2You may be asking… Who is this old guy? What is this “Constitution?” Why in the world are we spending an hour and a half on a Friday morning talking about it?Why is it relevant to me?Are there snacks?
3I’ve seen it!A copy is in the National Archives in Washington DC (I took this picture)
4Why today? Today is September 17: “Constitution Day” It’s the day the US Constitution was signed back in 1787 (223 years ago)Today we talk about the Constitution to remind ourselves how important it is…IT LIMITS THE POWER OF THE GOVERNMENT. NO OTHER COUNTRY IS AS FREE.Only ¼ of people can name a right in 1st amend½ can name a member of the Simpsons family.
5Why did we need a Constitution? Our old government didn’t work that wellWe had the “Articles of Confederation” since 1777, right after the Declaration of IndependenceBut they reserved too much power to the States:Each state had its own moneyEach state could negotiate with foreign countriesEach state regulated trade (making it very difficult to sell goods between states)No taxes: difficult to defend ourselves without an army!Weak president couldn’t enforce the lawsNo courts
6The Preamble The preamble to the Constitution says why they wrote it: “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 for the United States of America.”Can you sing it? Video?
7So the “Framers” set out to fix the problems in the Articles They wanted to establish a democratic representative republicdemocratic because it’s the voice of the people that ultimately decides the lawsrepresentative because we elect representatives to run the government for usa republic because we don’t have a kingThese were the principles of the American revolution, and they were radical at the time. No king? No divine right?
8The Structure of the Constitution People weren’t happy with a kingIf he’s a nice guy, great, but if he’s not, well…And power corrupts (absolute power corrupts absolutely)So the framers of the Constitution wanted a government by the people and for the people.To avoid giving one person too much power, there would be “checks and balances” within the Federal GovernmentIt would also split power between the states and the central government
9Basic Structure: Federalism We use “Federal” to mean the central government, but “federalism” means that the central government and the state governments share powerThe Federal government has ultimate lawmaking and law enforcement authority and can pre-empt the statesBut the Federal government’s power is limited to what is given in the Constitution!This is what makes this document so unique!We tell our government what to do, not the other way aroundOur Constitution and one other document (the Magna Carta) were unique at the time in this regardIf a law is “unconstitutional,” it means it’s null, void, done, dead, unenforceable, illegal, etc. etc.Examples of unconstitutional laws? (current debate in AZ)
10And States have “police power,” not the Federal government “Police power” is the general power to govern: to throw people in jail for violation of the law.So who runs the police?The states: in California, it’s CA, in NV, it’s NVIs there a “Federal police?”Yep: The FBIThey investigate only federal crimes (violations of federal law)They’re not the ones responsible to enforce the laws generallyThe 10th amendment of the Constitution reserves all powers not given to the federal government to the statesThe IRS is not the police
11The problem with Federalism and the Civil War There was one problem with Federalism, as it was understood by some of the statesSince they approved the Constitution, some states viewed themselves as the primary sovereign, meaning the ultimate authorityWhen Abraham Lincoln, who was against slavery, was elected president, some states didn’t want to be a part of the Union anymore, saying they were the ultimate authority and wouldn’t bow to the Federal government as it appeared about to make slavery illegalThat presented the fundamental question: did the states have the right to leave the Union? Some tried.Before: the United States “are,” now the United States “is”
12“Checks and Balances”The Constitution also contains “checks and balances” on the Federal government’s powerIt establishes 3 branches in 3 Articles:I: The legislative branch (Congress). The Congress is also divided into two houses: the House of Representatives, elected every 2 years, and the Senate, elected every 6 years. Being elected less often makes them more objective and less influenced by fadsII: The Exec branch (President). Elected every 4 years.III: The Judicial branch (Supreme Ct). Not elected, so not subject to political fads at all. As a result, in some ways they’re the most powerful branch.What’s a political fad?Declarations of war?
13What are the “Checks and Balances” No one branch has too much power (at least that’s the goal)Congress “legislates”That means they write the lawsThey originate bills, that they then debate and the bill, if approved by the Congress, can become lawThey pass taxesThey declare warBut the President has a check: he can veto laws and is the Commander in Chief of the militaryAnd the Congress has a counter-check: they can override his veto by a 2/3 voteAnd the Supreme Court can say the law isn’t Constitutional.
14Checks on the President… The President’s job is to enforce the lawsChecks:He doesn’t get to make laws, just enforce them.Congress can delegate the authority to the President or the “Executive Branch” to make rules to implement Congress’ laws (they do that a lot)The Congress can remove the President (impeach / try)The Supreme Court can declare what the President does unconstitutional (illegal).He has “departments” to help: Defense, Homeland Security, State, but the President’s senior appointees to these departments must be approved by the Senate
15Checks on the Supreme Court The Supreme Court’s job is to resolve disputesChecks:They’re not elected. The President picks themA pro and a con. This is a huge power for the President. The most controversial questions in our society are often determined by the Supreme Court, and they’re appointees of the PresidentBut once appointed, they’re in for life. Why???Not subject to politics. Again a pro and a con.And they must be approved by the Senate.Can be removed by the CongressMarbury vs. Madison—established power to declare laws / acts of president unconstitutionalBush v. Gore—resolved the 2000 election (hanging chads)
16And the Constitution has other provisions Most notably, it can be amendedThat can happen in two ways:Congress approves of an amendment (President need not sign it) by 2/3 majority. Then 3/4 of the States must approveOver 10,000 proposals, only 27 amendments, and 10 of them were adopted in the “Bill of Rights” all at once, so the Constitution has only been amended on 18 occasions in 220 years.Or 2/3 of the State legislatures can call for a Constitutional convention and adopt amendments there.Has never been done; could be a Constitutional free-for-allSo, is it a good idea to make it difficult to amend the Constitution?Last amendment was 1992; an amendment originally proposed with the Bill of Rights!
17A bit more history…The framers met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1878 to debate what the Constitution should sayIt took 4 months and was brutal. No air conditioning!And they debated and debated and debated the checks and balances and the split of federal power. They didn’t want to create a new king!1st pres. George Washington declined to be called “your majesty”
18Who was there? At the time there were 13 states But Rhode Island didn’t show upThey had to make a lot of compromises to come up with a plan that at least 9 of the states would approve (as required by Articles of Confederation)One of the big debates was how states should be represented in CongressThe “Great Compromise” was the proposal to have 2 houses: House of Reps determined by population, and the Senate where each state was represented equallyEach house of this “bi-cameral” legislature had different duties
19Some of the Founding Fathers Benjamin FranklinAlexander HamiltonGeorge WashingtonJames Madison (the “Father of the Constitution”)
20The Approval ProcessAfter it was drafted 2/3 of the states’ legislatures had to approve the Constitution, but the framers wanted all 13 to approve.But it ran into problemsWhile the Constitution said what the government could do, it didn’t say what it couldn’t doThat led to debate about assuring individual liberties
21The Bill of Rights To assure approval of the Constitution, it was agreed that a Bill of Rights would be drafted. James Madison drafted it, and they were added in 1791.This Bill of Rights would protect the fundamental liberties in our societyThey embody the principle that while the majority rules, all people (even if the minority) have certain fundamental rights that can’t be taken away: i.e., “inalienable rights”Who can name a right in the Bill of Rights?The Bill of Rights proposed two articles (one of which was never adopted and another adopted in 1992), and ten other amendments. These 10 amendments are what we refer to as the “Bill of Rights.”
22What are the rights / amendments? The first amendment:Protects freedom of speech, press, religion (establishment or curtailment) and assemblyIn some ways these are the fundamental liberties in our societyFreedom of religionYou can choose any religion you want, or noneFreedom of the pressThe government can’t tell the newspaper what to print or not print.
23More amendments 2d amendment: “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”This means people can own guns, though the guns can be regulated
24More 3d amendment: we don’t have to house soldiers anymore 4th amendment: says the Federal government can’t make illegal searches and seizuresApplies to state through the “due process” clause of the 14th amendmentMeans police must have a warrant to search your home or other private areasAnd must have “probable cause” (a legitimate reason) to arrest youMapp vs. Ohio: illegal evidence can’t be used
255th and 6th amendmentsThe 5th amendment says you can’t be compelled to testify against yourself“I take the fifth”Also provides for “due process”Prohibits “double jeopardy”Miranda vs. Arizona: “you have the right to remain silent”The 6th amendment says you have the right:To a speedy trial /can’t keep you waiting in jailTo confront your accuserTo have an attorney
267 & 8th amendments7th: Right to a jury trial (to be judged by your peers)Juries determine the facts of the case, and pass judgment on instruction from the judgeJury duty is an important public service8th: No excessive bail; no cruel or unusual punishment
279th and 10th9th says any right not given to the government stays with the people. Very important concept: the Constitution *limits* governmental power to what the people gave it10th says any right says any right not given to the Federal government stays with the states
28Other key amendments Other key amendments were adopted later 13th amendment: ended slavery14th amendment: extended the Bill of Rights’ limitations on Federal power to the states. Made clear that African Americans were also citizens. Also added the “equal protection” clause, stating that all citizens are entitled to “equal protection under the law.” This helped combat racial discrimination after the Civil War15th: All races can vote19th amendment: women can vote
29The Electoral College Who elects the President really? It’s not technically you, it’s the electoral collegeBut what has happened in recent history is that the electors for each state vote for the person that won that state’s popular vote.Al Gore: likely won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college