Article 1

U.S. Congress

People think Congress = The House of Representatives, but in actuality Congress = The House of Representatives + The Senate. This error is so widespread that when people say “Congressperson” or reference “Congress” they almost always mean the House. Also Congress is “bicameral” (2 chambers, not 1) and the main purpose of Congress is to write our laws. Congrats, you now know more than a shitload of people about Congress.

Article 1 (cont'd)

The House

Who’s in it?

435 Representatives. They’re proportional, so bigger states get more Reps (e.g. 53 from California, 1 from Wyoming). Although the U.S. population is growing, the number stays fixed at 435 (due to a 1929 law). So currently there’s roughly 1 Representative for every 748,000 people. Also states with only 1 Rep are called “at large”.

How long do they serve?

Terms are 2 years, so Representatives are elected every 2 years (the whole House is always up). If a Representative quits, dies, or is removed from office, the governor of his/her state orders a special election to fill the seat.

How do we decide who represents which people in each state?

The Census. Every 10 years (e.g. 2000, 2010, 2020) we count the population, and then each state uses that data to redraw it’s House districts (called “redistricting”). This way states can still be represented fairly as populations change. There’s also a way to do this unfairly: visit gerrymanderjewely.com to learn more about that.

Can I be a Representative?

If you’re at least 25, have been a U.S. citizen for 7 years, and live in the state you’d represent, than yes. In fact we need you to be one (it’s weird RN).

Anything else?

Representatives choose the Speaker of the House and other ranking officers. The House is solely responsible for impeachment (e.g. of a President, VP, or other federal officer). And any laws regarding taxes must originate in the House. There’s other stuff too (we’ll get to it later), but those are the basics.

Article 1 (cont'd)

The Senate

Who’s in it?

100 Senators. Every state gets 2, regardless of population.

How long do they serve?

Terms are 6 years, but there are Senate elections every 2 years (⅓ of the Senate is always up). If a Senator quits, dies, or is removed from office, the governor of his/her state appoints a temporary Senator until the next election. This is a big deal because if there’s an even number of Democrats and Republicans – and, say, a Republican resigns – that state’s governor could appoint a Democrat and tip the balance of the Senate temporarily.

Can I be a Senator?

If you’re at least 30, have been a U.S. citizen for 9 years, and live in the state you’d represent, than yes, we definitely need you to be a Senator. Please?

Anything else?

The Vice President oversees the Senate, but can only vote if there’s a tie. If the Vice President can’t be there, the “president pro tempore” (another Senator, chosen by the Senate) fills that role. The Senate is responsible for trying impeachments, where the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides. If ⅔ of Senators (67) vote to convict, punishment is removal from office and an inability to hold future office. You could also be tried in another court for crimes related to your removal, so definitely don’t get impeached and removed, it’d probably be super shitty for you.

Article 1 (cont'd)

The House & The Senate

  • Must meet once a year (at least)
  • Need a majority of members to operate (majority = “a quorum”)
  • Can expel a member with a 2/3 vote
  • Keeps journals & tracks votes

Representatives & Senators cannot:

  • Be arrested in, going to, or leaving a session (except for Treason, Felony, or breach of peace)
  • Be questioned going to or coming from a speech/debate
  • Also, work in the private sector (or benefit from it) while in office
  • Hold multiple offices simultaneously while in government
  • Accept gifts, offices, or titles from foreign states/leaders

Congress (The House + The Senate) has the power to:

  • Impose taxes to help pay for national defense
  • Conduct business with other countries, among states & with Native American tribes
  • Coin money & regulate the value of foreign currency
  • Impose standard weights/measures (e.g. feet & inches)
  • Punish counterfeiting
  • Promote science & the arts (e.g. inventions & writings)
  • Declare war
  • Authorize military budgets for 2-year periods
  • Punish piracies & felonies on water
  • Provide & maintain the U.S. Navy
  • Make rules for government & regulation of land & naval forces
  • Suppress insurrections & repel invasions
  • Oversee legislation regarding the military & militias
  • Publish where & how public money (e.g. taxes) is spent
  • Must meet once a year (at least)
  • Need a majority of members to operate (majority = “a quorum”)
  • Can expel a member with a 2/3 vote
  • Keeps journals & tracks votes

Representatives & Senators cannot:

  • Be arrested in, going to, or leaving a session (except for Treason, Felony, or breach of peace)
  • Be questioned going to or coming from a speech/debate
  • Also, work in the private sector (or benefit from it) while in office
  • Hold multiple offices simultaneously while in government
  • Accept gifts, offices, or titles from foreign states/leaders

Congress (The House + The Senate) has the power to:

  • Impose taxes to help pay for national defense
  • Conduct business with other countries, among states & with Native American tribes
  • Coin money & regulate the value of foreign currency
  • Impose standard weights/measures (e.g. feet & inches)
  • Punish counterfeiting
  • Promote science & the arts (e.g. inventions & writings)
  • Declare war
  • Authorize military budgets for 2-year periods
  • Punish piracies & felonies on water
  • Provide & maintain the U.S. Navy
  • Make rules for government & regulation of land & naval forces
  • Suppress insurrections & repel invasions
  • Oversee legislation regarding the military & militias
  • Publish where & how public money (e.g. taxes) is spent
Article 1 (cont'd)

Making A Law

We’ll get into more specifics later (like Schoolhouse Rock), but here’s a quick overview of what the Constitution says about the law-making process.

After a bill passes the Senate and the House, it goes to the President. The President can sign it (make it a law) or veto it (not make it a law). If the President vetoes it, ⅔ of the House and the Senate can vote to override the veto, and it becomes a law. Or, if the President receives a bill and doesn’t sign/veto it within 10 days (not counting Sundays), it becomes a law. BUT if the President receives a bill and doesn’t sign/veto it within 10 days – but Congress isn’t in session after those 10 days – then it doesn’t become a law (this is called a “pocket veto”).

Article 2

The President & Vice President

How do we pick them?

With elections every 4 years. But we don’t vote directly for President; we actually choose ‘electors’ who then choose the President for us. The President also picks his/her Vice President. As of 1951, the President can only serve 2 terms.

Electors?

As in members of the ‘Electoral College’. Each state gets a specific number of electors, equal to their Reps + their Senators. So California gets 55 electoral votes because it has 53 Representatives + 2 Senators. Whichever candidate wins a state’s popular vote gets all of its electoral votes (except for Maine and Nebraska, which split their votes along their House districts). You’ve probably heard 270 is an important number? That’s because there are 538 total electoral votes (435 Reps + 100 Senators + 3 for D.C.), so 270 puts you just over the top. These ‘electors’ also can’t be Representatives or Senators themselves, but they can be pretty much any other person (they’re nominated by the parties in each state). Maybe that’s a weird job you could run for?

Can I be President?

If you’re 35 (at least), have lived in the U.S. 14 years (at least), and are a natural-born U.S. citizen then FUCK YES YOU CAN PLEASE RUN WE NEED YOU.

Article 2 (cont'd)

Special Powers

A bunch. For example the President:

  • Can’t have his/her salary increase/decrease while in office
  • Can’t receive additional compensation from the federal government or from individual states
  • Is the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army/Navy (and of state militias)
  • Can pardon federal crimes (except for impeachment)
  • Can make treaties with other countries (if ⅔ of the Senate agrees)
  • Nominates ambassadors, ministers, consuls, judges, and other officers
  • Needs confirmation from the Senate for most appointees, but not all
  • Can appoint officers who need confirmation short-term while the Senate is not in session
  • Can be impeached/removed for treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors
  • Receives ambassadors and other public ministers from countries
  • Delivers a State of the Union occasionally (but no rules on how often/long it should be)
  • Can adjourn/convene either, or both, bodies of Congress (House and/or Senate)
Article 3

Judges

How do we pick federal judges?

The President nominates them and the Senate confirms them. This is for all federal judges: District Court, Circuit Court, Supreme Court, International Trade Court, etc. These judges serve for life as long as they exhibit “good behavior”. Like the president, their salaries can’t increase/decrease while in office. They can also be impeached.

What cases do they decide?

Stuff around the Constitution or involving ambassadors, ministers, and consuls. Cases involving the high seas (seems like a lot was happening out on ocean back in the day). Cases where the U.S. is prosecuting or defending. Controversies between two or more states, or a state and citizens of another state, or between citizens in two different states. Look, if the case isn’t completely contained within a state, it becomes a federal case. Also cases with ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and states – those cases start in the Supreme Court (rather than get appealed to it). There’s also a ton about treason; but in short, you need 2 witnesses to be convicted of it. In short, try not to commit treason.

How many federal courts are there?

This isn’t specifically in the Constitution, but in the federal government there’s 1 Supreme Court with 9 justices, 13 Circuit (a.k.a. Appellate) Courts with 179 judges, 94 District Courts with 673 judges, and 1 International Trade with 9 judges. The numbers change over time, but that’s where we are right now.

Anything else?

Just remember that federal judges are nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serve for live. Also, don’t commit treason – it’d be a huge headache.

Articles 4-7

The Rest of the Constitution

There’s a lot of random rules, but here are some highlights:

New states can be formed, but not within an existing state, or by joining 2 or more existing states or parts of existing states, without approval from the legislatures of those states as well as of Congress.

Constitutional Amendments can be proposed by ⅔ of Congress, or at a convention called by ⅔ of state legislatures (that’s 34). To ratify an Amendment, ¾ of state legislatures or conventions (38) are needed. Congress can choose between using legislatures or conventions to ratify.

You can’t impose a religious test in order to hold office in the U.S.

Sign Up & Show Up