The Constitution is an inspirational document, but its also something else: a blueprint. When adopted in 1787, the Constitution was meant to be the plan for a new national government, and it carefully outlines procedures for electing representatives, paying the president, and creating laws.
This Constitution Day, we can look back at some of the processes laid out in the Constitution and use a new tool from the Library of Congress, Congress.gov, to see how they’re being used today.
Start by asking students to get to know aspects of the legislative process as it was originally described in the Constitution. Students can read Article I, Section 7, and make a quick outline of some of the steps required for a bill to become a law, including the roles played by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the president.
Next, students can use Congress.gov, the new online source for legislative information, to follow a current or recent bill through the legislative process and compare its journey to the steps they found in the Constitution.
Encourage students to select a piece of legislation to follow through the process. They might choose one from the list of laws enacted by the most recent Congress. Or, they can go to the Members of the U.S. Congress page to find their own Representative and Senators. Then, they can select one of their members of Congress and go to the Member Profile page to find legislation sponsored by their member.
Once your students select a piece of legislation, they can go to its Overview page on Congress.gov and check the Tracker to see how far it made it through the process. Was it only Introduced? Did it end after Resolving Differences? Or did it go the distance until it Became Law? From the Overview page, they can also select a summary for the bill at each stage.
Now that they have seen a bill all the way through the legislative process, students can explore the differences between the process as described in the Constitution and the process as it currently works. They might identify the ways in which the steps they found in the Constitution differ from the steps shown in the Congress.gov Tracker. How can they explain the differences? What changes might have been introduced over time, and why?
To go a little deeper into the law-making process, watch the Congress.gov Legislative Process videos. And let us know how this new tool has helped you explore the past and present of the U.S. Constitution.