For good or for bad, and like it or not, the US is a nation of laws. We have federal laws covering almost everything in our everyday lives. There are federal laws for how much income and other taxes we have to pay to the federal government; to protect the quality of our air and water; to punish those who commit crimes; and to make sure that our military veterans are cared for after they leave the service. The list is almost endless.

Where do all these laws come from? The main job of the Legislative Branch of the federal government is to write laws. And specifically to write laws that protect our basic, fundamental freedoms, like freedom of speech and religion, or to make sure that the all persons are treated equally and fairly, such as laws that bar employers from firing or refusing to hire people from certain racial or ethnic groups or women simply because of their race or gender.

This branch of the government has other jobs and powers, too. For example, it has the power to make or “coin” money, declare war and approve or disapprove of persons the President selects to hold certain offices.

Some Basics

The Legislative Branch is created by Article I of the US Constitution. Its main job is to write laws. It doesn’t apply or interpret the laws (that job belongs to the Judicial Branch), and it doesn’t enforce the laws (that’s the job of the Executive Branch. This Branch is made up of two parts or “chambers,” namely, the House of Representatives (the “House”) and the Senate. Together, the House and the Senate are known as the Congress. The Constitution gives Congress all sorts of powers, such as the power to:

  • Lay and collect taxes
  • Make money and fix its value
  • Create post offices
  • Declare war, and to create and fund the branches of the US military
  • Create courts that are lower than or “inferior to” the Supreme Court of the United States

The House

The House of Representatives is the larger of the two parts of Congress. Right now, it’s made up of 435 members who are known as “Representatives” or “Congressmen” or “Congresswomen.” Each state has at least one Representative, but most have more than one. That’s because each state is divided into areas, which are called “congressional districts.” These districts are based upon the population of each state. The number of Representatives for any state is based upon number of districts in a state. So, a more populated state has more districts, and so more Representatives, than a less populated state.

In addition to the Representatives from each of the states, there are six other members who represent the District of Columbia and the US Territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. These Representatives don’t participate in any voting in the House.

Members of the House serve for two-year terms. So, every two years, the entire House of Representatives is up for re-election.

The House has some powers that the Senate doesn’t:

  • Only the House may “introduce” or begin making tax laws
  • The House decides if high-ranking government officials, like the President, Vice President, and federal judges, should be “impeached,” or removed from office for committing a crime against the US (called “treason”) or some other serious crime
  • In Presidential elections, if there’s a tie or deadlock in the electoral college, the House decides who’ll be President by holding a vote: Each state has one vote, regardless of how many Representatives a state may have. (The “electoral college” is made up of persons from each state (they’re called “electors”), and they vote for the President and Vice President after the general election. Usually, the electors from each state cast their votes to match the popular vote of their state)

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