Answers From the FAQ, Page 9 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Answers From the FAQ, Page 9

This page is one of the answer pages for the USConstitution.net’s
Constitutional FAQ. There have been so many questions and answers over the
years, that it was best to split them among several files.

If you’re looking for the question list, you can find it in three places.
First, the original, with questions listed in
more-or-less the order I was asked them; next, the
subject listing
, with questions listed by general topics; and lastly, the Constitutional listing, with questions listed
in the order they relate to the Constitution itself.

Q161. “Your site says that the Constitution has
been changed 18 times, but there are 27 amendments. What gives?”

A. There are, indeed, twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution.

The first ten, however, were all adopted at once. So, by simple math,
there are twenty-seven amendments, less ten, for seventeen changes. Add the
ten back in as one, and you get eighteen.

Q162. “I was wondering if there is anywhere in
the Constitution that says Congress cannot pass laws that don’t pertain to
themselves. If this is some place else please let me know where to find it. I
have read the Constitution and cannot find it.”

A. There is no such provision in the Constitution. The Congress is allowed
to pass legislation that pertains only to itself or which pertains to all
but the Congress. A classic example is that Congress originally exempted itself
from Social Security taxes, meaning that members of Congress did not have to
pay into the Social Security Trust Fund. As you might imagine, exceptions like
this have a tendency to run the public the wrong way.

Though Congress can still do this, it rarely does. In fact, in the 1990’s,
there was a concerted effort to root out all such exceptions. The Social
Security exemption was removed in 1984 (the Congress exempted itself because
its members paid into a separate pension plan; some government employees are
still covered by this plan and still do not pay into the Trust Fund). The
Congressional Accountability Act of 1994, amended in 1998, removed many
exemptions to laws that Congress had given itself before, including age
discrimination laws, sexual harassment laws, and occupational safety laws.

Regardless of all this, there is a cyclical push to amend the Constitution
to disallow this sort of exemption permanently. As far as amendments go, this
one is relatively benign, and I would have no objections to it. I just wonder
how necessary it is. Below is an example of such a proposed amendment:

Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the
United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and Representatives;
and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and
Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United

Q163. “In Article IV
section 4
it states ‘The United States shall guarantee to every State in
this Union a Republican Form of Government,’ however it never states what that
means exactly. Could a state have a parliamentary form of government, with an
executive who is one of the legislators? Is a constitution even

A. You are correct that a lot of different forms of government could qualify
under the moniker “republican.” In the context of the Constitution,
“republican” basically means any form where the people choose their leaders.
There is no requirement for a constitution, for example. A parliament would be
fine, as would an executive that came from or had some role in the legislature.
That would be up to the people of the state.

Of course at this point, all state legislatures and executives mirror,
roughly, that of the federal government, with a bicameral legislature
(excepting Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature), and a separate
executive. All states also have a constitution. The question is not just
academic, however, because though the status quo tends to prevail, there is
room for change.

Last Modified: 27 Jun 2010

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