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What is included in the US Constitution?
The US Constitution is divided into seven articles. Article I, II, III establish the governance structure of the United States.
- Article I establishes two legislative bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate, to make the laws to govern the nation.
- Article II establishes the executive branch, which is led by the President, to enforce laws.
- Article III establishes the judicial branch of government to review the constitutionality of laws and their execution.
Since its passage, the Constitution has been amended 27 times. Amendment requires either approval by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures.
Most of these amendments serve to protect individual rights, known as “fundamental rights”, against government infringement.
Perhaps the best-known constitutional rights are stated in the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, which make up the Bill of Rights.
The 14th Amendment, arguably the most important amendment, extended the protections afforded individuals under the Constitution by applying those provisions to state governments. Notably, the 14th Amendment introduced the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses.
- Note: The Constitution protects against government infringement of individual rights. It does not protect against infringement by individuals.
Discussion: Do you think that the brevity of the Constitution is positive or negative? Why do you think the document is concise? Do you believe that the Constitution should be subject to amendment? If so, under what conditions should the Constitution be amended?
- The brevity is considered by most to be a positive attribute. This aspect allows the Constitution to evolve through the interpretation of the general provisions. Of course, there is an argument that the brevity makes the document less thorough and overly vague. Very few people see the Constitution as an infallible document. As such, it is difficult to argue that it should never be amended. A very obvious argument in support of amendment is the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. Given the history of the partisan divide in the legislative branch, many would argue that requiring a two-thirds vote makes amending the Constitution overly difficult. Of course, there is the counter-argument that amendment of the Constitution should have a high (and possibly even higher) bar.
Wildenthal, Bryan H., U.S. Constitution (Annotated ed. 2018) (May 31, 2018). Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 3188256. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3188256or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3188256
Sunstein, Cass R., Why Does the American Constitution Lack Social and Economic Guarantees? (January 2003). U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 36. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=375622 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.375622
Phillips, James Cleith and White, Sara, The Meaning of the Three Emoluments Clauses in the U.S. Constitution: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of American English, 1760-1799 (September 14, 2017). South Texas Law Review, Vol. 59, No. 2, 2018; BYU Law Research Paper No. 18-23. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3036938 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3036938
Kay, Richard S, Formal and Informal Amendment of the United States Constitution (December 8, 2017). American Journal of Comparative Law, 2018. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3116988