Editor's note: This is a regular feature on issues related to the Constitution and civics written by Paul G. Summers, retired judge and state attorney general.
Our Founding Fathers, who envisioned the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were exceptionally smart and clairvoyant. They could see into the future, detect issues and problems, and answer questions before the average person knew the issues existed. Our Constitution has stabilized us since 1789, including through the Civil War, two World Wars, assassinations and endless catastrophes. We have experienced many trials and tribulations. Yet, our Constitution is strong. Let us understand it better. Keep it strong.
Our Constitution begins with the words “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice … .” Those words mean that all power in America comes from the people and is not delegated to the people. The first paragraph provides for domestic tranquility, a common defense, general welfare and liberty now and for our descendants. Those are the reasons we have a Constitution. Those powers not delegated to the federal government or prohibited by the Constitution “… to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
More by Paul G. Summers:Here's what the U.S. Constitution has to say about the House of Representatives | Opinion
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Our last op-ed discussed the House of Representatives established by Article I. We shall explore Section 3, which establishes the Senate. Originally the Senate consisted of two senators from each state, and they were chosen by the state legislatures thereof. The 17th Amendment of 1913 changed the selection mode of senators to statewide elections, but the elected senators still held office for six years. Electors for senators have the qualifications of the most numerous branch of his or her state legislature.
When a Senate vacancy occurs, the governor of the state will issue writs of election to fill such vacancies. The state legislatures may empower the governor through legislation to temporarily fill such vacancies prior to the election to permanently fill the Senate office.
Senators must be at least 30 years old and have been citizens of the U.S. for nine years. The vice president shall be president of the Senate with no vote, unless there is a tie, wherein she or he may vote. The Senate shall choose its other officers.
If the House impeaches, the Senate shall have sole power to try an impeachment of an officer. If the president is tried, the chief justice of the United States shall preside. No person impeached shall be convicted unless there is a two-thirds vote “of the Members present.”
Judgment in impeachment cases shall extend only to removal from office and rendering the accused disqualified from holding an “Office of honor, Trust or Profit” in the United States ever again. The party may still be tried in criminal court, federal or state, for the same conduct. Such a subsequent trial is not double jeopardy.
Our study of our founding documents and American government will continue with the Senate. Please read the Declaration and the Constitution. It is time well spent.
Paul G. Summers is a lawyer. He is a former appellate and senior judge, district attorney general and the attorney general of Tennessee. He resides in Holladay and Nashville.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Opinion: Constitution details the makeup, powers of the Senate