Intro to U.S. Constitutional Law


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These slides are part of an Introduction to American Law course offered to students at the University of Osnabrück. In this session the students read the Constitution and attempt to answer the questions presented in the slides.

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  • Rights found in the Constitution itself: No Bill of Attainder – Art. I, Secs 9 & 10 cannot create law that is directed at punishing a particular individual. No Ex Post Facto Laws – Art I, Secs 9 & 10 law criminally punishes conduct that was lawful when it was done.
  • The day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the hands of the various federal executive departments, created by Congress to deal with specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the 15 departments, chosen by the President and approved with the "advice and consent" of the U.S. Senate, form a council of advisors generally known as the President's "Cabinet". Other Facts: About 2000 Presidential Appointments. Heads of Departments are in line of succession V.P – Speaker – Senate President Pro Tem then State, Treasury, Defense, Justice . . . . Executive Branch has 4.1 million employees.
  • 110 th Congress Senate – 49 Dems, 49 GOP, 2 Independents House – 235 Dems, 199 GOP, 1 vacancy 111 th Congress Senate – 55 Dems, 40 GOP, 2 Independents, 3 undecided (as of Nov 8th) House – 255 Dems, 174 GOP, 6 undecided (as of Nov 8th)
  • Qualifications Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: 1) each senator must be at least 30 years old, 2) must have been a citizen of the United States for at least the past nine years, and 3) must be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state they seek to represent. Filibuster – (aka “Talking out a bill”) & Cloture Not in the Constitution! Used by both House and Senate until mid 1850s Is a device used to block the passage of legislation. Basically, legislators can endlessly discuss the bill and not allow any other business to take place. Since 1917, the Senate has had in place a rule that allows the endless debate to cease with the agreement of 60 Senators = Cloture . Remember, these are simply procedural rules and they can be changed! Advise and Consent Executive and Judicial appointments by the President require majority vote by the Senate for confirmation. Need 2/3 for passage of treaty.
  • Presiding Officers Vice President President of the Senate, but can only vote to break a tie. (Art 1, Sec 3) President Pro Tempore – serves as President of Senate when VP is not there. (Art 1, Sec 3) By custom the longest-serving member of the majority party 3 rd in line to the Presidency Robert Byrd has been in the Senate since 1959. Senate Majority Leader Elected by majority party Responsible for managing the Senate and scheduling bills.
  • Qualifications (Art 1, Sec 2) each representative must be at least twenty-five years old, must have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years, and must be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state they represent. Power of the Purse All bills for raising revenue must originate in the House!
  • Average population per district: 630,070 people State with the most districts: California: 53 State with the fewest districts: seven states have only a single district: Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Vermont, and Wyoming. District with the most people: Montana At Large: 905,316 District with the fewest people: Wyoming At Large: 495,304 States gain and lose districts based upon census (every ten years) MI in 1980 had 19 Reps, today has 15. Process of drawing districts in each state is contentious and differs from state to state.
  • Speaker of the House – Nancy Pelosi Article I, § 2 of the United States Constitution established the position of Speaker of the House, stating that, “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker…” Under this constitutional mandate, a Speaker is elected by popular vote within the House of Representatives prior to the opening of a new session of Congress. As the Constitution does not forbid it from occurring, it is not necessary for the Speaker of the House to be a member of the majority party or even a Member of Congress. Every Speaker of the House, however, has been a Member of Congress, and no Speaker has been elected from a minority party since 1860. 2 nd in line to the Presidency after Vice-President. Majority Leader – Steny Hoyer Prior to the convening of a new Congress every two years, a Majority Leader is elected by a secret ballot of the majority party caucus. Traditionally, the Majority Leader serves as the deputy to the Speaker of the House, who, since 1860, has come from the majority party. One of the principle duties of the Majority Leader is to schedule legislation for consideration on the floor of the House. Majority Whip – James Clyburn An elected member of the majority party who assists the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader to coordinate ideas on and garner support for proposed legislation. This position, unlike Speaker of the House, is not mandated by the Constitution. Instead, it emerged near the beginning of the 20th century. Minority Party: has Leader and Whip. Committees The House uses committees (as well as their subcommittees) for a variety of purposes, including the review of bills and the oversight of the executive branch. The appointment of committee members is formally made by the whole House, but the choice of members is actually made by the political parties. Historically, membership on committees has been in rough proportion to the party's strength in the House as a whole, with two exceptions: on the Rules Committee, the majority party fills nine of the thirteen seats; and on the Ethics Committee, each party has an equal number of seats.
  • Intro to U.S. Constitutional Law

    1. 1. Introduction to US Law Introduction to American Constitutional Law: Lecture I
    2. 2. Not a Direct Democracy <ul><li>The U.S. is in no way a direct democracy. </li><ul><li>Congress is directly elected.
    3. 3. President really is not.
    4. 4. Judges are not.
    5. 5. No recalls
    6. 6. No direct initiatives (referendums) </li></ul><li>NOTE – each state has its own constitution </li><ul><li>some states do look more like a direct democracy. </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. Separation of Powers <ul><li>Three Branches of Government </li><ul><li>In theory, each checks the other.
    8. 8. Legislative Branch – law makers
    9. 9. Executive Branch – law enforcers
    10. 10. Judicial Branch – law interpreters </li></ul><li>There is some overlap. </li><ul><li>Executive Agencies make regulations.
    11. 11. Courts make law. </li></ul></ul>
    12. 12. Sources of Law <ul><li>Constitution
    13. 13. Bill of Rights
    14. 14. Federal Law
    15. 15. State Constitution
    16. 16. State Law
    17. 17. Local Law </li></ul>
    18. 18. Checks on Power <ul><li>Constitution </li><ul><li>Separation of Powers
    19. 19. Checks and Balances </li></ul><li>Bill of Rights </li><ul><li>protects individual rights from tyranny of majority. </li></ul></ul>
    20. 20. Competing Interests <ul><li>Constitution </li><ul><li>Federal v. State governments </li></ul><li>Civil Liberties </li><ul><li>Government (State and Federal) v. Individual </li></ul></ul>
    21. 21. Article I- The House <ul><li>Sec. 2 </li><ul><li>How are the members of the House of Representatives chosen?
    22. 22. How many reps does each states get?
    23. 23. How long do the reps serve?
    24. 24. What are the requirements to be a rep?
    25. 25. The section ends with “The House of Representatives . . . shall have the sole power to impeach.” What does this mean? </li></ul></ul>
    26. 26. Article I – The Senate <ul><li>Sec. 3 </li><ul><li>How were members of the Senate originally chosen? </li><ul><li>How does the 17th Amendment change this?
    27. 27. For how long do Senators serve?
    28. 28. What are the requirements to be a Senator? </li></ul><li>Explain the Senate's role in the Impeachment process. </li></ul></ul>
    29. 29. Article I - Creating Law <ul><li>Sec. 7 </li><ul><li>Where must bills that raise revenue start?
    30. 30. Once both houses pass a bill, it is sent to the President for his signature. What can the President do with the bill?
    31. 31. If President objects to the bill and sends it back to Congress, how can Congress bypass the President's rejection? </li></ul></ul>
    32. 32. Article I – Checks on Power <ul><li>Sec 9 </li><ul><li>What is the first clause limiting?
    33. 33. What other limits are placed on Congress in the rest of the section? </li><ul><li>NOTE – I will explain what ex post facto law and Bill of Attainder mean. </li></ul></ul><li>Sec 10 </li><ul><li>This section places limits on what the individual states can do. What are these limits? </li></ul></ul>
    34. 34. Article I – The Powers <ul><li>Sec 8 </li><ul><li>Sets forth a list of explicit powers that Congress has.
    35. 35. What does “regulate commerce among . . . the several states mean?
    36. 36. What does “to promote the progress of science . . . by securing for limited times . . . exclusive rights . . . . “ mean?
    37. 37. What does “to constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court mean?
    38. 38. What does the last clause mean? </li></ul></ul>
    39. 39. Introduction to U.S. Law Introduction to American Constitutional Law: Lecture II
    40. 40. Article II – The Executive <ul><li>Sec. 1 </li><ul><li>For how long does the President serve? How many times can the President be re-elected? </li><ul><li>see also the 22 nd Amendment </li></ul><li>Explain how the President gets elected? </li><ul><li>see also the 12 th Amendment </li></ul><li>What are the qualifications to become President?
    41. 41. If the President dies in office or is removed, who becomes President? </li><ul><li>see also the 25 th Amendment </li></ul></ul></ul>
    42. 42. Article II – The Executive <ul><li>Sec. 2 </li><ul><li>What powers are given to the President?
    43. 43. Are there any limitations placed upon these powers? </li></ul><li>Sec. 3 </li><ul><li>What duties must the President fulfill? </li></ul><li>Sec. 4 </li><ul><li>How can the President be removed? </li><ul><li>See also Article I for the exact process. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    44. 44. Article III – The Judiciary <ul><li>Sec. 1 </li><ul><li>Which courts are expressly created by Article III?
    45. 45. How can new courts be established?
    46. 46. For how long to judges hold their office?
    47. 47. Who selects the judges? </li><ul><li>see also Article II, Sec. 2 </li></ul></ul><li>Sec. 2 </li><ul><li>What powers are given to the Court? </li></ul></ul>
    48. 48. Article V - Amendments <ul><li>Explain the process for amending the Constitution. </li></ul>
    49. 49. Introduction to U.S. Law The Players
    50. 50. Executive Branch
    51. 51. U.S. Congress <ul><li>Two Houses: </li><ul><li>Senate
    52. 52. House of Representatives </li></ul><li>Main Purpose = make laws and check power of other branches. </li></ul>
    53. 53. United States Senate <ul><li>Basic Information </li><ul><li>100 members, two from each state, six-year terms (staggered).
    54. 54. Unique Powers and Rules </li><ul><li>Filibuster & Cloture
    55. 55. Confirms Executive and Judicial appointments
    56. 56. Ratifies Treaties </li></ul></ul></ul>
    57. 57. Senate: Presiding Officers Vice_President Elect Joe Biden President Pro Tempore Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)
    58. 58. House of Representatives <ul><li>Basic Information </li><ul><li>435 members, number per state depends on population, two-year terms.
    59. 59. Presided over by Speaker of the House.
    60. 60. Unique Powers </li><ul><li>Power of the purse </li></ul></ul><li>Removal by 2/3 vote
    61. 61. Censure (punishment) by majority vote. </li></ul>
    62. 62. House of Representatives
    63. 63. House of Representatives