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C O U R S E 
Key Constitutional Concepts and Supreme Court Cases
Professor Kermit Roosevelt, III, University of Pennsylvania
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Article I: The Legislative Branch
Notes taken on November 6, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
even though the president is often thought of as the head of the nation, the president doesn't come first in the Constitution
it is congress that is described in Article I
it's probably an over-simplification to call the president the leader
each branch is supposed to lead in some ways or circumstances
what is congress
the Senate
represents the states
2 senators from each state
chosen by state legislatures, originally
the House of Representatives
represents the people
number determined by population
chosen by population
as far as making laws, the two houses function in the same way
a bill has to get a through both houses
the senate can filibuster
this can be ended by three-fifths majority vote
this is not in the constitution and so the senate could get rid of it any time it wanted
what kinds of bills
a state legislature can pass anything it feels is a good idea
but congress has only the specific powers set out in the constitution
basically on issues that couldn't be left to the states
interstate commerce
foreign affairs
once bill passes both houses it goes to the president
if he signs it, it becomes law
if not, it goes back
two-thirds can override it
courts will decide whether the law complies to the constitution or not
separation of powers protects you from corruption in the government
generally a law needs the participation and approval of all three branches
congress enacts law
executive enforces law
judicial agrees that law is constitutional
a jury (your peers) can also be brought in to determine guilt
what were the drafters worried about?
concentrating power in the hands of one branch of government or of one person, someone like King George
what device did they use to protect us from it?
separation of powers
how has that worked out over the years?
two things that have made the separation of powers work differently than how the framers anticipated
1. 17th amendment: took election of senators away from the legislatures and gave it to the people of the states
people-elected senators generally care less about the states per se than state-elected senators
today in congress, more weight is given to the people than to the states
2. the party system:
a system of government where elected officials belong to, and commonly vote with, a like-minded political bloc
the idea behind the separation of government is that the different branches of government will see each other as rivals
congress will feel a sense of loyalty to congress
the president will feel a sense of loyalty to the office of the presidency
the framers didn't think about political parties, which eventually conflict with separation of powers
a congress controlled by the same party as the president is much less likely to check or balance that president
a congress controlled by the opposite party has an interest in going out of its way to make the president fail in order to win the next presidency
the party system tends to give us too much or too little checking and balancing
how can we fix this?
this is a problem that comes from political polarization, from thinking of politics as if it were a team sport rather than a shared attempt to promote the common good
so one thing we can do, probably the only thing we can do, is to stop thinking of politics in this way