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2.4 - Article I, Section 3 - The U.S. Senate
Article I, Section 3 establishes and defines the U.S. Senate. The representation of the States in the U.S. Senate is equal, two per State. The Senators serve for six years, which means that every two years an election is held for one-third of the Senator’s seats. The required minimum age of a Senator is five years older than that of a Representative, giving us a clue that the importance of life experience was considered by the Founding Fathers to be more important in the U.S. Senate. Allegiance to the United States is also more important in the U.S. Senate, since Article I, Section 3, Clause 3 indicates that Senators need to be nine years a citizen of the United States, rather than the seven required of Representatives.
Article I, Section 3, Clause 4 establishes the Vice President as the President of the Senate. The Vice President, though a member of the Executive Branch, is also connected to the Legislative Branch. The Vice President may preside over the sessions of the U.S. Senate, and even participate in the debates, but in the end, the Vice President has no vote in the U.S. Senate, except as the tie-breaking vote.
As with the House of Representatives, the Senate chooses its own officers. One of those officers is the President pro tempore, which is the President of the Senate when the Vice President is not present.
The House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment. Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 gives the U.S. Senate the authority to try all impeachments. No conviction can be reached unless two-thirds of the U.S. Senate membership is present. Impeachment cannot extend further than the removal of the impeached from office, and the disqualification to hold any office in the future. However, a legal case can still be brought against the convicted from other sources, according to the law.
U.S. Senators were originally appointed by the legislatures of the individual States. This made the Senate the voice of the States in the federal government. The appointment of U.S. Senators was changed in 1913 through the 17th Amendment. At that time, the choosing of the U.S. Senators was given over to the popular vote of the people.
The 17th Amendment changed the dynamics of our governmental system. Note that most everything the Executive Branch does is subject to the consent of the Senate. The Senate ratifies treaties, holds hearings for any appointments the Executive Branch nominations, and the Senate holds the sole power for holding hearings on impeachments. This is because the federal government is subject to approval by the States. The States granted the federal government its powers in the first place, after all.
The House of Representatives, being the voice of the people, and the Senate being the voice of the States, also served as a check and balance. The people, through the House, checked the States via the Senate, and vice versa. Together, both houses also have the ability to override a veto with a 2/3 vote. This system was designed to enable the People and the States to constrain each other through their appropriate congressional houses, and to constrain the executive together through the power of a vote.
Impeachment: To charge with misconduct. Formal process that may lead to removal of an official accused of unlawful activity; impeachment does not mean the removal from office, though removal from office is often the result of impeachment proceedings.
President pro tempore: Second highest ranking official of the United States Senate. Vice President is President of the Senate and the highest-ranking official of the Senate despite not being a member of the body. During the Vice President's absence, the president pro tempore presides over its sessions or appoints another senator to do so. The president pro tempore is elected by the Senate and is customarily the most senior senator in the majority party.
Questions for Discussion:
1. As President of the Senate, what kind of role should the Vice President play in the day to day activities of the United States Senate?
2. Why do you think the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment, but the Senate has the task of hearing the case?
3. How are the dynamics of our governmental system different in relation to how the Senators are appointed, or voted for?
4. How was the Senate expected to check the House of Representatives, and work together with the House to check the Executive and Judiciary?
Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention, Avalon Project, Yale University: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/debcont.asp