The text of the U.S. Constitution is bolded and commentary has been added below each applicable section.
Preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
The Preamble outlines the general goals of the Constitution. The Constitution was a response to the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. After declaring their independence from Britain, the thirteen former colonies began founding their own state governments. Most citizens of the newly established states believed that the states needed to be united by a national system of government. Nevertheless, they felt loyal to the states in which they resided, not to a unified central government, and were concerned that a unified central government would replace the "tyrannical" British rule. Hence, the Articles of Confederation created a weak central government with limited powers.
The Articles of Confederation created a unicameral Congress to which states would each send one delegate. This early Congress had the power to declare war, appoint officers to the military, and coin money. Nine of the thirteen states had to approve any bill before it could become a law. Congress could not raise taxes or regulate interstate or international trade. If Congress needed to raise funds, it had to borrow money from the states.
The Articles of Confederation did not provide for a method to raise money to repay the debts incurred by the states during the Revolutionary War. States began printing their own money and most states refused to accept other states' currency.
The Articles of Confederation did not establish an executive branch.
The Articles of Confederation did not give the central government the power to resolve conflicts between or among states.
Article I Section 1 All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
The federal government's power is limited to that granted to it in the Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution were still concerned about creating a powerful, central government. Article 1 Section 1 establishes a bi-cameral federal legislature composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Section 2 1: The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature. 2: No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen. 3: Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three. 4: When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies. 5: The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Clause 2: Attempts by Congress to add requirements for Members of the House of Representatives and Senators have been repeatedly rejected by Congress.
When Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African American elected to the Eighteenth Congressional District of New York, was prohibited from taking his seat in Congress because of his race, he sued John McCormack, the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time. In Powell v, McCormack (1969) the Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot exclude an elected member if the member has met all the qualifications of membership (age, citizenship, residence in state etc.) set forth in Article I Section 2 by adding additional requirements.
Clause 3: The first census was to occur within three years of ratification of the Constitution. A formal census is to be conducted every 10 years.
In 1929, the number of Representatives in the House was set at 435. States use an equation to adjust the apportionment of representatives. The states are permitted to establish and reconfigure the geographic boundaries of congressional districts apportioned to them. This has led to "gerrymandering:" setting the boundaries of voting districts to favor a specific party.
Three-fifths Compromise: In order to increase their influence in the House of Representatives and thereby enhance their ability to preserve the institution of slavery upon which their primarily agrarian economies were at the time dependent, southern states wanted enslaved men, women, and children to count as persons for purposes of apportioning Members of the House of Representatives among the states. Northern states, many of which hoped to abolish slavery throughout the new United States, did not want enslaved men, women, and children to be counted for purposes of congressional representation. An agreement, known as the three-fifths compromise, was reached between southern and northern states whereunder enslaved persons would be counted as three-fifths of a person when conducting a census to determine the number of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives. The three-fifths compromise came to be because southern slave owners, who considered their slaves to be their property, wanted to increase their power in House of Representatives. Neither the word "slave" nor the work "enslaved" is used until the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. In this clause of the Constitution, for example, enslaved persons are referred to as "other persons" to distinguish them from "free" persons, including temporarily indentured servants, who counted as a whole person, and "Indians," who were not counted at all. The three-fifths compromise was overturned by the Thirteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment specifies that a census must be conducted "counting the whole number of persons in each State."
Clause 4: The impeachment process begins in the House of Representatives. Impeachment is the process by which a legislative body formally makes a charge against a government official, such as the President of the United States. Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are the only two United States’ Presidents to have been impeached. An impeached President is then tried by the Senate. Both Presidents Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached for his involvement in the Watergate Scandal.
President Johnson was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act by removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and attempting to replace him with Brevet Major General Lorenzo Thomas.
President Clinton was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges were related to his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. Subsequent charges against President Clinton did not receive a majority of votes in the House of Representatives and did not reach the Senate.
Section 3 1: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote. 2: Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies. 3: No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen. 4: The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided. 5: The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States. 6: The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present. 7: Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
Clause 2: Until 1913, Senators were chosen by their state's legislature. The Seventeenth Amendment changed their method of election – Senators, like Members of the House of Representatives are now elected by popular vote. The Seventeenth Amendment also changed the way vacancies in the Senate are filled. When a vacancy occurs in the Senate, the governor of the state which has the vacant Senate seat may make a temporary appointment to the Senate. The temporary appointment remains effective until the state holds a special election to fill the vacancy.
Clause 7: If an individual is found guilty during the Senate trial of an Impeachment proceeding, the Senate must remove the guilty official from office and that official is banned from holding federal office in the future. Officials who are convicted by the Senate may then be tried in court.
Section 4 1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators. 2: The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
Clause 2: The Twentieth Amendment moved Congress' mandatory yearly meeting from the first Monday in December to January 3 of every year.
Section 5 1: Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a 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. 2: Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member. 3: 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. 4: Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
Clause 1: A “quorum” is the minimum number of members that must be present for business to be conducted in either the House of Representatives or the Senate.
Clause 2: Either house of Congress may expel a member by a two-thirds vote.
Clause 4: Neither house of Congress may adjourn a meeting for more than three days without the approval of the other house.
Section 6 1: 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 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. 2: 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.
Clause 1: Congress sets its own salary. The Twenty-Seventh Amendment stipulates that any alteration in congressional salary goes into effect during the next session of Congress. This amendment was originally submitted to the states in September 1789 together with eleven other amendments. Ten of these amendments were ratified and became the Constitution’s the Bill of Rights. The Twenty-Seventh Amendment was ratified 203 years later in 1992.
Members of Congress cannot be prosecuted for statements they make on the floor, ostensibly to allow for freedom of debate. Members of Congress can, however, be arrested for criminal offenses.
Clause 2: Members of Congress cannot hold other federal offices during their terms in Congress. This clause was added to ensure separation of powers between the three branches of government.
In McCullough v. Maryland (17 U.S. 316 (1819)) the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Congress has the power to incorporate a bank. The Court also held that Maryland may not tax the Maryland branch of the Bank of the United States. The Constitution gives Congress the power to borrow money and regulate commerce. Although Congress is not specifically given the power to create a bank, the “elastic clause” gives Congress the power to make any law “necessary and proper” to carry out its vested powers, and the Court’s decision determines that Congress can exercise its implied powers and states may not interfere with them.
Section 7 1: 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. 2: 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. 3: 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 repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.
Clause 1: Tax bills must originate in the House of Representatives. The Senate may alter tax bills that reach the Senate floor.
Clause 2: If a bill passes through both houses of Congress, it is sent to the President. If the President signs the bill it becomes a law. If the President refuses to either sign or veto a bill for 10 days while Congress is in session, the bill will become a law. If the President refuses to sign or veto on a bill for 10 days and Congress adjourns at any point during that ten-day period, the bill is "pocket" vetoed. If the President vetoes a bill or if a bill is given a "pocket" veto, it can still become a law with a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress.
Clause 3: Congress may pass resolutions that have the same force as laws. These resolutions must be signed by the President to ensure that Congress cannot bypass the President.
Section 8 1: 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, and shall be uniform throughout the United States; 2: To borrow Money on the credit of the United States; 3: To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; 4: To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; 5: To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; 6: To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States; 7: To establish Post Offices and post Roads; 8: 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; 9: To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court; 10: To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations; 11: To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; 12: To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; 13: To provide and maintain a Navy; 14: To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; 15: To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; 16: 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; 17: To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cessation 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 18: 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.
Clause 1: Duties are tariffs, imposts are taxes, excises are taxes on production or sale of certain goods.Clause 11: Only Congress can declare war. Letters of marque and reprisal are documents that allow merchant ships to arm themselves. Letters of marque and reprisal are no longer issued.
Clause 3: Commerce Clause: The New York State legislature granted a monopoly of exclusive navigation privileges to two steamboat operators. A rival company sued. In its 1824 decision in Gibbons v. Ogden (22 U.S. 1 (1824)), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states cannot grant the exclusive right to navigate their waters. The Constitution gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce. Although the Constitution does not define “commerce,” the Court determined that “commerce” includes navigation.
In Wickard v. Filburn (317 U.S. 111 (1942)), the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Congress may set limitations on a farmer’s production of wheat, even if such wheat is intended for his own consumption. Gonzalez v. Raich (541 U.S. 1 (2005)) cites Wickard in its decision, which allows Congress under the Commerce Clause to ban the growing of cannabis, even when done by an individual to be used for his or her own medicinal use.
Congress never formally declared war against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, so what is commonly referred to as the “Vietnam War,” was officially deemed to be a military conflict.
Clause 18: Congress may pass any laws "necessary and proper" to carry out its powers. This clause is referred to as the "elastic clause" because it allows congress to stretch its powers.
Section 9 1: 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. 2: 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. 3: No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed. 4: No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken. 5: No Tax or Dutyshall be laid on Articles exported from any State. 6: 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. 7: 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. 8: 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.
Clause 1: Prevented Congress from banning the slave trade until 1808. The Framers believed that, by allowing for the importation of slaves to continue for 20 years after the ratification of the Constitution, the southern states would grow rapidly and would acquire enough Congressional seats to prevent any bill outlawing the slave trade from passing both houses of Congress. Congress nevertheless outlawed the slave trade as soon as they were able to do so.
Clause 2: A writ of habeas corpus is a court order requiring the a government agency or official holding an individual in custody to bring the detained individual to court and to present the reasons for that individual’s detention. Writs of habeas corpus are issued to prevent an individual from unlawful imprisonment.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln gave the Commanding Genreal of the Army the authority to suspend writs of habeas corpus. Militia Lieutenant John Merryman was arrested for his involvement in demolishing railroad bridges used by Union Troops. In Ex Parte Merryman (1861), the Supreme Court held that the President cannot suspend writs of habeas corpus, only Congress has that power.
Clause 3: The Constitution bans bills of attainder and ex post facto laws. Bills of attainder are laws declaring an individual or a certain group guilty of a crime. Ex post facto laws punish an act that was not illegal at the time it was committed.
Clause 4: The Constitution bans capitation taxes. Capitation taxes are fixed taxes placed on a person. This was overturned by the Sixteenth amendment, which implemented a federal income tax.
New York used a bill of attainder to expel British loyalist Parker Wickham from the state by seizing his land during the Revolutionary War.
Clause 5: Southern states opposed the taxation of exports because the exportation of agrarian products integral to their economies.
Section 10 1: 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 Law, or ex post facto Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility. 2: 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 of the Congress. 3: No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any , 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.
States cannot act as if they are separate nations. Like Congress, states cannot pass ex post facto laws.
Article II Section 1 1: The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows 2: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. 3: The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President. 4: The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States. 5: No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. 6: In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected. 7: The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other from the United States, or any of them. 8: Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Clause 2: The Framers of the Constitution did not want the citizens of the United States to elect the President by direct popular vote. Instead, each state chooses its electors. The total number of electors for each state is the number of Senators + number of Members of the House of Representatives from such state (so that no state can have fewer than 3 electoral votes). The electoral college increases the influence in presidential elections of states with low populations.
Clause 3 is no longer in effect. Originally, electors were instructed to vote for two candidates (one could not be from the elector's home state). The individual who received the most electoral votes became the President and the runner-up became the Vice-President.
This system was changed after the election of 1800. In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson was the Democratic-Republican presidential candidate and Aaron Burr was the same party's vice-presidential candidate. The Electoral College planned for one elector to abstain from voting for Burr so that Jefferson would receive the majority of votes and become President and Burr, receiving one less vote would become Vice President. This did not happen. Both candidates received an equal number of votes. Since the Electoral College could not certify a winner in the presidential election, the election was sent to the House of Representatives.
It took 36 rounds of voting in the House of Representatives for Jefferson to receive a majority of the votes.
Voting system was changed with the Twelfth Amendment (1804). Now, the two candidates run as a team with one running for President and the other running for Vice-President.
Clause 4: Congress determined that elections occur on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Electors meet in December to determine the outcome of the election. Clause 5: The Constitution includes this provision: "[c]itizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of the Constitution" because the first seven Presidents of the United States were born under British rule. They were citizens at the time the Constitution was ratified and, therefore, eligible to become President.
Forty-eight states award all of their electors to the winner of the popular vote in the state. Maine and Nebraska, however, award their electors in proportion to the state’s popular vote.
“Faithless electors” are electors who refuse to vote for the candidate for whom they are pledged to vote. In the presidential election of 2016, Hillary Clinton lost five electoral votes to faithless electors and Donald Trump lost two electoral votes to faithless electors.
Clause 6: The Twenty-Fifth amendment clarified the ambiguity in this clause. When William Henry Harrison died in office, it was uncertain whether John Tyler, his Vice-President, would be inaugurated as President or would remain Vice-President but assume the duties of the President. Tyler persuaded a federal judge to swear him in as President.
Section 2 1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. 2: He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. 3: The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
In Korematsu v. United States (323 U.S. 214 (1944)), the Supreme Court ruled that the internment of Japanese Americans following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor was a constitutional exercise of the President’s executive power as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
Section 3 He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States. Section 4The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Civil officers, including members of the Cabinet and Federal judges, may be impeached.
In Nixon v. Fitzgerald (457 U.S. 731 (1982)), a case in which a civilian analyst for the U.S. Air Force was fired by the Nixon Administration for testifying about the cost overruns associated with C-5A transport planes, the Supreme Court ruled that the President has immunity from civil suits for actions taken “in official capacity” as president. However, the Constitution provides the remedy of impeachment. In his dissenting opinion, Justice White argues that presidential immunity undermines the rule of and that the Constitution only grants immunity to Members of Congress.
In Clinton v. Jones (520 U.S. 681 (1997)), a case involving a suit for sexual harassment against President Clinton by a woman who worked for him when he was governor of Arkansas, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that a President is not immune from civil suits involving actions that occurred before he or she entered office.
Article III Section 1 The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 set up the United States’ court system of district and circuit courts.
There are twelve Federal courts of appeal: there are eleven “circuits,” or groups of states. The twelfth “circuit” is the District of Columbia. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is also known as the “mini-Supreme Court.”
Section 2 1: The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State; —between Citizens of different States, —between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects. 2: In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make. 3: The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.
Clause 2: The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, meaning that it serves as the trial court, over cases involving ambassadors and similar foreign officials and cases in which a state is a party. The remainder of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction is appellate. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction to review the decisions of state or federal trial courts, state appellate courts, and lower federal appellate courts. The scope of the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction may be altered by congressional legislation, but, as Marbury v. Madison (5 U.S. 137 (1803)) makes clear, the scope of the Supreme Court's original jurisdiction may be altered only by constitutional amendment.
Section 3 1: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. 2: The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person . Article IVSection 1Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.
States must respect the laws and court orders of other states, even if a state’s own laws differ. Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia (388 U.S. 1 (1967)), sixteen states outlawed interracial marriage and refused to recognize the marriage certificates from other states that allowed interracial marriage. Surprisingly, Article 4 of the constitution was never used to coerce the states into recognizing interracial marriages.
Section 2 1: The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States. 2: A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime. 3: No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
Clause 1: The federal government may not discriminate against the citizens of a particular state. Likewise, no state may discriminate against citizens from any other state. This forbids the states from imposing significantly higher taxes on non-residents.
Clause 2: The Constitution establishes “extradition” between states. Extradition is the process by which a person located in one state who has been charged with committing a crime in a different state must be sent to the other state to face trial.
Clause 3: The Fugitive Slave Clause requires states to extradite any “person held to service or labour” who escapes, even if this person escapes to a state that does not permit slavery. The clause provides no means for extradition of enslaved persons and many free states sought to undermine this clause in the Constitution by refusing to return escaped enslaved individuals. In response, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 made it a federal crime to assist any escaped enslaved person.
Section 3 1: New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress. 2: The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
Clause 1: This clause forbids the establishment of a new state “within the Jurisdiction of any other State…without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” This provision was designed to give larger states, like Virginia and North Carolina, a veto over whether their western territories could become new states.
Virginia’s western territories eventually became Kentucky and North Carolina’s eventually became Tennessee. Massachusetts’ northern territory eventually became Maine.
Section 4 The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.
Clause 1: This clause forbids the establishment of a new state “within the Jurisdiction of any other State…without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” This provision was designed to give larger states, like Virginia and North Carolina, a veto over whether their western territories could become new states.
Virginia’s western territories eventually became Kentucky and North Carolina’s eventually became Tennessee. Massachusetts’ northern territory eventually became Maine.
Article V The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hunrred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Article 5 describes the process of amending the Constitution. Amendments may be proposed either by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by two-thirds of the state legislatures. Amendments must then be ratified by the state legislatures of three-quarters of the states or by state ratifying conventions in three-quarters of the states.
Article 5 specifically forbids three amendments: any amendment that would ban the slave trade prior to the 1808 deadline set forth in Article 1, any amendment that would undermine the three-fifths clause for census conduction, or any amendment that would deny a state votes in the Senate.
Article VI 1: All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation. 2: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Clause 2: Article 6 is often referred to as the “Supremacy Clause” because, according to Article 6 of the Constitution, when a state law conflicts with federal laws, the federal law must prevail.
State laws that appear to contradict provisions of federal laws or of the Constitution frequently become the subject of Supreme Court cases.
Several states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, even though it remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substance Act. A case concerning the legality of marijuana will likely be brought to the Supreme Court in the next few years.
When an Arkansas State Legislature passed a law exempting white children from attending schools that were desegregated pursuant to Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483 (1955)), the Supreme Court ruled that the states are bound by federal court decisions and cannot choose to ignore them.
Article VII The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same. The Word "the", being interlined between the and Lines of the Page, The Word being partly written on an in the Line of the Page. The Words "is tried" being interlined between the and Lines of the Page and the Word "the" being interlined between the and Lines of the Page.
Amendment 1 (1791) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment forbids the federal government from establishing an official church. The United States does not have an official religion. It cannot force anyone ot practice any religion nor forbid anyone from joining any religion.
The First Amendment’s free speech protection has been limited through Supreme Court decisions.
Libel is not permitted under the First Amendment.
Additionally, the Court has banned words that can lead to “clear and present danger” e.g. you cannot shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
The First Amendment now extends to internet activities.
Amendment 2 (1791) A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The states are given the power to maintain a militia, now in the form of the National Guard.
The Second Amendment has been the subject of much debate and litigation. Even afterD.C. v. Heller (554 U.S. 570 (2008)), which held that an individual’s right to bear arms is not connected to service in the militia, constitutional scholars continue to disagree about whether the Framers believed the “right to bear arms” should belongs to individuals or only to militias.
The Second Amendment is one of a few constitutional amendments that is not covered by the “Equal Protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, so gun control legislation varies widely from state to state.
Some states ban private citizens from owning weapons of a certain caliber or impose mandatory background checks and waiting periods on citizens interested in buying guns. Other states have very loose gun control legislation.
Amendment 3 (1791) No Soldier shall, in time of peace be in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be by law.
The Third Amendment is rarely the subject of Supreme Court cases. It was a response to the British quartering their soldiers in citizens’ private homes. The Framers of the Constitution wanted to protect citizens from unfair government intrusions in individual’s personal lives and homes.
Amendment 4 (1791) The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
After Fremont Weeks was convicted for using the mail to transport illegal lottery tickets, U.S. Marshalls entered Weeks’ home and conducted a warrantless search of his property, taking his personal documents to use as evidence against him. Weeks appealed his conviction because evidence used against him was illegally seized from his property. In Weeks v. United States (232 U.S. 383 (1914))the Supreme Court heard his case on appeal and unanimously decided that evidence gathered illegally without a warrant cannot be used in a federal, criminal trial. The Court asserted that if private document can be seized and used as evidence without a warrant, the Fourth Amendment protection against search and seizure is of no value. The Court reversed Weeks’ conviction.
In 1982, in response to a tip from a reliable source, D.C. police officers stopped and searched a vehicle they believed was being used to transport illegal narcotics for purposes of sale. The officers found heroin and a large amount of cash in the vehicle. The vehicle’s driver, Albert Ross, sought to suppress the evidence against him because it was obtained in a warrantless search. In United States v. Ross (456 U.S. 798 (1982)) the Supreme Court held that if police have probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains contraband, they may conduct a warrantless search. The ruling in this case is now referred to as the “automobile exception.”
In Knowles v. Iowa (525 U.S. 113 (1998)) the Court limited the “automobile exception,” holding that speeding citations issued without an arrest warrant do not justify the search of a vehicle.
In California v. Greenwood (486 U.S. 35 (1988)) the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to garbage left outside the curtilage of a home.
Schools are an exception to the Fourth Amendment. Schools may search lockers and drug test students participating in extracurricular sports.
Amendment 5 (1791) No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
During wartime, soldiers and militia are not covered by Fifth Amendment protections.
The right to a grand jury trial is not guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Any evidence obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment may be suppressed during trial.
In 1949, a number of parents petitioned the D.C. Board of Education to integrate John Phillip Sousa Junior High, a newly-constructed school. The School Board denied their petition. A year later, Spottswood Bolling was admitted to the school, but refused entry when he tried to attend. A professor at Howard School of Law filed suit on behalf of Bolling and the ten other students who were refused entry at the school. The court was granted a certiorari by the Supreme Court. The Court’s decision in Bolling v. Sharpe(347 U.S. 497 (1954)) was released on the same day as the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483 (1954)). In Bolling, the Court held that racial segregation “constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of … liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause” of the Fifth Amendment.
The Fifth Amendment protects individuals from self-incrimination. Individuals are given the right to remain silent. Under the Fifth Amendment, silence does not constitute an admission of guilt.
“I plead the fifth.”
Amendment 6 (1791) In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees citizens an attorney for all criminal trials. If an individual cannot afford an attorney, the federal government or state must provide one. If the attorney is inadequate, conviction may be challenged. The Sixth Amendment does not guarantee citizens an attorney for civil matters.
The Sixth Amendment allows accused persons to confront their witnesses (although child witnesses are often questioned privately in judges’ chambers) to ensure witnesses tell the truth.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a “speedy” trial to ensure witnesses remember events clearly and individuals are not detained indefinitely without having been convicted of any crime.
If the government purposely delays a trial, charges may eventually be dismissed.
Amendment 7 (1791) In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
The Seventh Amendment extends the right to a jury trial to civil matters, but the Seventh Amendment only guarantees the right to a jury trial in federal, not state, court.
Amendment 8 (1791) Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Bail is money paid by a defendant in exchange for his or her release from jail prior to his or her trial. When the defendant appears at trial, the bail money is returned. The Eighth Amendment prohibits courts from setting unreasonably high bail. When cases involve a defendant who bears a significant risk to the community or who is likely to run away, bail may be refused.
In the United States, an individual is innocent until proven guilty and the idea of bail reinforces this – an individual may be released from jail until he or she is convicted of a crime.
The Eight Amendment also protects citizens from “cruel and unusual punishment” which has been interpreted to include unsanitary jail cells, inadequate medical care, and overcrowded prisons.
Amendment 9 (1791) The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
This amendment is a compromise between Framers who wanted the Bill of Rights to be a general declaration of rights and those who wanted the Bill of Rights to explicitly list rights. Citizens cannot be denied certain rights just because they are not explicitly included in the Constitution.
In Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965)), the Court held that a Connecticut statute that subjected anyone using or providing others with contraceptives to a fine or imprisonment was unconstitutional. The Court argued that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras…that help give them life and substance…the right of privacy…is a legitimate one.” In his concurring opinion, Justice Goldberg used the Ninth Amendment to argue that the right or privacy was retained by the people. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Black argued that the right to privacy is nowhere in the Constitution or its Bill of Rights.
Amendment 10 (1791) The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Powers left to the states tend to include laws affecting family matters (marriage, divorce, adoption, etc.), intrastate commerce, and local law enforcement.
Amendment 11 (1795) The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
In prohibiting citizens of one state from suing another state in federal courts, the Eleventh Amendment overturns part of Article 3, Section 2.
Amendment 12 (1804) The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;—The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;—The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. —The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
Prior to the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, presidential candidates did not run with their choice of candidates for Vice President. The candidate who received the most votes became President and the candidate who came in second became the Vice President. In 1796, John Adams was elected President with 71 electoral votes and Thomas Jefferson became Vice President with 68 electoral votes. At the time, Adams and Jefferson were political rivals.
During the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, two Democratic-Republicans unexpectedly received an equal number of electoral votes. Jefferson and Burr had hoped that Jefferson would win the presidency and Burr would become Vice President. Because they received an equal number of electoral votes, the election was sent to the House of Representatives and 35 rounds of voting were conducted before Jefferson was declared President.
The Twelfth Amendment, which overturned part of article 2 Section 1, was ratified before the next election in 1804 to try to prevent a tie from occurring.
Now, if two presidential candidates receive an equal number of electoral votes, the vote is sent to the House of Representatives and each state is given one vote.
The “inhabitant clause” declares that electors must “vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.” This clause strongly discourages a President to pick a running mate from his or her state. Prior to the election of 2000, Dick Cheney, who was registered to vote in Texas like his running mate George W. Bush, registered to vote in Wyoming.
Amendment 13 (1865) Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Thirteenth Amendment is the first time the word “slavery” is used in the Constitution. It bans all involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” which the Supreme Court has interpreted to allow prison wardens to force prisoners to work.
The Supreme Court has ruled that mandatory community service, taxation, and the military draft do not constitute involuntary servitude.
Amendment 14 (1868) 1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. 2: Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State. 3: No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability. 4: The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void. 5: The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Citizenship is defined for the first time in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment. All African Americans were made citizens, overturning the Supreme Court’s heinous decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford (60 U.S. 393 (1857)). The Fourteenth Amendment defines citizenship and proclaims that states cannot deny rights to its citizens. Although the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees citizens of the United States “equal protection under the law.” In 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 (1896)), the Supreme Court upheld state legislated segregation of public facilities, provided the facilities were “equal.” This led to almost a century of virtual apartheid in most southern states.
The Fourteenth Amendment overturned the three-fifths clause and mandated that all citizens, except Native Americans, were counted equally toward a state’s population. Native Americans were not given citizenship until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
Prior to the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Bill of Rights applied only to federal government actions. States were free to include similar rights in their own state constitutions. The Supreme Court has incorporated most, but not all, of the Bill of Rights’ guarantees into the Fourteenth Amendment, making them applicable to the states.
The Fourteenth Amendment has led to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s.
In 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483 (1955)), the Supreme Court held that segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (See Sidebar ###)
In Loving v. Virginia (388 U.S. 1 (1967)), the Court held that anti-miscegenation laws, which were in place in sixteen states at the time, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Amendment 15 (1870) The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Although the Fifteenth Amendment guarantees the right to vote to African American males, many states imposed poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise African American voters. These practices continued until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960s were passed.
Amendment 16 (1913) The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
Article I Section 9 sets forth a national income tax under which states were taxed by the federal government based on that state’s percentage of the country’s population. The Sixteenth Amendment replaced this system of taxation and gives Congress the power to directly tax the income of individuals.
In 1895, in its decision in Pollock v. Farmer’s Loan and Trust Co. (157 U.S. 429 (1895)), the Supreme Court ruled that the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act of 1894, which imposed a 2% tax on income greater than $4,000 per year, violated the rule that direct taxes be apportioned and, was, therefore, unconstitutional.
Amendment 17 (1913) 1: The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures. 2: When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, that the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. 3: This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.
In establishing a direct election of senators, the Seventeenth Amendment overturned the provision in Article 1 Section 3, which stipulated that Senators were to be elected by the legislature of the state in which they reside.
Amendment 18 (1919) 1: After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. 2: The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 3: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed 14 years after its ratification by the Twenty-First amendment.
The Eighteenth Amendment was the first amendment to include a time limit (seven years) for its ratification by the states.
The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment led to a vast and extremely profitable black market for liquor.
Amendment 19 (1920) The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, some states allowed women to vote in state elections and to hold office.
Amendment 20 (1933) 1: The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin. 2: The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day. 3: If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified. 4: The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them. 5: Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article. 6: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.
The Twentieth Amendment moved Congress’ mandatory annual meeting from March 4th to January 3rd and moved Inauguration Day from March 4th to January 20th. Inauguration was originally held in March to give the President time to move himself and his family to Washington. As transportation improved throughout the United States, newly-elected Presidents and members of Congress did not need as much time to travel to Washington D.C. following the November election. Moving the beginning of the new President’s term from March to January significantly decreased the duration of the “lame duck” portion of a presidency, when Presidents tend to be least effective in their leadership.
Amendment 21 (1933) 1: The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed. 2: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited. 3: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.
The Twenty-First Amendment allowed states to set rules regulating the sale of alcohol.
Amendment 22 (1951) 1: No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term. 2: This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was the first and only President to be elected for more than two four-year terms. He died during his fourth term in office. FDR was incredibly popular for leading the United States out of the Great Depression with his New Deal Plan.
Amendment 23 (1960) 1: The District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but in no event more than the least populous state; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the states, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a state; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment. 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Before the ratification of the Twenty-Third Amendment, people livening in Washington D.C. could not vote for President.
Amendment 24 (1964) 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Twenty-Fourth Amendment, ratified nearly a century after the Fifteenth Amendment gave African Americans the right to vote, formally bans poll taxes and other discriminatory practices intended to disenfranchise African American voters.
Amendment 25 (1967) 1: In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President. 2: Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress. 3: Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President. 4: Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.
Gerald Ford was the first person appointed to the Vice Presidency under the terms set forth by the Twenty Fifth Amendment. Ford was appointed when President Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned. When President Nixon resigned, Ford assumed the Presidency. Ford is the only person to have served as Vice President and as President without being elected through a popular vote. Congress subsequently appointed Nelson Rockefeller as Ford’s Vice President.
Amendment 26 (1971) 1: The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age. 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment was ratified after the Supreme Court declared a law which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 unconstitutional.
Amendment 27 (1992) No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
The Twenty-Seventh Amendment was proposed along with the other Bill of Rights Amendments in 1789, but was not ratified until 213 years later.