Article 1, Part 2
Quick note before we begin, once again I want to thank the U. S. Constitution Online site, which has made this much easier than it otherwise would be since I can just copy and paste the relevant parts of the Constitution from them. It sometimes feels like I’m not commenting on the original legal document so much as writing commentary on that website.
As usual, I am not a lawyer or scholar, nor an expert on this in any way.
Ok, let’s get back into this.
Section 3. The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, (chosen by the Legislature thereof,) (The preceding words in parentheses superseded by the 17th Amendment, section 1.) for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
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 one third 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.) (The preceding words in parentheses were superseded by the 17th Amendment, section 2.)
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.
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
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.
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.
Okay, so first paragraph is pretty straightforward. Each state gets two senators, chosen by the state legislature (Originally; since the 17th Amendment senators are now chosen by the people of their state), the senators have a term of six years, and they only get one vote each.
The second paragraph starts with a scheme to stagger the terms, so we aren’t ever getting a whole new senate at once. It’s one of those interesting little bits of the Constitution that was very important when it was written, getting things set up so the system could start smoothly, but became superfluous almost immediately. I suppose it does set a nice model for how to re-start things if the entire senate ever drops dead or something.
On a side note, I’m curious if the senate still recognizes those classes it was originally divided into. Like, do we know which class is being elected in any given year. Seems like the kind of thing that would continue for the sake of convenience, but I don’t recall ever hearing about it.
There’s also a bit about unexpected vacancies, originally the state’s governor would appoint temporary senators, but now there’s an election.
The third paragraph is the requirements to be a senator. It’s the same as the House members with slightly different numbers: 30 years old, citizen of the nation for nine years, and live in the state you are expected to represent.
The fourth paragraph establishes that the Vice-President of the U.S. presides over the senate, which is as far as I know the only real duty the VP has. Besides being a backup President, of course. In the role of President of the Senate, the VP only gets to vote as a tie-breaker. Lest you think that sounds like an easy job, take a moment to imagine keeping a hundred senators (who tend to be rich, privileged, spoiled, whiny, selfish assholes) on task and following procedure even when it’s inconvenient for them. Might be the most frustrating job in Congress.
Paragraph five: the senate gets to choose their other officers, and a temporary President of the Senate if the VP is unavailable.
In the sixth paragraph we see that the senate tries impeachments. During this process they are under oath, and it requires a two-thirds guilty vote to convict. If the President of the United States is the one being impeached, the Chief Justice presides, otherwise it will be the President of the Senate; the VP of the U.S.
Let’s take a moment to discuss the details of impeachment, because I think a lot of people misunderstand it. Impeachment is a trial, not a conviction. When someone is impeached, that does not mean they are in the wrong, it means there will be a trial held to decide whether they are.
As we learned last time, only the House has the power to impeach a federal official. The Senate acts as the court for that process. That means the House decides whether or not there will be a trial, and the Senate conducts that trial.
The final paragraph of Section 3 reminds us that impeachment is not a criminal trial; the strongest judgement the senate can render is to kick you out of office and not let you run again. Once you have been removed, however, you can be tried by the usual court system for any crimes you may be accused of. Presumably for whatever got you impeached in the first place.
I think the problem is that we have a good word for the process, impeachment, but not for the resolution. In a court trial, you are charged, you’re tried, and then you are convicted or acquitted. In impeachment, while “convict” and “acquit” could work just as well, they aren’t generally used. We just say that someone has been impeached, or maybe impeached and removed from office. Probably because of all the things “convict” implies, and besides a judgement against you in impeachment isn’t really a conviction, is it.
That’s it for Section 3. There was a lot in there, but since Section 4 is short and straightforward, I’ll go ahead and include it here, too.
Section 4. 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 Place of Chusing Senators.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall (be on the first Monday in December,) (The preceding words in parentheses were superseded by the 20th Amendment, section 2.) unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
There, see? The states are responsible for the details of elections, but Congress can make changes to the process except for where senatorial elections are held. I’m curious about that part, it seems like a step to prevent a majority party from abusing their power by making it hard for certain groups of people to vote, say by moving the elections to area friendly to them, so their opposition has to travel farther to vote. But if that’s the case, why only the place? Interesting. I’ll try to remember to look it up when I find some time.
Finally, we have a schedule. Congress assembles on the first Monday in December, unless they change that day. Which they did, in the 20 Amendment. It’s now noon on the 3rd of January, until they change it again.
That’s it for this part. I’m definitely getting a workout with this project! I don’t think I can keep posting every day, though. I’ve just got too much going on during the week. So whenever next time is, I’ll see you here.