Chapter 3: The ConstitutionSection 3: The Structure of the Constitution I. The Constitution and Its Parts A. The main purpose of the Constitution is to provide a framework for government, but it is also the highest authority in the nation. The powers of all branches come from it. It has three main parts: the Preamble, seven articles, and amendments.
B. The Preamble states the goals and purposes of government. The first part makes clear that government gets its power from the people and exists to serve them.
C. The Preamble states six purposes: “To form a more perfect Union,” “To establish Justice,” “To insure domestic Tranquility,” “To provide for the common defense,” “To promote the general Welfare,” and “To secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” What do all of these quotes have in common?
D. The articles explain how government is to work. The first three articles describe the powers and responsibilities of the three branches of government.
E. Article I describes the legislative branch as two houses with lawmaking authority. It then describes how members will be chosen. The article also lists specific powers Congress does and does not have. What are the two houses of Congress called?
F. Article II establishes the executive, or law-enforcing, branch headed by a president and vice president. It explains how these leaders will be elected and can be removed, and describes their powers and duties.
G. Article III establishes the judicial branch to interpret and apply the laws. It calls for one Supreme Court plus lower courts and describes the powers of federal courts.
H. Article IV says that all states must respect one another’s laws and explains the process of creating new states. Article V specifies how the Constitution can be amended.
Article VI declares that the Constitution is the “Supreme Law of the Land” and federal law prevails over state law. Article VII states that the Constitution would take effect when nine states ratify it.
II. Amending the Constitution Anamendment is any change to the Constitution. The first 10 amendments are the Bill of Rights. The Sixteenth Amendment allows Congress to collect an income tax - a tax on people’s earnings. B. The Framers made sure that the Constitution could not be altered without overwhelming support of the people. Only 27 amendmentshave become law.
C. The amendment process involves two steps: proposal and ratification. An amendment may be proposed by a vote of two-thirds of both houses of Congress or by a national convention requested by two-thirds of the state legislatures. D. Once proposed, an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The states can do this by a vote of either the state legislature or a special state convention.
III. Interpreting the Constitution The Constitution is a general document and open to interpretation. B. Article I gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper” to carry out its duties. This necessary and proper clause is known as the elastic clause and allows Congress to exercise implied powers not specifically listed in the Constitution.
C. Americans disagree on what laws are “necessary and proper.” Loose interpreters believe Congress can make any laws not specifically forbidden. Strict interpreters believe Congress can make only the kinds of laws mentioned by the Constitution.
D. The Supreme Court has the final authority on interpreting the Constitution. Each new interpretation, whether strict or loose, changes our government. E. Actions by Congress and the president have also caused new interpretations. For example, the president requests legislation from Congress. This action is not directed by the Constitution.
F. Custom also changes the interpretation of the Constitution. For example, political parties, not mentioned in the Constitution, are part of today’s political system.