Inside the Constitution

As students are advancing on their instructional unit on the Constitution (as well as on their group projects), I figured it would be good to include a general breakdown of its contents for your reference:

The Preamble

This is the introduction to the Constitution. It is saying that a new Constitution has been adopted to “form a more perfect union;” meaning, the structure of the American government under the first constitution, “The Articles of Confederation,” have been changed to ensure that the country remains peaceful and prosperous.

Article I

This section describes the powers given to Congress and describes the rules of running for the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. First, Congress is responsible for raising and levying taxes, raising a military, controlling business (or, commerce), the coinage of money, and declaring war. Terms are unlimited in Congress, with House Representatives being 25 years of age when they assume the position and Senators being 30 years of age when they assume the position. Members of the House are elected to two year terms while members of the Senate are elected to 6 year terms.

*Congress’s check on presidential power is the Senate’s confirmation of presidential appointments and the impeachment process.

Here is the website for the White House: Official Page of the President

Article II

This section outlines the Executive Branch. Very little is said about the Presidency, save for when he (or she) assumes the Oath of Office, the hosting of foreign guests, serving as the Commander in Chief of the military, and addressing joint sessions of Congress. This was probably done because the Framers were concerned that a powerful figurehead like a monarch could rise to power in this position.

*The President is the head of the Executive Branch. The most mentions of the Executive Branch in the Constitution is the selection of advisors. Our Executive Branch today consists of 15 Departments (such as State, Education, and Defense) and employs 1 million people.

*The President can veto, or reject, authored legislation from Congress. Congress, in turn, has the power to override that veto by a 2/3 vote in the House of Representatives.

Here are the official websites for both houses of Congress: House of RepresentativesU.S. Senate

Article III

The Judicial Branch. Justices appointed to the Supreme Court and the Federal Courts are not elected. This was done because the Founders felt that anybody who was to interpret the Constitution must not be in the fray of politics. The justices are essentially the guardians of the Constitution.

*The Supreme Court and the Federal Appellate Courts are not trial courts. Yes, there is federal criminal court, which is in a separate realm from what we are discussing here. These courts hear complaints of one’s constitutional rights being violated. A complaint is usually made in the Appellate Courts, and if the Supreme Court is interested in hearing the case, it may do so. However, filing motions with the Supreme Court and the Appellate Courts could take years.

*The justices have different interpretations of the Constitution. They don’t simply declare a law unconstitutional because they don’t like it. There has to be a sound reasoning, or legal precedent that influences their ruling. Supreme Court opinions are readily available for anyone to see, and they’re quite interesting to read: The Supreme Court

Let it also be known that every state has its own constitution and its own form of government. Every state has a governor (who is the head of the executive branch within a given state), but not every state has two houses of Congress (Nebraska only has a one-house legislature). Judges at the state and local levels are elected to office and not appointed. And yes, every state has its own Constitution.

Arizona’s Official Webpage: State of Arizona

That’s the amazing thing about our federal republican form of government: all different governments (local, state, and federal) co-existing with one another. Please take the time to review these links to become familiar with them all.

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