American Government Congress Notes

Legislative Branch: Congress Notes

Article I of U. S. Constitution



Most representative branch of government

– It members translate the public will into public policy

• Institution of Congress

– Great Compromise or Connecticut Compromise brought Congress into existence

CongressMembership: Senate represents the states– House represents the people• Senate = 100• House of Representatives = 435ReapportionmentThe act of giving or taking away congressional districts from the states by Congress following the publication of national census every ten years 

House of Representatives


• Redistricting

– The act of redrawing of congressional districts by state legislatures following congressional reapportionment

Criteria for Redistricting• Districts should consist of “Contiguous territory”• Districts should be compact• Districts should contain an equal number of people CongressMalapportionment

• Prior to early 1960s districts were not redrawn by state legislatures following the publication of national census, it was based on politics, race, and geography. One side seeking advantage over another.

The  legislatures could do whatever they wanted.CongressWesberry vs. Sanders, the Court invalidated unequal congressional districts in Georgia

– Established the principle of “one person, one vote” authored by Justice Hugo Black (1937-71)

– Reynolds vs. Sims, the Court extended the above principle to the state legislative districts in 1964

CongressGerrymanderingA process of drawing district lines to help increase the chance that a candidate from a particular party or a particular group will get elected.– Origin of Gerrymandering

• Named after Elbridge Gerry the governor of Mass. who was a Democratic-Republican

• The Essex district shaped like salamander

• Dropped the first four letters of salamander and added Gerry’s name.


• Gerrymandering Tactics

Vote Diffusion Tactic– Vote Concentration Tactic– Pairing Tactic

• Majority-Minority Districts

Gerrymandering districts to increase the chance of electing minority candidates.– Came into the being as a result of 1982 amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act– Helped increased minority representation in CongressCongress

• Membership of Congress

– 535 members in Congress• 435 in the House• 100 in the Senate– Constitutional Qualifications in the House• 25 years of age• 7 years of citizenship• Resident of the state prior to electionCongressConstitutional Qualifications in the Senate• 30 years of age• 9 years of citizen• Resident of state prior to election

Characteristics of Members of Congress

Predominantly white, male, upper-class, businesspersons, lawyers

Pay Day (per year)

President - $400,000 ($50,000 exp. acct.)

V. Pres. - $208,100 ($10,000 travel)

Senators and Reps - $162,100Majority/Minority Leaders - $180,100Speaker of House – $208,100

Chief Justice - $208,100

Associate Justice - $199,200

Congress• 110th CongressIn the 2007 Senate, there were 13 Jews, three Hispanics, two Asian Americans, one Arab American, and one African American. The average age of Senators in 2007 was 62 years. The oldest Senator in 2009 is President pro tempore Robert Byrd (92), and the youngest in 2007 was John E. Sununu (43).Congress

The 110th Congress includes the most religiously diverse House in history, including the first Muslim, (Keith Ellison), the first Buddhists (Mazie Hirono and Hank Johnson), and thirty Jews. There are 42 African Americans (including two non-voting delegates) and 74 female representatives. There are also 27 Hispanics, three Asian Americans, and one Native American.


111th Congress

91 women (of 535 members)

2 Muslims

45 Jews

two Buddhists


214 members (182 Representatives and 33 Senators) list their occupation as public service/politics

204 (152 Representatives and 51 Senators) list law

201 (175 Representatives and 27 Senators) list business

94 (78 Representatives and 16 Senators) list education


168 Representatives and 57 Senators have a law degree.

83 Representatives and 16 Senators earned a master's degree -- often a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) - as their highest educational degree

27 Representatives and one Senator (Mark Begich) have no educational degree beyond a high school diploma.

23 Representatives (but no Senators) have a PhD

17 Representatives and three Senators have a medical degree (this number includes one Senator with a veterinary medicine degree and one Representative with a dental degree).

Five Representatives but not Senators have an associate's degree as their highest degree. One House Member is a licensed practical nurse (L.P.N.) degree


• Congressional Elections

House members are elected every two yearsSenate members serve six years and one-third of its members elected every two yearsWhy Incumbents Reelected?– Name recognition– Franking privilege or free mail– Greater access to media– More ease in raising campaign contributionCongressAccess to classified information

– Claim credit for federal money given to their districts or states

• Privileges and Removal of Members

– Article I, Section 6: cannot be arrested while attending sessions of Congress or while going to or returning from sessions except in case of treason, felony, and breach of peace.– Cannot be questioned in any place for remarks made in CongressCongress– Article I, Section: each house with the concurrence of two-thirds of its members may expel a member15 Senators• 4 Representatives• Alternative to expulsion–Reprimand–CensureCongress

• Powers and Functions

Article I, Section 8• Lists specific powers of CongressExpressed or Delegated powers– Article I, Section 8, Clause 18“Necessary and Proper” Clause or Elastic Clause–Implied powers

– Separate powers to each chamber

CongressSenate approves presidential appointees• Senate ratifies treatiesHouse originates bills for raising revenuesHouse impeaches• Senate convicts (tries the case)Impeachable offenses” treason, bribery, high crimes, and misdemeanor crimes

Congress admits new states into the union

Congress– House elects the president if no candidate receives a majority vote in the Electoral College– Senate elects the vice president if no candidate receives a majority in the Electoral CollegeCongress approves the selection of a new vice president due to vacancy in that office