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:


Section 6
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
Congressmen get paid for their services! Out of the Treasury no less, which might actually contain some money now via means we'll get into shortly. Note, though, that the passage does not recommend a starting salary. This is due, in part, to the fact that the United States barely had a currency yet, and even if it did it was unclear how that currency would be valued. Up to now, the states had been minting their own currency, and the exchange rate between states and the national currency was unreliable. (Eventually, Congressmen started getting paid $6 per day while in session, which honestly wasn't a lot even in those days.)

That the federal government would be the ones paying the Congressmen was yet another change from the Articles of  Confederation. Under the Articles, it was the states that paid their legislators and determined their salaries.

Congressmen were also immune from arrest so long as Congress was in session, so long as they were not being arrested for criminal activities. Which kind of begs the question of whether or not a person can be arrested for non-criminal activities. And, as a matter of fact they could! It was once common for people to be arrested to force them to appear in court for civil matters. However, this practice has basically disappeared, and this immunity clause is practically worthless now. It doesn't protect Congressmen from subpoenas, even to appear in court while Congress is in session.

Finally, apparently Congressmen are not to be questioned for any speeches or debates they give, which seems... unlikely. However, this is specifically in regards to criminality of speech. While speaking as a Congressman on the legislative floor, no speech or vote (including libel) may be held against that Congressman in a court of law. This immunity has been challenged several times, and has always held up. A Congressman is responsible for the things they say outside of Congress or when acting outside of their duties as Congressmen, but on that floor their freedom of speech is absolute.

However, they're not immune to the response of their constituents if they don't appreciate the things their Congressman says. That freedom of speech still needs to be weighed against the will of the voters, lest the Congressman gets ousted on Election Day.
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office. 
In short, you can either be a Congressman, or you can hold some other federal office. You can not do both. This adheres to a strict separation of powers, wherein the legislative branch is not supposed to be influenced by the executive or judicial branches. Even if they resign from Congress, this clause restricts Congressmen from being appointed to another office "during the Time for which he was elected," which is taken to mean if they were elected for two years, then they can not receive an appointment during those two years.

A Congressman is also barred from taking any appointments that were created by or had their salaries raised by Congress while they were supposed to be serving in Congress. So, raised the salary of the Attorney General? Then don't expect to ever fill that position. Unless Congress returns the salary to what it was again, which is in fact a thing that happens sometimes.

This clause is specifically in reference to civil offices, by the way. A Congressman can still serve in the military, for instance. They may also serve in state governments in theory, though most state constitutions prohibit this.

It's also worth noting here that this is the only instance in which the separation of powers is expressly stated as a prohibition on holding an office in multiple branches. That is, Congressmen may not hold an office in the executive or judicial branches according to this clause, but a person may hold an office in both the executive and judicial branches simultaneously.

Section 7
All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
Very straightforward: only the House may propose the raising of taxes, though such proposals require Senate approval. This was important because the House was intended to be the more democratic of the two legislative bodies (remember: senators were elected by state legislators, not the people at large), so it was vital that if the nation was to tax its citizens then the tax proposals needed to come from the representatives of those citizens. They had just finished fighting a war about "taxation without representation," after all.

However, that "power" of the House turned out to be moot, since in practice, as per the latter part of the clause, the Senate can (and often does) "amend" the tax bills enough as to be unrecognizable from their original form. Ho hum.

In the end, the most important bit here is that Congress can tax its citizens. Originally, Americans were so fed up the the very notion of taxes that the Articles of Confederation gave the national government zero ability to tax its citizens. This was the core of the problem with the government established by the Articles, neatly snipped away with this clause of the new Constitution. This will be further clarified in Section 8, though.
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.
Don't be intimidated by the size of this paragraph; the gist is actually pretty familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of how laws are made. If you don't have that knowledge, may I suggest this helpful video?

Anyway, here they establish several key procedures: voting in Congress, the presidential veto, the veto override, and the pocket veto.

First, bills in Congress are voted on by a process of yeas and nays, and the paragraph notes that these votes are recorded in the journal established in Section 5. This comes up in the middle of the paragraph as an "oh, by the way," intrinsically linking the passage of bills with the presidential power to veto.

If a bill passes in both the House and the Senate, the bill reaches the President's desk. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law. Otherwise, the President may return the bill to Congress, at which point each House will need to review the bill and vote again (Presidential veto). If both Houses can get a two-thirds vote in favor of the bill, it passes despite the veto (veto override). Otherwise, the bill dies.

If the President chooses not to sign the bill but doesn't return the bill to Congress within ten days, it becomes law. However, if the President does not sign the bill but can not return the bill to Congress because they're not in session, the bill dies (pocket veto).

This paragraph is one of the longest in the Constitution because the convention wanted to make sure it was super clear exactly how bills are passed and where the President figures into the passing of laws. There was of course some disagreement during the convention about whether a President should be allowed this much power, and whether it should be that difficult to overturn a veto (remember, everything required a two-thirds vote under the Articles of Confederation), but in the end this is what was settled on, and this passage has governed the legislative process pretty effectively ever since.
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.
In case the previous paragraph wasn't clear enough, this presidential power to approve or veto legislation applies to all legislation and decisions passed through Congress, with the sole exception of the decision to adjourn. This was James Madison's way of preemptively blocking Congress from doing something tricky, like trying to call a bill something other than a bill. (A "resolution," perhaps.) Basically, if it has to pass both Houses, it also needs the President's signature. The primary exceptions to this are resolutions that only affect Congress and the proposals of Constitutional Amendments, which will be discussed in Article V.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment