The Constitution grants Congress almost limitless powers. Here are examples. | Opinion

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The Constitution grants Congress almost limitless powers. Here are examples. | Opinion


The series on the Constitution continues on the subject of Article 1 and the U.S. Congress.

Paul G. Summers  |  Guest Columnist

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  • Paul G. Summers is a lawyer. He is a former appellate and senior judge, district attorney general, and the Attorney General of Tennessee.  He resides in Holladay and Nashville.

Editor’s note: This is a regular feature on issues related to the Constitution and civics written by Paul G. Summers, retired judge and state attorney general.

Our Founding Fathers could predict the future and answer questions before they even knew the issues. Our Constitution has guided us since 1789, through success and turmoil. 

The last few years have been tough, but we’ve seen tougher times. Our Constitution endured. We shall continue with Article I, which focuses on the legislative branch: Congress. Our last article discussed Section 3 of the first article, which established the Senate.  The Senate’s president is the U.S. vice president, with “…no vote, unless they (the senators) be equally divided.” 

Congress consists of the Senate and House of Representatives collectively. For a bill to become law, it must pass the House and Senate and be approved by the President.  Congress assembles at least once a year, usually on Jan. 3.  “Each House (which refers also to the Senate) shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members….”

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How Congress conducts business

A majority in each House shall constitute a quorum to do business. A smaller number may adjourn from day to day, and each House has power to compel the attendance of absent members. Each House can determine its own rules, punish members for “disorderly Behavior,” and even expel a member if two-thirds of that House agrees.

A journal of proceedings shall be kept by each House; and unless determined classified or secret, the journal shall be public.  If one-fifth of those members present desire the “ayes and nays” to be recorded by members, those votes by members shall be entered.

Neither House, during a session of Congress, may adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other House.  Section 6 provides compensation for the senators and representatives for their services, by statute. Except in cases of treason, felony and breach of the peace, members are immune from arrest while attending sessions or traveling to and from sessions. Under the Speech or Debate clause of this section, they are immune from suit for anything they may say in either House.  No member of Congress may be hold any “Office under the United States” for the time for which he or she was elected to Congress.

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These are some of Congress’s enumerated powers

Sections 7 and 8 list basic powers of the Congress delegated by the Constitution. “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives….”  Of the enumerated powers, Congress also may make laws “necessary and proper” to execute those powers. Too great to list all, some of the designated powers of Congress are to: lay and collect taxes; borrow money for the nation; regulate commerce; regulate naturalization; codify bankruptcy; coin money and fix weights and measures; establish post offices; promote intellectual property; constitute tribunals and federal courts; define federal punishments and crimes; provide a military; regulate the militia; and provide a seat of government (D.C.).  The list is nearly endless.

Congress has many, almost limitless, powers delegated by the Constitution. The president and executive branch execute many laws and powers delegated to the Congress. The third branch, the judicial branch, acts as a checks and balance against abuse of power by the other branches.  The judiciary shall be independent – unswayed by politics, polls, or ideology.

Please read the Declaration and the Constitution. It is time well spent

Paul G. Summers is a lawyer. He is a former appellate and senior judge, district attorney general, and the Attorney General of Tennessee.  He resides in Holladay and Nashville.