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Appointments Clause

Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution specifies that a president may appoint "officers of the United States" with "advice and consent of the Senate.

It specifies that Congress may allow "inferior officers" to be appointed by the president without the need for Senate approval.

It also allows the president to bypass Senate approval when the Senate is not in session, via a recess appointment.

Referenced by...
Senators sue to reverse Trump's AG appointment (2018-Nov-19)

Appropriations Clause

Clause of Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution that states, "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law ."

Bill of Attainder

A bill that imposes a punishment on specific individuals or members of a group.

This violates Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution.

Branches of Government

The Constitution defines our government as consisting of 3 branches - each intended to "check and balance" the other two.

Congress. Congress writes laws that govern everything from tax rates to how tax money is spent.

Of the 3 branches, the legislative branch is the one most likely to have a direct effect on your life. Your representative represents you and the Congressional District you live in - approximately 700,000 people.

The US president and various agencies responsible for carrying out laws passed by Congress.

The president appoints the head of each agency (Senate approval is required). Virtually everyone else working for these agencies is a career professional who maintains their position from one president's administration to the next.

The system of courts that determine if a law is consistent with or violates the Constitution.

The most well-known of the court system is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the final authority on whether a law violates the Constitution. The court does not actively seek laws to judge. Rather, it decides cases that are brought to it by challenges to a law ruled on by a lower court.

Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president (Senate approval is required), and have lifetime terms.


The document that defines the structure of the United States government, and provides a framework for how it operates - including the making of laws.

If there is a question about whether a law or government action violates a provision of the Constitution, a federal court (including the Supreme Court), may rule on whether the law or action is constitutional - meaning it is consistent with the Constitution - or unconstitutional - meaning it violates a provision of the Constitution.

Constitutional Amendment

A change to the U.S. Constitution (or a state's constitution).


In the Constitution, emoluments refers to benefits from holding office - such as compensation, privileges, or certain advantages.

Emoluments are mentioned twice in the Constitution...

Foreign Emoluments

Article 1, Section 9 states...
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

Domestic Emoluments

Article 2, Section 1 states...
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

Referenced by...
Appeals court: Emoluments lawsuit must be heard (2019-Sep-13)
Appeals court dismisses emoluments suit against Trump (2019-Jul-29)
Judge: MD and DC can obtain Trump financial info (2018-Nov-03)
Attorneys General sue Trump over business conflicts (2017-Jun-12)

Equal Protection Clause

Part of the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which states

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Referenced by...
Supreme Court - NC districts unfair to black voters (2017-May-22)
Supreme Court - VA districts race-based (2017-Mar-01)

Executive Privilege

The power of the president to refuse to release certain information - even if that information has been subpoenaed.

The Supreme Court has upheld the use of executive privilege as being part of separation of powers between the branches of government.

Referenced by...
Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court (2018-Oct-06)
Kavanaugh won't say whether Trump can pardon himself (2018-Sep-05)

Habeus Corpus

Latin for "having the body", it requires that the government provide evidence of a reason to detain someone.

It is a right granted in Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which states...

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.


The process by which a legislative body charges a high government official - such as a president or judge - with a serious crime. Impeach comes from the Latin word impedicare, meaning to catch or entangle.

What are "High Crimes and Misdemeanors"?

Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution states that...

"The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Though the Constitution does not expand on the definitions of high crimes and misdemeanors, they do not necessarily need to be violations of a defined criminal code.

Rather, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers (no. 65), they focus on...

"...those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."

A predominate concern of the Constitution's authors was foreign influence in elections or policymaking.

Removal from office is a two-step process

The Constitution states that the House of Representatives shall have the sole Power of Impeachment. The House sets its own rules on the actual process it follows.

Typically hearings are conducted by a House committee. The committee then decides on whether to file articles of impeachment. Any articles of impeachment then are voted on by the full House. A majority vote is needed to approve an article (thus impeaching the official).

If the House approves one or more articles of impeachment, the Senate conducts a trial. If it is the president being impeached, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over the proceeding. To remove an official from office, two-thirds of senators must vote to convict.

Penalty if convicted is limited to removal from office

The Constitution states that the punishment for impeachment (and subsequent conviction)...

"... shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law."

The Senate can choose to remove the official from office, yet not preclude them from holding a public office in the future.

Referenced by...
House votes to impeach Trump (2019-Dec-18)
Lawsuit could keep Mueller from sharing Trump-Russia findings (2018-Aug-30)

Recess Appointment

Normally, the Senate must approve appointments to key positions in a president's administration. But what if the Senate is not in session?

According to Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution...

"The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session."

Presidential appointments made during a Senate recess are called recess appointments. They do not require Senate approval and may remain in effect throughout the next session.

Presidents have used recess appointments to bypass a Senate that is blocking a nomination. The Senate has responded by holding pro forma sessions to keep the Senate in session.

The scope of a president's ability to make recess appointments is questionable, however. Before the Constitution was ratified, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers (No. 67) that...

The ordinary power of appointment is confined to the President and Senate JOINTLY, and can therefore only be exercised during the session of the Senate; but as it would have been improper to oblige this body to be continually in session for the appointment of officers and as vacancies might happen IN THEIR RECESS, which it might be necessary for the public service to fill without delay, the succeeding clause is evidently intended to authorize the President, SINGLY, to make temporary appointments "during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session."

During the early days of the country, Congress might be in session for less than half of the year, leaving long periods when critical positions could not otherwise be filled.

Separation of Powers

The Constitution defines the U.S. government as being divided into three branches.

The concept of separation of powers balances the need for each branch to operate independently against the need to prevent one branch from assuming disproportionate power.

Supremacy Clause

The second paragraph of Article 6 of the Constitution.

It states that the U.S. Constitution and federal laws take precedence over state constitutions and laws.

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