congress is explicitly allowed to do, naturally what follows is a list of what Congress is explicitly not allowed to do. You might consider this a sort of first-round Bill of Rights, though as you'll see it's kind of weird what limitations were determined to be more important than, say, freedom of speech.

Before I go into these limitations, though, I feel the need to point out that there is a void between Section 8 and Section 9, a space between the explicit rights and limitations of Congress that's filled with implicit rights and limitations that seem to contradict each other. Section 8 reads like a list of powers, but some read them as limitations; as if those are the only things Congress is allowed to do. Likewise, you can read Section 9 (and, by extension, the Bill of Rights) as a definition of Congress's rights; these are the things they definitely can't do, but everything else is fair game!

The thing is, it can only be one or the other. Is Section 8 a list of limitations, or is Section 9 defining Congress's rights? The fact that both sections exist makes it kind of confusing. In the early days they seemed to take the "Section 8 as limitations" route, while lately it seems we're more inclined toward the "Section 9 defines rights" route. What do you think?

Consider that as we go through these limitations and, later, the Bill of Rights.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Constitution Series Part 10: Article I, Section 8, Clauses 17 and 18

Time to finish off Section 8! Finally. The only other clause this long is Article II, Section 1. So, look forward to that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Constitution Series Part 9: Article I, Section 8, Clauses 11 through 16

As a reminder, you can read the Constitution yourself at the National Archives website. When I quote the Constitution in this series, I'm quoting from there.

Anyway, today we're going to explore Congress's powers regarding war and the military!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Constitution Series Part 7: Article I, Section 8, Clauses 4 and 5


Section 8

As a reminder, we're going through the powers being explicitly granted to Congress. We've already gone through the first three, so we're starting with the fourth clause in this section.
[The Congress shall have Power] To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;
Well, these seem like fairly unrelated powers. Why were they listed together?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Constitution Series Part 6: Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1 to 3

Do you want to know what, exactly, Congress is allowed to make laws about? They can't simply make laws about whatever they want, after all. The Bill of Rights will detail the things that Congress is expressly not allowed to make laws about, but here we'll see what Congress is explicitly allowed to do:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Constitution Series Part 5: Article I, Section 6 and 7

Let's slide right into this by detailing the perks of being a member of Congress, besides the whole "shaping our country" thing:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Constitution Series Part 4: Article I, Sections 4 and 5

With the composition and election procedures of the House and the Senate established, let's get into figuring out what, exactly, these people are supposed to be spending their time doing!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Constitution Series Part 3: Article I, Section 3

With the House of Representatives established, we're moving on to the Senate. The makeup of the Senate and the House were the result of a compromise between the populous states and the smaller states. Smaller states wanted each state to have equal representation in Congress, while larger states supported proportionate representation. In the end, we got both: proportionate representation in the House and equal representation in the Senate.

The Senate was designed to be the "higher" house, populated by the country's "elites." Social classes were very much still a thing at the time (and you might say it still is), and while it was all well and good to populate the House of Representatives with riffraff, the Senate was supposed to be populated with only the well-to-do, much like the British House of Lords.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Constitution Series Part 2: Article I, Sections 1 and 2

By far the longest section of the Constitution is Article I, which details the creation and powers of the nation's legislative branch. Congress was supposed to be the most powerful branch of the government since it's the most democratic and the least likely to generate a despot. As such, it was the first thing addressed in our Constitution, and it got the most ink.

Even so, it's by no means a novel. The description had to be fairly straightforward so that the states would actually read and comprehend it, so it's as lean as it can be while still being pretty dense. There are 10 sections total in Article I, so let's see how many we can get through today.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Constitution Series Part 1: The Preamble

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Thus begins the Constitution of the United States of America. The first few words of the Preamble are some of the most famous words in the history of our country. You remember these words. Every phrase has meaning. It's not like the Declaration of Independence, which rambles on for the first paragraph before getting to the good parts; the Constitution makes it immediately clear who's talking and what they're talking about.

The Constitution isn't a terribly long document. It's very dense, though. Every word said and unsaid speaks volumes. In this series, I intend to go through the Constitution section by section and unpack each one to the best of my ability. I'll be quoting the text directly from the National Archives for accuracy.

Understanding our Constitution is a key part of understanding our country. Every word was carefully considered, starting with the Preamble.

The Creation of the Constitution of the United States of America

In school, we're never really forced to read the U.S. Constitution. We're told it's a beautiful document, and it's explained that it basically breaks down our three branches of government, but we're never expected to actually read the thing. It's like the Bible: you're supposed to understand the gist and have a few passages memorized, but reading it from cover to cover is only for scholars and masochists. And most of us are only familiar with the very beginning ("We the people..." and Genesis) and the earlier bits of the more popular second acts (the Bill of Rights and the gospel of the New Testament).

That said, I'd like to analyze the Constitution further. I studied constitutional law in college for a while, and I can confirm that it's an interesting piece of work.

But before I start reciting the preamble, I'd like to talk about how the document was created in the first place.