Back to talking about Congress. Specifically, Article 1, Sections 5-10 of the US Constitution. Lets find out what powers Congress has.

Article I Section 5: Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide. Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member. Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal. Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

This is simple rules, right? Our Founding Fathers let Congress establish their own attendance requirements, and the punitive measures to take if people don’t show up. “…excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy” is an interesting part. I assume this is how certain committees are able to have closed hearings. I also found it interesting that neither house can adjourn for more than 3 days without the permission of the other. I wonder if Wisconsin is the same… Things to Google.

Currently the House is attempting to expel a Q-Anon member over her poor behavior during and after Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building in January of 2021. I’m excited to watch that process play out, and now I know where in the Constitution that can happen!

Section. 6. 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. 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. No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

So, Senators and Representatives get paid. Coolio. I wish their pay matched that of the minimum wage. That would certainly incentivize them to help others. The second sentence here, talking baout arrests is intriguing. I had no idea that the were immune to arrest while working. I had to do some quick googling. Apparently this only applies to Civil trial issues. Here’s a quote from “This clause is practically obsolete. It applies only to arrests in civil suits, which were still common in this country at the time the Constitution was adopted. It does not apply to service of process in either civil or criminal cases. Nor does it apply to arrest in any criminal case. The phrase “treason, felony or breach of the peace” is interpreted to withdraw all criminal offenses from the operation of the privilege.”

I like this second paragraph that talks about emoluments. Essentially, you can’t be an elected official and an employee of the Federal Government. That’s good. In theory, it stops people from abusing their position to increase their wealth. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, former politicians pivot to lobbying jobs very quickly.

Section. 7. All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills. 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 approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, 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. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law. Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be re-passed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

Here’s how bills get made. Cue Schoolhouse Rock. I’m going to breakdown these steps as I view it. Hopefully one of you reading decides I did this poorly and provides rewrites. I’m looking at you lawyer friends!

  1. A bill passes the House
  2. A bill passes the Senate(Probably with amendments)
  3. The President signs the bill, making it a law, or notes theirs issues with it
  4. If the President raises concerns, return to step 1, OR the House and the Senate can circumvent the President’s concerns with a 2/3 majority vote

There. I nailed that.

Sections 8 and 9 are really long. I’m going to comment on each line as I go. That way a confusing post that you’re reading is even less confusing.

Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

When someone says that taxes are unconstitutional, they’re wrong. This is what you can cite. On a different note, the line: “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” feels to me like an argument for UBI. It’s Constitutional to provide for the general Welfare of our country.

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

They can borrow money on behalf of the US. Neat.

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

Regulate commerce, OK, simple enough. The among several States part is a good example of how the Constitution creates guidelines of how states should act when doing business between the two.

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

This is the line that lets Congress decide how non-citizens can become citizens.

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

They get to manage how money is regulated, and they’re the ones that could allow us to move to the Metric system. FIX THIS NOW CONGRESS!!!

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

Feels self-explanatory

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

Also feels self-explanatory

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

This is a learning opportunity. Congress dictates copyright/trademark law. I mean yes, Congress makes laws, but I had no idea that this was a Constitutional duty.

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

They also get to make lower courts. That’s a new fact for me.

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

ARRRRR…. They be the scallywags who hang pirates.

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

This, I knew. As I write this, I am participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, year 19+ from the start of our invasion of Afghanistan. Fun fact: This is not a war. The cowards in Congress never declared one.

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

This feels right. They have to check on money appropriated for the military at least every two years. I would expect more eyes on this.

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

This must be where the National Guard resides. The Federal government does provide some funding and training, but it’s up to States about how they’re used. Most wars prior to WWII involved the 1st STATE Cavalry or something that was called up to active duty

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

I think this means that Congress chooses where Federal buildings are built. And based off some reading up on this clause, I believe I am right. This is the line that allowed Washington DC to be built. There’s a movement to make DC a state, so I’m fascinated to see what happens there.

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 allows Congress to make laws that allow them to carry out their duties. Eazy-peezy.

Section. 9. The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Wait… did the OG version of the Constitution put a cap on the amount of taxes allowed on importing people to be enslaved? I did a quick Google and yep. This clauses banned the import of people to be enslaved in 1808, and levied a tax on those people imported prior to 1808.

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.

First, what is the Writ of Habeas Corpus? Well, it’s Latin for “You have the body.” Here’s the Wikipedia definition and article:

Medieval Latin meaning “[we, a Court, command] that you have the body [of the detainee brought before us]”)[1] is a recourse in law through which a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment to a court and request that the court order the custodian of the person, usually a prison official, to bring the prisoner to court, to determine whether the detention is lawful.

This essentially states that you can’t be held in prison indefinitely without cause. There are two noticeable periods of time when the Writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended. The Civil War and Reconstruction were the first, and the ongoing “War on Terror” is the second. The suspension of Habeas Corpus is what led to the writing of this series on the Constitution.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

This prevents Congress from being Judge AND Jury. Also, you can’t charge someone with breaking a law, if it was committed before the law was passed.

No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken. No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State. No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

This is why some people think that the Government can’t tax us. Boy will they get mad when they read the SPOILER 16th Amendment. This clause also says that the Federal Government CANNOT tax inter-state trade.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

This is the Emoluments Clause. There’s a thought that EX-President Trump would go to jail over this due to his shady overseas business practices. That didn’t happen. :(

Section. 10. No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

Essentially states what States can’t do. States can’t grant titles of Nobility, hopefully this doesn’t interfere with my .

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

Here’s how our Founding Fathers saw the Federal Governemnt being funded. Tariffs. We’ve come so far.

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

The reserves the right to maintain armed forces to Congress. That’s probably good. States can’t always be trusted to do the right thing. See: Civil War

In Summary

I read more about Article 1 than I anticipated. Apparently the writers felt that the Legislative Branch would be the most important, which is why so much is explicitly laid out. Overall, I’m enjoying this. I like reading through the Constitution and really getting into the nitty-gritty of it. I can see where articles may require interpretation, and it’s obvious that much of this was written in a time past. I am surprised by how plain much of this document is plainly written.

Till next time.