The Constitution Article I: Rules for the Legislative Branch

This is the fifth in a series of essays about the Constitution of the United States.

After identifying the reasons for and powers of the Legislative Branch of our federal government in the previous two pieces on the Constitution, this essay is about other major requirements surrounding the Congress and its operative rules.

With the making of law being its key duty, the Congress must be cognizant of certain rules on how to accomplish the task.

The rules range from the qualifications of the participants to those actions they are forbidden to do. This "catchall" piece will complete the brief definition of the two bodies - the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Who can be a member of each body?

In the Senate, one must be a citizen at least 30 years of age who has lived in the country for at least nine years. A House member must be a citizen at least 25 years old and a U.S. resident more than seven years. Both must reside in the state in which they are elected.

Note that a House member does not have to live in the district represented. The same rule applies in Great Britain's House of Commons.

Who are the leaders of the House and Senate?

The Speaker of the House is selected by its members at the beginning of each two-year session of the body. The Speaker is normally from a majority party but can be any private citizen - House Member or not.

The Senate is overseen by the vice president of the United States, however, the true leader of the Senate is selected by the majority party and is called the Majority Leader. That individual controls the docket.

The Senate and House each have their own rules on how they will conduct their duties. Each may exclude a member for misbehavior with a two-thirds vote.

The House may impeach (charge) any federal official, including the president. The Senate will sit in judgment on whether the employee committed high crimes and/or misdemeanors. There have been very few impeachment trials.

Congress alone defines the term "high crimes and misdemeanors." Congress can only remove a federal employee from office. It cannot impose a fine or sentence.

No member of the legislature can be arrested while conducting the business of passing laws. This prevents political opponents from manufacturing fake charges in order to stop members from voting. Exceptions include treason and felony charges.

Congress cannot pass a law with the intent of having a person arrested on charges of breaking it before it became law. This is the ex post facto rule. Likewise, the Congress cannot issue bills of attainder, which means they cannot impose judgment on a group or individual without a formal trial.

The Congress ensures that writs of habeas corpus are always in place in all courts. That means any arrestee must be brought before a judge to determine whether the prisoner's detention is lawful. Exceptions may be in times of war or national emergencies. President Lincoln eliminated habeas corpus during the Civil War.

All House members are selected every two years.

One third of the Senate is selected every two years. Senators serve for six years.

If a House member leaves or dies before the two-year term expires, the state must hold an election to replace that representative.

Depending on the state, an election or an appointment by the governor will fill any Senate opening.

The Senate or House cannot grant titles of nobility. States cannot tax exports or imports or charge duties on vessels traveling from one state to another (ferryboats are an example).

Also, no state will be allowed to enter into a treaty with another country, issue titles of nobility, coin any money, create ex post facto laws or bills of attainder.

Congress ensures that none of its members take bribes or gifts (called emoluments), or titles of nobility.

States cannot wage war, raise an army or navy, or make treaties with other states or foreign entities.

The federal government, with the help of the Senate and House, in essence, became the "watchdog" over the states while policing their own ranks.

• Bruce Simmons of Aurora is a former teacher with more than 25 years experience teaching social studies and humanities. This is one in a series of essays describing the history and meaning of the U.S. Constitution. The next two installments in this series on the Constitution will cover Article II - the executive branch.

The Framers: Delegates at the Constitutional Convention

Former social studies teacher explains the Constitution

Examining the Constitution: Compromise in Article I

The Constitution: Article II - The Executive Branch, the presidency

The Constitution: Executive Branch responsibilities, powers

The Constitution Article I: Rules for the Legislative Branch

Bruce Simmons
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