The constitution is a magnificent document of a rare political genius and
if you doubt that consider the following
scenario if you have the choice between keeping the Constitution as it is warts
and all or throwing it out and letting the current batch of politicians rewrite
the Constitution which one would you choose?
The first thing we need to understand about the Constitution is how power is
There are three kinds of powers.
. Exclusive powers
. shared powers
. checking powers
Exclusive powers refer to the powers that each branch of government has
that the other branches don’t have.
Those powers are exclusive to that branch.
Congress which is the legislative branch has the following
power exclusive to that branch.
. coining money
. establishing post office
. regulating interstate and foreign commerce
. Declaring war and in
article 1 section 8 of the Constitution, Congress’s exclusive powers are further expanded with what’s called the the necessary and Proper Clause or sometimes
referred to as the elastic clause which gives Congress the elasticity to quote
make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution
the foregoing powers and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States or in any department or officer thereof.
Congress can pass any law which supports its exclusive powers even if such powers are not explicitly stated in the Constitution.
Example… as Alexander Hamilton who appealed to the elastic Clause as justification to establish a National Bank. The Constitution says absolutely nothing about Congress’s ability to establish a National Bank, but it does say that Congress has the exclusive power of the regulation of Interstate Commerce and Taxation, so Hamilton argued
that it was necessary and proper that Congress should establish a bank in which to deposit those funds.
The executive branch or the president was also given exclusive powers in the Constitution.
The president is the commander-in-chief of the military and can issue pardons and
can receive ambassadors in foreign ministers, but the most significant power given to the president is contained in what’s called the executive powers clause, which reads thusly,
the executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of
America and the president’s job is to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed.
The judicial branch of the Supreme Court got almost no love from the constitutional framers because they thought the judicial branch was the least dangerous of all the branches.
The Constitution just gives the supreme court the following exclusive powers, lifetime appointments for justices who aren’t turds and independence from the other two branches so that they can make their decisions
without political pressure.
That’s all the exclusive powers of the Constitution grants to the different branches of government.
What about shared powers?
Shared powers refer to the kind of power that two or more branches of the government.
Example…The President appoints justices to the Supreme Court but those justices must also be confirmed by the Senate or take war powers.
It is true that the president is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces,
but the president is not allowed to declare war.
That power belongs to Congress.
That’s what we mean by shared powers.
The constitutional provisions for checking powers.
checking powers are there to make sure no one branch of power and Congress has two very
important checking powers impeachment and the power of the purse impeachment refers to Congress’s ability to try and if necessary remove the president if he
turns out to be a grade-a turd and according to the Constitution tarnished
behaviors include treason bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Just in case you were wondering, Congress has impeached only two presidents,
Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998,
but both were acquitted and allowed to remain in office.
The power of the purse refers to Congress’s ability to cut off funding to certain executive agencies,
If those agencies are behaving badly.
The president also has a very important checking power and the Constitution gives the president the
power of veto, now veto is a word that comes to us directly from the Latin and it literally
means I forbid so.
Whenever Congress passes the law, the last step to get it made into law is to hand it to the president so the president can sign it. but if the president is convinced that Congress has overstepped its bounds with this law,
then the president can veto the Supreme Court, wasn’t given any checking powers in the Constitution, that doesn’t mean the court wasn’t scrappy enough to go get some checking power for itself and that happened in the landmark case of
Marbury vs. Madison in 1803. Court.
The checking power called judicial review and all that means is that it’s the prerogative of the Supreme Court
to be the final interpreter of the Constitution and in practice all that means is that the Supreme Court has the power to declare an executive action or a congressional law as unconstitutional.
In our Constitution and that division is
one of the most magnificent means of upholding Liberty that has ever been devised and it has held together through some incredibly tumultuous seasons in our nation’s history and at every point where you would expect the Constitution to fall apart whether it was because of the tension over the slave states and free states and westward expansion or the civil war itself or the tensions over civil rights that is held together. My question is how is that possible?
The first answer is that the Constitution holds together through these things, because it is intentionally ambiguous in certain passages. for example… I mentioned the Necessary and Proper Clause earlier so who gets to decide what is Necessary and Proper as Congress goes about discharging its enumerated powers? What Congress gets to decide, that in every Congress and each succeeding generation gets to decide what is necessary and proper for themselves and that is what the framers intended.Take the Commerce Clause which gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce among the several states.
What does that mean among the several states? It has been reinterpreted over the generations and that is a good thing because that means the Constitution can continue to govern us in all generations now don’t misunderstand me I’m not saying that the Constitution just means whatever we want it to mean in every generation I mean that can’t be true we have to be as faithful as we can with it while still navigating the ambiguities that were left there on purpose, but the goal is that we wouldn’t stray too far because that’s what the separation of power is
For the system of checks and balances the second way the Constitution is able to hold together over time is because it provides the means for its own amendment in Article five the Constitution lays out the formal process for amending its contents and that is a very good thing because while the founders were no doubt unusually brilliant, they were not
Thomas Jefferson says it in a letter to James Madison. He says some men look at the Constitution with sanctimonious reverence and deemed them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched they ascribed to the men of the preceding age of wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond Amendment and labored with it it was very like the I knew that age well I belonged to it present. let us not weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself and just so you know the process given to us in the Constitution for making amendments involves a two-step process and ratification a constitutional amendment can be proposed by Congress and the only way that will happen is if 2/3 of Congress agrees on it alternatively a constitutional amendment can be proposed by two-thirds of the state legislature supposing they all come together and agree on it,
but just so you know this method has never occurred and once an amendment is proposed it must then be ratified by three-fourths of the states and that ladies and gentlemen is in a nutshell how the Constitution works.
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