Legislative Branch

Legislative Branch in the United States

Introduction to Legislative Branch

Legislative Branch, the lawmaking part of the United States government. The legislative branch includes the two chambers of the Congress of the United States-the Senate and the House of Representatives-and their staffs. The legislative branch passes bills that become law if they are signed by the president of the United States, who leads the executive branch. These laws are then subject to interpretation and constitutional review by the Supreme Court of the United States and other courts in the judicial branch.

The legislative branch also includes several smaller agencies. These provide research and administrative services to Congress or to the nation as a whole.

Article I of the Constitution of the United States defines the powers of Congress, which include several powers that set it apart from the executive and judicial branches. It has the power to set tax rates, authorize government spending, print and borrow money, and perform many other duties. In practice, however, these powers are exercised within a system of checks and balances that brings all three branches into play. For example, the president can propose and veto legislation. The Supreme Court can interpret laws and even void them if they conflict with the Constitution. Although the president and the Supreme Court can impose limits on congressional use of power, the other branches cannot usurp (take over) the special powers delegated to the legislative branch.” (1)

Legislative Branch Purpose

Established by Article I of the Constitution, the Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the United States Congress. The Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to enact legislation and declare war, the right to confirm or reject many Presidential appointments, and substantial investigative powers.

The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members, representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States. The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.

Members of the House are elected every two years and must be 25 years of age, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state (but not necessarily the district) they represent.

The House has several powers assigned exclusively to it, including the power to initiate revenue bills, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an electoral college tie.

The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected to six-year terms by the people of each state. Senator’s terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Senators must be 30 years of age, U.S. citizens for at least nine years, and residents of the state they represent.

The Vice President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and may cast the decisive vote in the event of a tie in the Senate.

The Senate has the sole power to confirm those of the President’s appointments that require consent, and to ratify treaties. There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the House must also approve appointments to the Vice Presidency and any treaty that involves foreign trade. The Senate also tries impeachment cases for federal officials referred to it by the House.

In order to pass legislation and send it to the President for his signature, both the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again in each chamber with at least two-thirds of each body voting in favor.

The Legislative Process

The first step in the legislative process is the introduction of a bill to Congress. Anyone can write it, but only members of Congress can introduce legislation. Some important bills are traditionally introduced at the request of the President, such as the annual federal budget. During the legislative process, however, the initial bill can undergo drastic changes.

Powers of Congress

Congress, as one of the three coequal branches of government, is ascribed significant powers by the Constitution. All legislative power in the government is vested in Congress, meaning that it is the only part of the government that can make new laws or change existing laws. Executive Branch agencies issue regulations with the full force of law, but these are only under the authority of laws enacted by Congress. The President may veto bills Congress passes, but Congress may also override a veto by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Government Oversight

Oversight of the executive branch is an important Congressional check on the President’s power and a balance against his discretion in implementing laws and making regulations.

Legislative Branch

In Legislation

Legislative Branch in the U.S. Code: Title 48, Chapter 12, Subchapter III

The current, permanent, in-force federal laws regulating legislative branch are compiled in the United States Code under Title 48, Chapter 12, Subchapter III. It constitutes “prima facie” evidence of statutes relating to Territories (including legislative branch) of the United States. The reader can further narrow his/her legal research of the general topic (in this case, Virgin Islands of the US Code, including legislative branch) by chapter and subchapter.

Resources

Notes and References

Further Reading

Legislative Branch: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Legislative Branch. This part provides references, in relation to Legislative Branch, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Legislative Branch by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Legislative Branch and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Legislative Branch or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Legislative Branch and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Legislative Branch. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Legislative Branch should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Legislative Branch when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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