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The United States Constitution

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1 The United States Constitution

2 You 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?

3 I’ve seen it! A copy is in the National Archives in Washington DC (I took this picture)

4 Why 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 amend ½ can name a member of the Simpsons family.

5 Why did we need a Constitution?
Our old government didn’t work that well We had the “Articles of Confederation” since 1777, right after the Declaration of Independence But they reserved too much power to the States: Each state had its own money Each state could negotiate with foreign countries Each 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 laws No courts

6 The 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?

7 So the “Framers” set out to fix the problems in the Articles
They wanted to establish a democratic representative republic democratic because it’s the voice of the people that ultimately decides the laws representative because we elect representatives to run the government for us a republic because we don’t have a king These were the principles of the American revolution, and they were radical at the time. No king? No divine right?

8 The Structure of the Constitution
People weren’t happy with a king If 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 Government It would also split power between the states and the central government

9 Basic Structure: Federalism
We use “Federal” to mean the central government, but “federalism” means that the central government and the state governments share power The Federal government has ultimate lawmaking and law enforcement authority and can pre-empt the states But 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 around Our Constitution and one other document (the Magna Carta) were unique at the time in this regard If a law is “unconstitutional,” it means it’s null, void, done, dead, unenforceable, illegal, etc. etc. Examples of unconstitutional laws? (current debate in AZ)

10 And 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 NV Is there a “Federal police?” Yep: The FBI They investigate only federal crimes (violations of federal law) They’re not the ones responsible to enforce the laws generally The 10th amendment of the Constitution reserves all powers not given to the federal government to the states The IRS is not the police 

11 The problem with Federalism and the Civil War
There was one problem with Federalism, as it was understood by some of the states Since they approved the Constitution, some states viewed themselves as the primary sovereign, meaning the ultimate authority When 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 illegal That 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 power It 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 fads II: 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?

13 What 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 laws They originate bills, that they then debate and the bill, if approved by the Congress, can become law They pass taxes They declare war But the President has a check: he can veto laws and is the Commander in Chief of the military And the Congress has a counter-check: they can override his veto by a 2/3 vote And the Supreme Court can say the law isn’t Constitutional.

14 Checks on the President…
The President’s job is to enforce the laws Checks: 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

15 Checks on the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court’s job is to resolve disputes Checks: They’re not elected. The President picks them A 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 President But 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 Congress Marbury vs. Madison—established power to declare laws / acts of president unconstitutional Bush v. Gore—resolved the 2000 election (hanging chads)

16 And the Constitution has other provisions
Most notably, it can be amended That 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 approve Over 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-all So, 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!

17 A bit more history… The framers met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1878 to debate what the Constitution should say It 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”

18 Who was there? At the time there were 13 states
But Rhode Island didn’t show up They 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 Congress The “Great Compromise” was the proposal to have 2 houses: House of Reps determined by population, and the Senate where each state was represented equally Each house of this “bi-cameral” legislature had different duties

19 Some of the Founding Fathers
Benjamin Franklin Alexander Hamilton George Washington James Madison (the “Father of the Constitution”)

20 The Approval Process After 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 problems While the Constitution said what the government could do, it didn’t say what it couldn’t do That led to debate about assuring individual liberties

21 The 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 society They 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.”

22 What are the rights / amendments?
The first amendment: Protects freedom of speech, press, religion (establishment or curtailment) and assembly In some ways these are the fundamental liberties in our society Freedom of religion You can choose any religion you want, or none Freedom of the press The government can’t tell the newspaper what to print or not print.

23 More 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

24 More 3d amendment: we don’t have to house soldiers anymore
4th amendment: says the Federal government can’t make illegal searches and seizures Applies to state through the “due process” clause of the 14th amendment Means police must have a warrant to search your home or other private areas And must have “probable cause” (a legitimate reason) to arrest you Mapp vs. Ohio: illegal evidence can’t be used

25 5th and 6th amendments The 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 jail To confront your accuser To have an attorney

26 7 & 8th amendments 7th: 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 judge Jury duty is an important public service 8th: No excessive bail; no cruel or unusual punishment

27 9th and 10th 9th 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 it 10th says any right says any right not given to the Federal government stays with the states

28 Other key amendments Other key amendments were adopted later
13th amendment: ended slavery 14th 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 War 15th: All races can vote 19th amendment: women can vote

29 The Electoral College Who elects the President really?
It’s not technically you, it’s the electoral college But 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

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