Article I: Sections 4-6: Elections, Procedures, Compensation, Privileges, Restrictions

Sections 4-6 of Article I are what might be called the operating instructions for the House and Senate. They establish how the members are elected, grants each chamber the power to supervise and judge their own members, sets rules for the process of organization of each chamber and so on.


In Section 4 the rule is established that the “times, places and manner” for holding elections to select Senators and Representatives are to be established by each state legislature though the Congress may alter these procedures, with the sole exception of the place of the choosing of senators (since under section 3 they are to be chosen by the state legislatures and changing the place of election would, in effect, give the federal government the power to change the capital city of a given state).

Section 4 also provides that the Congress should meet on the first Monday in December, but this was later altered by 20th amendment.

While the time, place and matter section is not commonly used today it was much more applicable during the 18th and 19th centuries due to the logistics of voting in the era of the horse and buggy. Polling places were often only located in the county seat and it could take a full day to travel in to vote (which is why we traditionally have election day on Tuesday, giving people Monday to travel to town).

In many parts of New England this provision was used to reflect the difficulties of travel during the harsh winters, and in many areas it was common to have election day as early as September.

Today the time segment is not as often applied but it does sometimes come into play. For example after a natural disaster, this provision allows for local states to alter election day in order to insure people have the ability to exercise their right to vote.

The manner segment is still applied however, in that it grants the states the power to draw congressional districts on their own. In theory the federal government could draw all of the districts on their own but they have not chosen to exercise that full power

The judiciary has also involved in the process, at least indirectly, in terms of a series of decisions in the 1960’s which require that districts be roughly equal in population (see Baker v Carr) and the Congress has passed civil rights laws which are designed to prevent bias.

The basic thrust of Section 4 is that it recognizes the fundamental relation between the state and federal governments in our republican form of government. It grants the power to the local authority rather than (as in many other countries) placing the entire process in the hands of a central government.

Sections 5 and 6 are more administrative in nature. They do provide that Congress is to be the judge of the qualifications of their own members and that they also have the power to run their own affairs, establish their own rules, etc.

It seems to me that the general thinking behind these rules was largely practical, in a time where it could take days or weeks to travel from one part of the country to another it would have been logistically difficult to have drawn out election disputes resolved in each locality.

In addition it is likely the founders, expecting to themselves serve in the new government, wanted a degree of independence from their localities, as one of the major issues with the Articles of Confederation had been the lack of such freedom to act.

Clause 1 of section 5 is probably the one that has been used more than any of the others. It holds that each chamber will be the judge of the qualifications of their own members. From time to time there have been close elections where the House or the Senate has decided which person actually won, almost always with the majority party candidate winning. They have also sometimes bent the rules on age.

For example in 1934 a 29 year old was elected to the US Senate and there was a challenge to his qualifications. The Senate voted that the qualification looked to age at time of taking office, not time of election and he was allowed to take office on his 30th birthday in June 1935.

The remainder of section 5 is much more administrative in nature, establishing that each chamber sets their own rules, can expel their own members, etc. It also establishes that each chamber shall keep a record of their own proceedings, an important legacy to history.

Clause 4 of Section 5 does provide that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days or move to another location without the permission of the other. At this point we might wonder why such a rule existed, but it makes sense when you consider the original intent of the two chambers

The House was supposed to represent the interests of the people while the Senate was supposed to represent the interests of the states themselves, and the two were not always the same. Thus it was plausible to foresee that the two could be in conflict.

Section 6 covers issues of compensation and certain privileges of office, in many ways reflecting the tenor of the times.

For example Clause 1 provides that members of Congress are generally immune from arrest while going to and from a meeting of Congress. Today that provision is only mentioned when some stupid member tries to use it to get out of a speeding ticket.

But in the 18th and 19th centuries it was quite reasonable to worry that a local government might try to interfere with members of another political party. This often happened in England when royal authorities tried to bar members of Parliament from travel

Clause 2 also reflects this concern, though in somewhat the opposite way, by restricting a member of Congress from holding an office in the executive branch. The obvious concern being some form of bribe by a powerful executive

Indeed most of section 6, and to a lesser degree the rest of Article I, reflect the concerns of the founders about the possibility of a powerful executive

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Posted on February 19, 2013, in Article 1, Patrick and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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