Vail Daily column: What the Constitution says |

Vail Daily column: What the Constitution says

Editor’s note: This is the fifth part of a series.

Preamble, articles, amendments. That’s how the Constitution rolls. We have already marveled at the preamble and vivisected Article I. Here, we begin our journey into Articles II-VII, then on to their perhaps more famous cousins, the amendments. While perhaps a bit less glossy than the amendments, the articles established the bricks and mortar upon which the Constitution and our nation are constructed.


Article 2 of the United States Constitution deals with the executive branch of government; divided into four sections, comprised of 17 subsections or “clauses,” Article 2 deals with the president and his sidekick and potential successor, the vice president.

Section 1, Clause 1 provides that the executive power is vested in the president and that he and the vice president will hold office for four years. Clause 2 establishes the Electoral College, in which each state gets the number of “electoral votes” equal to its number of senators plus its number of U.S. representatives. Clause 3 also dealt with the electors but, alas, got booted by the 12th Amendment. Clause 4 provides that Congress gets to decide when presidential elections will be held. According to Clause 5, to be elected president, one must be at least 35 years old, have been born in the USA and have lived in the USA for at least 14 years. The sixth clause was later modified by the 25th Amendment and dealt with succession in the event the president or vice president died in office, were removed from office or were incapacitated while in office. The seventh holds — gasp! — the president should receive a salary for his service. Clause 8 establishes the oath of office.


Article 2, Section 2 is comprised of three clauses, the first of which establishes that the president shall serve as commander in chief of the military forces, that he shall have the authority to establish an executive cabinet to run the civil government and that he shall have vested in him the power to grant reprieves and pardons (except in cases of impeachment). The second clause confers upon the president the right, subject to ratification by the Senate, to negotiate treaties with foreign governments. The clause also invests the president with the power, with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, to nominate all appointed officials of the government, including both officers of the executive branch and federal judges. Clause 3 grants to the president the right to make “recess appointments” (appointment of persons to government positions without Senate approval) any time the Senate is out of session (however, recess appointments are and cannot last longer than the next session of Congress).


Section 3 of Article 2 establishes a hodgepodge of presidential duties, among them that the president shall “from time to time” report to Congress on “the State of the Union”; that the president may call Congress into special session when it’s out on recess if urgent business so requires, that the president must “faithfully execute” the laws of the United States; and that the president shall grant commissions to all military officers of the United States.


Article 2, Section 4 provides for presidential impeachment and removal from office in the event the president is convicted of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”


Article 3 deals with the judicial branch and is made up three sections comprised of eight clauses. Section 1 establishes the Supreme Court of the United States and its “inferior” branches. It establishes the Supreme Court as head of the judicial branch in the same way as the president is established as head of the executive. It also provides for life tenure of the judges and provides for their financial compensation.


Section 2, Clause 1 establishes the jurisdiction of the federal courts. The second clause deals with the “original jurisdiction” before the Supreme Court. In essence, “original jurisdiction” means that a matter “originates” with the Supreme Court (as opposed to the more usual “appellate jurisdiction” of the court which provides that the court hears cases on appeal from a lower court decision. It is worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in a very few, select kinds of cases, for example, those involving ambassadors). Section 2, Clause 3 provides the right to a jury trial when one is charged with a crime in federal court.


Article 3, Section 3, first clause deals with treason, one of the only crimes mentioned in the Constitution. Interestingly, it provides that to be convicted of the crime, at least two persons must bear witness against the accused. I quote the second clause directly, “The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood or forfeiture except during the life of the person attained.” Sounds ominous but what it means is that Congress may determine the punishment for treason but the government cannot punish the relatives or descendants of someone convicted of the a treasonous offense.

In the next part of the series, on to Article IV. Then we will push on through Articles V through VII which are blessed in their comparative brevity.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, or

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