Lesson 4:  Articles II-VII of the U.S. Constitution
Article II (2) - The Executive Branch
Article III (3) - The Judicial Branch
Articles IV (4) -The States
Article V (5) - Amending the Constitution
Article VI (6) - National Supremacy
Article VII (7) - Ratification

Article II (2)- The Executive Branch

     The executive branch of the federal government carries out or executes the laws made by Congress.  The chief executive is the President.  The Vice President takes the place of the president when necessary.  

     The executive branch is the largest branch of government and employs the most people.  It includes the Cabinet, the 14 large executive departments of the Cabinet, and many other agencies and organizations, such as the Post Office, the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the FBI and the CIA.  

Information about the President 

     requirements must be 35 years old
must be born in the United States
must live in the U.S. for 14 years before election
     term of office 4 years
can be elected only two times
     how elected by the Electoral College
     powers signs or vetoes bills passed by Congress
commander-in-chief of the military
recognizes other countries
make treaties with other countries  (must be approved by the Senate)
appoints Supreme Court justices and federal judges  (must be approved by Senate)
     other duties appoints Cabinet members
Electing the President 

The White House
   People in each state do not vote directly for the president. The President is officially elected  by voters called electors. Each state has a certain number of electors, equal to the number of Senators plus Representatives from that state.  

     In November of an election year, the people vote.  The candidate who receives the most popular votes gets all the states electoral votes.  


Then the candidate who receives the most electoral votes wins the presidency.   But the Constitution says a candidate has to get a majority of the electoral votes to become president.  Majority means "more than half"  (not just "the most" as it seems to mean sometimes).

     In past elections there have been only twocandidates splitting the electoral votes, so one candidate has always received a majority of votes.  But what happens if three candidates split the electoral votes three ways and no candidate gets more than half?   According to the Constitution, if no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, then the House of Representatives selects the president from the top three candidates.  

The Cabinet


President Barack Obama holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House

    The Cabinet is a group of advisers.  There are 15 large executive departments, for example the Defense Department, the Agriculture Department, and the Department of Transportation. These departments are responsible for carrying out laws passed by Congress.  Each department has many jobs.  The Agriculture Department inspects the foods we eat, controls school lunch programs and food stamps, and help farmers.

     The head of each department is called the Secretary, for example the Secretary of State. The Cabinet is this group of department heads.  The President appoints the secretary of each department, and each appointment must be approved by the Senate. The President can meet with the Cabinet a little or a lot; it's up to the President. 

Article III - The Judicial Branch
     The Constitution set up only one court, the Supreme Court, but  gave Congress the power to set up other federal courts.  Congress has created two other kinds of federal courts:  courts of appeals and district courts. The Constitution also gave states the power to create their own court systems.  
The Supreme Court in 2009.   Top row (left to right): Samuel  Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen  Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
 Bottom row (left to right):
Anthony  Kennedy, Paul StevensChief Justice John Roberts, Antonin  Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

     Federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, are appointed by the President.  The Senate must approve each appointment.  Once appointed and approved,  federal judges never have to run for election or be reappointed.  Their appointments are for their lifetime, and they hold their judgeships as long as they want, unless they are impeached.  

Federal Courts

   Supreme Court
     only one court
     9 judges, called justices
The highest court in the United States.
Decides if laws passed by Congress are in conflict with the Constitution.  If a law is declared unconstitutional, the law is not valid and cannot be used.  Also hears appeals from lower courts.  Can overturn decision made by lower courts. 
   Courts of Appeals
     12 courts
Hear cases on appeal (no new trials, no juries).  Decide if decision made by district courts followed due process.  Can overturn lower courts' decisions.
Decisions are final unless the case is appealed to the Supreme Court.
   District Courts
     91 trial courts
Trial courts, evidence presented, juries often hear cases.  Hears cases about crimes and disputes if...
  • different states are involved
  • people from different states are involved
  • federal laws have been broken
  • federal government is involved in dispute
  • other countries are involved

The Supreme Court and judicial review

     The Supreme Court has the power of judicial review, the authority to declare laws made by Congress or states  unconstitutional.  This power is not stated directly in the Constitution.  The right of judicial review was first established in 1803 by Chief Justice John Marshall in the case Marbury versus Madison.

     Since 1803, the Supreme Court has overturned more than one hundred federal laws and more than one thousand state laws.  For example, in 1954, in the Brown versus Topeka Board of Education case, the Supreme Court ruled that state laws that segregated children into schools were unconstitutional.  The power of judicial review can also declare acts made by the president or other executive branch officials unconstitutional.  Judicial review is a strong check against the executive or legislative branch having too much power.

Trials and treason

    Article III says that a person has the right to a jury trial in all criminal cases, except for impeachment trials.  

   Article III defines treason as an act of war against the United States or the act of helping an enemy of the U.S.   No one can be convicted of treason unless that person openly confesses to the treasonous act in court or two eyewitnesses testify that the person has committed a treasonable act.  A person can't be convicted of treason for just thinking or talking about it.  

Article IV

Article 4 descibes how states will get along with the federal government and other states.  

  • Every state must respect the laws, records, and court decisions of other states.  For example, if  Illinois gives a person a driver's license, that person can legally drive in Missouri, Kansas, and all other states.
  • Citizens from one state visiting another state are entitled to the same rights as people who live in that state.  
  • If a person commits a serious crime in one state and then escapes to another state, that person must be found and returned to the state  where the crime was committed.  (This is called extradition.)
  • Congress makes the rules for selling and controlling all land or other property that belongs to the United States.  
  • Congress has the power to admit new states to the U.S.
  • Every state must have a representative form of government.
  • The federal government will protect and defend all states from other countries.  Also, if fighting or violence breaks out inside a state, the federal government will help. 

Article V

Article 5 tells how to make changes to the Constitution. 

  • The Constitution can be changed by adding an amendment.  There are two steps.  First the change must be proposed.  To propose an amendment, two thirds of  either all the state legislatures or two thirds of both houses of Congress must vote to propose it.  If it's successfully proposed, then it must be ratified.
  • The second step, ratification, is the decision of the states. Three fourths of all state legislatures  or three fourths of state conventions held just for the purpose of voting on the amendment must vote to approve the amendment.  
  • Article VI

    Artcicle 6 includes an important part of the Constitution called the supremacy clause.  The Constitution is the highest law of the land. The Constitution, the laws of Congress, and all treaties must be followed by all states. State laws must agree with the Constitution. State judges must know that the Constitution is supreme over state laws.  

    All members of Congress, the President and all executive branch officials, all Supreme Court justices and federal judges, all members of state legislatures, all governors and state officials, all state judges take an oath of office and swear to obey the United States Constitution.

    Article VII

    Article 7 stated that the Constitution would become effective when 9 (out of 13) states approved or ratified it.  

    The Constitution was signed by its authors on September 17, 1787. Then each of the 13 states held meetings to decide whether to accept or reject it. Three states quickly ratified the Constitution in 1787:  Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  During the next year, 1788, eight more states approved it, and the Constitution  became law.  The last two states to ratify the Constitution were North Carolina in November 1789 and Rhode Island in May 1790. 

    Take a quiz over lesson 4

    Resources on the web