The United States Constitution is the fundamental law of the country and its legal framework. It outlines the general principles that establish the order, structure, and functioning of the country as a federal republic.
The Constitution also lays out specific mechanisms for how laws are made and interpreted; it specifies who has powers to pass laws and hold office; it establishes procedures for impeachment; it defines a Bill of Rights to protect individual rights, and it provides for regular national elections to ensure that no group has undue influence over the government.
The Constitution further spells out what powers are reserved by the individual states and Congress, as well as what powers are shared between them. Moreover, there are provisions in the document that define succession in case of vacancies in the office of the president or vice president.
1) What do the words ‘United States and ‘States’ mean in the Constitution?
According to Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, the United States is a federal republic. This means that the government of the country is a republic. A republic is a government ruled by the people, with the power vested in the people.
The United States is a union of states, each of which is sovereign and independent, and each of which retains its political authority. The Constitution does not mention the word ‘state’ or ‘state’ in it.
But, according to the Constitution, ‘United States’ means the states and ‘states’ means the individual states. The Constitution states that the United States is a federal republic, which means that it is a union of states.
2) Ratification of the Constitution and its amendments
Article VII of the Constitution lays down the rules for the ratification of amendments. The Constitution requires the approval of three-fourths of the states for any amendment to be effective.
The Constitution was approved by the states on September 17, 1787, and it was ratified by the following states on February 3, 1788: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, and Georgia.
3) Congress: its powers and procedures
The Constitution divides the country into legislative, executive and judicial branches. Congress is the federal legislative branch. It has the power to make laws regarding the distribution of powers between the various branches and between the states and the federal government.
Congress can also propose amendments to the Constitution. It has two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each of the 50 states has one vote in the Senate and, together with the District of Columbia, is represented by three senators in the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives is the lower house, which can vote on tax bills, appropriation bills and bills related to foreign policy. The Senate is the upper house, which can vote on treaties and judicial and presidential appointments. Congressional procedures are governed by the Rules and Ethics of each chamber. Congress is also bound by the Constitution and the precedents set by the Supreme Court.
4) The Executive: powers, offices and functions
The executive branch has three branches: the President, the Vice President and the Cabinet. The President, who is elected by the people, is the chief executive officer of the country. The Vice President is his or her right-hand man and assists the President in the discharge of his or her responsibilities.
The Cabinet is a group of people appointed by the President and approved by the Senate to administer various federal agencies. The Cabinet has no legislative power but is empowered to issue executive orders that have the force of law.
5) The Judicial Branch: its role and structure
The judicial branch has two branches: the Supreme Court, which has nine judges and is given the constitutional role of interpreting the Constitution; and the lower courts, which enforce federal laws. The Supreme Court has the final say on cases involving the constitutionality of laws, federal regulations and treaties.
All the judges of the Supreme Court must be appointed by the President for a term of 15 years. The judges of the Supreme Court are appointed after having been nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. A judge of the Supreme Court is appointed based on merit and proven experience in the field of law.
Judges appointed by the President are paid a salary and are entitled to retirement benefits. They are appointed by the President after consultation with a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and two other judges of the Supreme Court.
6) The rights guaranteed by the Constitution
Every person has the right to life, liberty, property and the security of his person and shall not be deprived of any of these rights except by due process of law. The right to religious freedom is provided in the First Amendment of the Constitution, which states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
This clause provides a constitutional cover to the freedom of religious practice, non-violently pursued. The due process clause of the Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial, equal protection of the laws, freedom of speech and the press, and the right to assemble peaceably.
All the foregoing rights cannot be denied on the ground that they conflict with certain customs or sentiments of society. The Constitution provides for a Bill of Rights to protect these rights.