Article I: The Legislative Branch — Elections, Powers, Legislative Process (Sections 4, 5, 6 and 7)

Article I of the Constitution defines the role of Congress, the federal legislative branch. Section 4 gives defines how elections are held for Congress. Section 5 defines powers and duties of the House of Representatives and Senate; Section 6 defines the rights of members, and Section 7 defines the legislative process.

The following was prepared by the Office of the Secretary of the Senate with the assistance of the Library of Congress, providing the original text of each clause of the Constitution with an accompanying explanation of its meaning and how that meaning has changed over time. Source: U.S. Senate, Library Of Congress

Sections 1, 2 and 3 (Legislative Powers) | Sections 4, 5, 6 and 7 (Elections and Legislative Process) | Section 8 (Enumerated Powers)  |  Sections 9 and 10 (Powers Denied To Congress and States)

Article I, Section 4: Elections
Article I, Section 4, Clause 1:  Congressional Power to Regulate
Text Explanation
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators. Federal elections are conducted by the individual states, although Congress has gradually enacted laws that regulate those elections.  The 17th amendment made the treatment of the election of senators and representatives the same.
Article I, Section 4, Clause 2:  Time of Assembling
Text Explanation
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day. The 20th amendment changed this provision for the convening of Congress from the first Monday in December to the 3rd of January.
Article I, Section 5:  Powers and Duties of the Houses
Article I, Section 5, Clause 1:  Power to Judge Elections
Text Explanation
Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide. The House and Senate decide whether their members are qualified to serve and have been properly elected, and determine any disputed elections.  One-half plus one of each house is necessary to make a quorum to conduct business.
Article I, Section 5, Clause 2:   Rules of Proceedings
Text Explanation
Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member. The Senate and House each sets its own rules, disciplines its own members, and by a two-thirds vote can expel a member.  Censure and lesser punishments require only a majority vote.
Article I,  5, Clause 3: Duty to Keep a Journal
Text Explanation
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal. The Senate and House each publish journals listing bills passed, amendments offered, motions made, and votes taken.  In addition to these journals, Congress publishes an essentially verbatim account of its debates, called the Congressional Record.  Videotapes of floor proceedings are deposited at the National Archives.
Article I, Section 5, Clause 4:  Adjournments
Text Explanation
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting. This section was included to prevent either chamber from blocking legislation through its refusal to meet.  Each chamber takes very seriously its independence of the other body.  To avoid having to ask the other chamber for permission to adjourn, the Senate and House simply conduct pro forma (as a matter of form) sessions to meet the three-day constitutional requirement.  No business is conducted at these sessions, which generally last for less than one minute.
Article I, Section 6:  Rights and Disabilities of Members
Article I, Section 6, Clause 1:   Compensation and Immunities
Text Explanation
The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place. The “speech or debate” clause is a basic protection of members of Congress in a government of separated powers.  Inherited from the British parliament, the right prevents executive oppression of the legislature, and here protects members from criminal or civil liability in the performance of their legislative responsibilities.
Article I, Section 6, Clause 2:  Disabilities
Text Explanation
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office. To preserve the separation of powers, no member may be appointed to an executive or judicial office that was created or accept a salary that was increased during the term to which that senator or representative was elected, nor may anyone serving in Congress simultaneously hold office in any other branch of government.
Article I, Section 7: Legislative Process
Article I, Section 7, Clause 1: Revenue Bills
Text Explanation
All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills. The House, directly elected by the people, received authority to originate all tax bills.  The Senate, however, can amend a tax bill, and the support of both houses is necessary for the bill to become law.
Article I, Section 7, Clause 2: Approval by the President
Text Explanation
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.  If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law. The “presentment clause” describes the only way that a bill can become law: it must be passed in identical form by both Houses and it must be signed by the president or passed by a two-thirds vote of Congress over the president’s veto.  If, while Congress is in session, the president does not sign a bill, it automatically becomes law.  If Congress has adjourned or is in recess, the president can “pocket veto” the bill – in a sense, simply putting it in his pocket, unsigned.  Congress cannot override bills that have been pocket vetoed.
Article I, Section 7, Clause 3:  Presentation of Resolutions
Text Explanation
Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill. This clause prevents Congress from circumventing the previous clause by calling a bill something else.  All it means is that any “order, resolution, or vote” that has the force of law must be passed in the manner of a bill.

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