Constitutional FAQ Answer #30 – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional FAQ Answer #30

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Q30. “The wording of the Constitution gets
confusing, which is understandable since it was written in the 18th century and
uses legal terms that most laymen have never had cause to learn. Specifically,
I can’t make heads or tails of Amendments XI and XII. Could you explain these
to me?”

A. The 11th Amendment was a direct response to
a case that the Supreme Court ruled upon in 1793 (Chisholm v Georgia),
in which an individual not from Georgia sued the state of Georgia. The Congress
was outraged, and the amendment passed Congress with blinding speed. The
controversy was not so much that a state was sued, but that the Court
determined that it had original jurisdiction over the case, based on Article 3 of the Constitution. The states did
not want to be answerable to federal courts, and this amendment sought to have
that effect. The history and current effect of the Amendment is highly
technical in a legal sense. I suggest reading the Annotated
at the GPO
Web site.

The 12th Amendment was intended to clarify the
process to be used in the selection of the President and Vice President, as
well as change the method of electing the Vice President. It was a response to
the election of 1800, where Jefferson and
Burr received equal votes in the Electoral College, even though it was plain
from the voting that Jefferson was intended to be President and Burr VP. Previously, the Vice President was that
person who came in second in the Presidential balloting in the Electoral
College. This amendment states that the Vice President is a separate office for
which a separate vote is taken. The College will meet separately in their
respective states, cast their votes and send them, sealed, to the President of
the Senate. Those votes are then opened and counted in front of the entire

It goes on to state that if no one person has a majority of the electoral
votes, the top three vote-getters will be presented before the House of
Representatives, and that body will vote on who of the three shall become
President. In that voting, each state will have one vote. A similar provision
is made for the voting for the Vice President.

The amendment introduces an interesting technicality into the identity of
the President and Vice President. It almost precludes the two from being
citizens of the same state, since the electors in that state cannot cast votes
for more than one person from that state. Since Vice Presidential candidates
are today often chosen to help a regional favorite reign in national appeal, it
is rare for this to come up now (though the recent 2000 election did have
questions about the residency of George Bush and Richard Cheney).

Last Modified: 16 Aug 2010

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