Senate

If you’ve seen the flowchart describing how a bill becomes a law, you may grasp that lawmaking is cumbersome, time-consuming, and difficult! Lawmakers have an increasingly stressful job with a large workload. The work of representing the people of the United States and creating good policy requires that legislators be dedicated to the betterment of America. 

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Senate Senate

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Table of contents

    In Federalist 10, James Madison argues that the solution to the problem of diverse factions in a country is a large republic. He ideally believes that only the best people will be chosen among the citizens to work as representatives in a government that serves all people:

    ....... by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose.”

    The Senate is considered the upper house in our bicameral legislature. Let’s learn more about the structure and responsibilities of this important chamber.

    *Madison is speaking about all legislators in Federalist 10. Senators were chosen from the state legislatures until 1913 when the 17th Amendment was ratified and allowed for the direct election of Senators by the people.

    US Senate

    The Framers of the U.S. Constitution intended Congress to be the chief policymaking institution in America. Congress is often the center of power in Washington, D.C., and legislators have jobs that touch all of our lives. The structure and function of the legislative branch are described at the beginning of the foundational document in Article 1.

    Article 1, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states:

    All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."

    The United States Senate is one chamber of America’s bicameral legislature. The legislative body is divided into two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives.

    The Senate is composed of 100 members, representing constituents from whole states. Each state has two senators who represent every citizen of the state. Along with their counterparts in the House of Representatives, Senators are responsible for policymaking and the representation of their constituents.

    Constituents: a member of a voting body who has the power to elect.

    To be a Senator in the United States, you must be at least 30 years of age, have been a citizen of the U.S. for 9 years, and be a citizen of the state you wish to represent.

    Senate, Alternative Seal of the Senate, StudySmarterFig. 1 Alternative Seal of the Senate, Wikimedia Commons

    Leaders of the Senate

    There are 435 members in the House of Representatives and only 100 in the Senate. Due to the fewer numbers in the Senate, leadership is less formal and strict than in the House of Representatives.

    Vice President

    The Vice President of the United States leads the Senate. In fact, being the leader of the Senate is the only constitutionally defined job for the Vice President. The Vice President presides over the Senate, but only votes in case of a tie. This can make the Vice President both the least consequential and most important member of the Senate, depending on the situation.

    President Pro-Tempore

    The President Pro-tempore, or temporary president, presides over the Senate when the Vice-President is away. The President “pro-tem” is usually a senior member of the majority party.

    The Majority and Minority leaders

    The actual workhorse of the majority party in the senate is the majority leader. The majority leader is a member of the majority party and serves as the manager of the majority party in the Senate. They are responsible for scheduling bills on the calendar and have the power of assigning bills to committees and members to committees.

    The minority leader manages the minority party and does the same thing for the minority party that the majority leader does for the minority party.

    Both the majority and minority leaders, along with their party whips, work to drum up votes needed for legislation that is important to pass.

    US Senate Elections

    The term of office for the U.S. Senator is six years. There are no congressional term limits; therefore, Senators can run for office repeatedly. One-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. This allows for stability in the Senate and is a constitutional requirement.

    Roles of Senate

    Along with the House of Representatives, the Senate is a policymaking body. All laws are created in the legislative branch. No bill can become a law unless it goes through both chambers of Congress. Lawmaking is the priority of the Senate. Both Senators and Representatives serve on committees that often relate to the interests of themselves or their constituents. Bills are assigned to committees, and legislators either kill them, amend them, or pass them on the whole floor for debate or vote.

    Confirmation

    The Senate has the unique authority to confirm presidential appointments. The power of confirmation is an illustration of the American system of checks and balances.

    Treaty Approval

    The President may make treaties, but the Senate ratifies, or approves, all treaties. This is another example of checks and balances at work.

    Holds Impeachment Trials

    While the House of Representatives holds the sole power to impeach, or bring charges against, a federal official, the Senate holds the trial. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over an impeachment trial.

    Filibuster

    Because the Senate is less hierarchical and power is less centralized, the Senate is much less formal in its rules for debate. As long as the presiding officer gives a Senator permission to speak on the floor of the Senate, they can speak for as long as they like. Senators can also filibuster: speak so long they wear down the opposition or let the deadline for a voting pass.

    The power to filibuster is not absolute, however. A filibuster may be stopped by a vote of 60 Senators. This decision to halt a filibuster is called a vote for cloture.

    Senate, Senate in Session, StudySmarterFig. 2 Senate in Session, Wikimedia Commons

    Senate Judiciary Committee

    The Senate Judiciary Committee was created in 1816 and is one of the oldest and most powerful Senate Standing committees. Members of the Judiciary Committee wield significant influence as the first stage in the confirmation process of federal judges. When the president nominates a federal judge, the Senate must confirm them. The judiciary committee evaluates the nominees before the full Senate holds hearings. The judiciary committee also exercises legislative oversight of the primary activities of the executive branch.

    Standing Committee: permanent legislative committees that consider bills and oversee agencies and programs within their appointed jurisdiction.

    Senate - Key takeaways

      • The Senate is composed of 100 members, representing constituents from whole states. Each state has two senators who represent every citizen of the state.

      • The term of office for the U.S. Senator is six years

      • Along with the House of Representatives, the Senate is a policymaking body. All laws are created in the legislative branch. No bill can become a law unless it goes through both chambers of Congress.

      • The Senate has the unique authority to confirm presidential appointments and ratify treaties. Senators also have the power to filibuster.

      • The Senate Judiciary Committee was created in 1816 and is one of the oldest and most powerful Senate Standing committees.


    References

    1. https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/
    2. https://constitutioncenter.org/the-constitution/full-text
    3. https://billofrightsinstitute.org/primary-sources/federalist-no-10
    4. Fig. 1, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Seals_of_the_United_States_Senate#/media/File:Alternative_Senate_seal_2.svg) By Ipankonin (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ipankonihttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Ipankonin) In Public Domain
    5. Fig. 2, Senate in Session (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Senate_in_session.jpg) by CSPAN (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C-SPAN) In Public Domain
    Frequently Asked Questions about Senate

    How long is a senate term?

    A senator's term is 6 years. 

    What is the Senate?

    The Senate is the upper house of the Legislative Branch. Along with the House of Representatives, the Senate makes up Congress. 

    What are Senate and Congress?

    The Senate is one chamber of Congress. Along with the House of Representatives, the Senate creates legislation. 

    What is the main role of the Senate?

    The Senate is a policymaking body. The Senate also has constitutional responsibilities such as treaty ratification and the confirmation of presidential appointments. 

    How many senators are there?

    There are 100 Senators. Each state has two senators. 


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