Article I of the Constitution | US Government and Politics | Khan Academy
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Article I of the Constitution | US Government and Politics | Khan Academy


– [Instructor] Hey, this
is Kim from Khan Academy, and today I’m learning about Article I of the U.S. Constitution. Article I is jam packed
with information about how our government is supposed to work, but principally what it does
is create the Legislative Branch of government,
which includes the House of Representatives, and the
Senate, which together, comprise the Congress
of the United States. Article I also tells us
how people can get elected to those bodies, and
what powers Congress has. To learn more about
Article I, I talked to two Constitutional experts. Ilya Somin is a professor
of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason
University, whose research focuses on Constitutional
law, property law, and the study of popular
political participation. Professor Heather Gerken is
the Dean of Yale Law School. She’s a leading expert on Constitution law and election law, and
her research focuses on Federalism, diversity, and dissent. – [Dean Gerken] Article I
gives an enormous amount of power to the legislative branch, otherwise known as Congress, and it was designed
specifically to overcome some of the problems
that they’d seen under the Articles of Confederation. – [Professor Somin] The
legislative power under the Articles of Confederation was pretty weak, in part
because the Congress under the Confederate articles
didn’t have the authority to directly tax the states. They also lacked a lot
of other powers that were eventually given to Congress
under the Constitution. – [Dean Gerken] These were the
things that really mattered if you’re building a young nation. You need to be able to do
certain things in order to protect it, especially
at that time, when there were many, many other
countries that were circling around wanting to grab the land and power. And so the United States
needed to defend itself in those early days. – [Kim] Okay, so we
all know today that our Legislative Branch is
made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. But it didn’t have to be
that way, so why was it that the framers settled
on this two house structure for the Legislative Branch? – [Professor Somin] I
think for several reasons. One is that it was a compromise
between the small states and the large states. The large states, ones that
have a lot of population, wanted representation in
Congress in accordance with population, obviously then
the large states would get more representatives. The small states, on the
other hand, were concerned that they would be dominated
by the large states if that happened, so in the
end, the compromise is you have one house, the
House of Representatives, which is largely apportioned
based on population, and one house, the Senate,
which is apportioned based on each state having
two votes, no matter how small or how large it is. A second reason why you
end up with this structure is the influence of the British example. The British had both the
House of Commons and the House of Lords. And the House of Commons, of
course, being more subject to popular pressure, while
the House of Lords were this elite aristocracy. And the founders also wanted
a combination of popular and elite power. And it was thought that
the Senate would fill that elite role, in part, because
initially the senators were chosen by state
legislatures, rather than by the voters directly. – [Dean Gerken] So the
House of Representatives, which is based on districts,
is supposed to represent you based on where you live, and
the Senate, which is based on states, is supposed to
allow, at that time, the state legislature to nominate two
luminaries from the state to represent the state. – [Kim] So yeah, for a long
time, the senators were actually appointed. Now they’re elected. – [Dean Gerken] Senators were
appointed until the passage of the 17th Amendment, which
amended Article I, and that gave state legislatures a
fair amount of influence over who went to the national government. – [Professor Somin] But it
is also true that many states by that time already
effectively had popular election of senators. – [Kim] Really interesting. Okay, so you described the
Senate as being kind of the American version of the
House of Lords, a little bit more elite, a little less
subject to popular opinion. How does that carry over
into the Senate that we have today? How are its powers different from the House of Representatives? – [Professor Somin] It does
have certainly different powers from the House in some respects. For example, it has the
power to ratify treaties and to confirm appointment
to the the Court and to the president’s cabinet, so
earlier this year when Neil Gorsuch was appointed
to the Supreme Court, he had to be confirmed by the Senate. Obviously today, the Senators
are elected just like members of the House are,
and I think they’re every bit as partisan and almost
as sensitive to public opinion as members of the
House of Representatives, so the difference between
the Senate and the House in that regard, maybe it
hasn’t completely disappeared, but it’s certainly greatly diminished. – [Kim] Okay so there are
certain powers that are reserved to the Senate. Are there particular
powers that are reserved to the House of Representatives? – [Dean Gerken] The House is important. Don’t underestimate the
importance of the House. I’ll just say the House
of Representatives, for example, is allowed
to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president. – [Professor Somin] If
the House votes in favor of impeachment, then
the Senate holds a trial to determine whether
the official in question gets convicted or not. – [Dean Gerken] As a
general matter, though, they’re roughly co-equal. For the big, important things,
like passing legislation, you need both of them to work together. – [Kim] So together these
two houses make up Congress. So how is Congress different
from the Executive Branch or the Judicial Branch? What are its powers? – [Dean Gerken] The way that
the framers understood it was that each one would
have their own job. So the judiciary, obviously,
was there to judge disputes between people, to run
the court system, et cetera. The executive was there
to carry out the laws. And so the executive’s job
is to administer the law once it has been made. And of course the legislature
is there to legislate. So its main job was to make the law. And at the time, I will just
tell you, everyone thought that the big gorilla in
the room was Congress, that it would be by far the
most powerful organization. The framers simply did not
anticipate how powerful both the judiciary and the
president would become over time. – [Kim] So what happens if,
for example, the Congress and the president don’t get along? – [Professor Somin] Well,
it happens quite a lot. The president could refuse
to accept laws passed by Congress, he could veto them. In that event, Congress
can only override it if two-thirds of both the
House and the Senate voted to do so. Congress, on the other hand,
can pressure the president in various ways. They can hold hearings
investigating his conduct on various issues. They can de-fund agencies
of the Executive Branch whose job performance they don’t like. They can refuse to confirm
the president’s appointees to various offices, and in
extreme cases, that have happened a couple of times
in our history, Congress can even impeach the
president, and if he gets convicted in the Senate,
then he would be removed from office. This is what led to the
resignation of Richard Nixon. The House of Representatives
impeached him, and Nixon resigned before he
could be tried in the Senate. President Andrew Johnson
and President Bill Clinton were also both impeached,
and in both cases, the Senate ultimately acquitted
them, but it was still a very painful time for
both of those presidents. – [Kim] So speaking of
antagonistic relationships, I think one thing that’s really
come to dominate Congress is partisanship. To what extent did the
Constitution anticipate this rise of parties and partisanship? – [Professor Somin] They
actually knew about parties to some degree from their
British experience, but they were very suspicious of them,
and they hoped and perhaps expected that they wouldn’t
emerge in America to anything like the same extent
that they had in Britain. But in actual fact, a few
years after the adoption of the Constitution, we already
had the first party system, the Federalists and the
Democratic Republicans, and partisan alignments have
played a big role in Congress ever since then. – [Dean Gerken] So even
back then there were rival interpretations of how the Constitution should be carried out,
and what kind of power the national government should wield. But they somehow thought,
naively, I think, that the parties would disappear
and that people would have allegiances to their
state or to their region, but they wouldn’t have
allegiance to a party. That broke down completely
almost immediately after the Constitution was written. That leads to a real problem
these days, because most modern Constitutions
recognize that there will be two parties, that they
will be in competition with one another, and that
part of the job of the Constitution is to
regulate that competition. – [Professor Somin] Would
the founders have done anything differently if
they had known about parties and expected that they
would play such a big role? It’s hard to know for sure,
but maybe they would have been less confident than some
of them were that Congress would always stand up for
its prerogatives against the president when the
president and Congress are of the same party. I think often Congress
is inclined to overlook various presidential abuses. – [Kim] If the reverse
is true, things might be very difficult to do. – [Dean Gerken] Exactly. I mean the whole point about
them needing one another to act is really a problem
if one side is antagonistic to the other side. – [Kim] One other thing
we see here in Article I, is talking about kind of what
the Federal government does versus what the states do. So this is kind of the
idea of Federalism, then. Could you tell us a little
bit more, just about what Federalism is and how
it’s supposed to work? – [Dean Gerken] So the
way that we understand Federalism back then, was
that there was a division of labor. The states would regulate
things that were inside their territories, and
accorded to them in terms of responsibility, and the Federal
government would regulate everything that was accorded
to it under the Constitution. The problem is, as Congress’
power became more and more expansive, it ended up
regulating the same areas that the states regulate. – [Kim] So if the Federal
government and the states have a law on the same topic, who wins? – [Dean Gerken] As long as
it’s passed properly by the Federal government, then
the Federal government wins. So if there’s a Federal
law and the state law is inconsistent with it, the
state law is displaced. – [Kim] Is there anything
that might surprise the framers about how our
Congress operates today? – [Professor Somin]
When the framers created Article I and drafted it,
they certainly expected that Congress would have
more power under the Constitution than it did under the Articles of Confederation,
but I don’t think very many of them would have believed that Congress would ever
be able to do things like forbid the growth of medical
marijuana in your backyard, or regulate what kind of
toilet you’re allowed to have in your house, or for that
matter, do something like the war on drugs, which
forbids the possession of drugs throughout the country, and the like. Originally the power to
regulate interstate commerce, which is the authority under
which most of these things are done, it was at the
time conceived of as a power for Congress to break down
trade barriers between states and perhaps regulate the
actual shipment or trading goods and services across state lines. It was not until the 20th
century, particularly after the New Deal, that
Congress was able to start using this as a power
to regulate nearly every aspect of human life that
might in some respect affect the national economy. So that, I think, is a huge change. – [Dean Gerken] I think
what would really surprise the framers is how willing
Congress has been to give up its own power. So Congress has given the
president a lot of power, because it’s created
administrative agencies with vaguely defined
mandates that therefore allow the president to use his
entire administrative agency apparatus to pursue his goals. – [Kim] So we’ve learned that
Article I of the Constitution establishes the Legislative Branch of the U.S. government, which
is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. These two bodies were created
to balance popular power with elite power, since
members of the House of Representatives were directly
elected by the people, whereas senators were appointed
by state legislatures. Although one major change
is that senators are now elected as well, what might
really surprise the framers about Congress today is
how its power has evolved over time. On one hand, as Heather
Gerken mentioned, the powers of the president and the
Supreme Court have grown compared to the powers of
Congress, but on the other hand, as Ilya Somin points out, the
framers might be surprised at just how much of our lives
Congress can regulate today. To learn more about Article
I, visit the National Constitution Center’s
interactive Constitution, and Khan Academy’s
resources on U.S. government and politics.

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