Vail Daily column: What the Constitution says
Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of a series.
What is famous is the amendments. But what started off the whole shebang of the U.S. Constitution — after the preamble of course — were the articles, numbered one through seven. As I explained in the last column, the articles set up the new nation’s housekeeping matters such as the rules which were to apply to the three branches of government: the legislative branch, executive and the judiciary. They also laid out what shall (and shall not) apply to the various states, how amendments should be brought forth and matters pertaining to ratification.
In the last column, we dipped our toes into Article I, which we learned is comprised of various sections or subparts. Section 1 deals with legislative powers, Section 2 with the composition of the House, and Section 3 with the care and feeding of the Senate. Now … boldly on to sections 4 through 10.
Section 4 of Article I of the United States Constitution stays with the legislative theme, providing that the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof. But … the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing senators.
The section further provides that the Congress shall assemble at least once a year and they should kick off the legislative hootenanny on the first Monday in December … unless they shall by law appoint a different day. In short, Section 4 states that the rules for election and convention shall be this and that … unless the senators themselves decide that most things so established shall be something else.
Section 5 deals with each of the two Houses of Congress and establishes certain rules of order such as the establishment of quorums. It holds too that each House should keep a generally public record which shall include a tallying of the various votes and that a member may be expelled for bad behavior upon a two-thirds vote. It also sets up rules for adjournment and establishes where the Houses should conduct their business.
On to Section 6 which addresses — believe it or not — that 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. Oh my; what mischief is this? But wait … there’s more. The section goes on to hold that 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.
But there is some good news. Section 6 further provides that neither a senator nor a representative shall, so long as he or she holds office, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States. In other words, so long as a senator is a senator and a rep is a rep, there shall be no double dipping at the federal till.
Taking the turn toward the end of the first Article, Section 7 invests the House of Representatives will originate all bills having to do with raising revenue. That said, the Senate “may propose or concur with” amendments on such bills. A “bill,” you will recall, is a proposed law.
Section 7 further provides that “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 approves, he simply signs it into law. If he objects, however, he “shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated … (and the members of that body shall) … proceed to reconsider it.” If after such reconsideration, notwithstanding the presidential veto, two-thirds of that House agrees to pass the bill, then “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.” This then accounts for presidential veto and legislative override of the veto power.
By Constitutional standards, Section 8 drones on a bit. In short, it invests the Congress with the authority which — other than delay and bicker — we have come to associate as those things that Congress does: tax, spend, borrow, pay debts, provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, regulate commerce, deal with immigration, coin money, establish post offices, promote scientific research and the arts, establish a system of courts, to declare war, to govern the District of Columbia, and (author’s note: here’s the big one) “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” This, not surprisingly, has become known as the “necessary and proper clause.”
Section 9 forbids the establishment of an American nobility. Quick, someone tell the Kennedys, the Bushes and the Clintons. Importantly, the section further provides “the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it” and that “no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.” Briefly, a “writ of habeas corpus” is a means of assuring that the detention of a prisoner is valid, a “bill of attainder” is a legislative act finding a person guilty without a trial and an ex post facto law is one which makes something illegal looking backward which was not illegal at the time the act was engaged in. These are essential rights. What’s more, the section provides that one state shall not be favored in matters of commerce, that no “head tax” shall be levied, that the legislature may not dip into the public treasury except for proper purpose and that a regular accounting of such expenses shall be published.
We have at last made our way to Section 10. It is a model of brevity. In a nutshell, it says that the powers conferred to the federal government shall not be infringed by the states.
In the next column, we will make our way intrepidly on to articles II-VII. Yep, when you speak (or in this case, write) in Roman numerals — like the Super Bowl — you’ve got game!
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 e-mail addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.