The Legislative Branch for AP U.S. Government
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Structure of Congress
Figure 12-1 shows the structure of the two arms of Congress.
Organization of Congress
- Two houses meet for terms of two years beginning on January 3 of odd-numbered years; each term is divided into two one-year sessions
- The president may call special sessions in cases of national emergency
- Each house of Congress chooses its own leadership and determines its own rules
Election to Congress
Getting Elected to the House of Representatives
The Constitution guarantees each state at least one representative. Members are chosen from districts within each state. Some practices related to determining congressional representation are:
- apportionment—distribution among the states based on the population of each of the states
- reapportionment—the redistribution of Congressional seats after the census determines changes in population distribution among the states
- congressional districting—the drawing by state legislatures of congressional districts for those states with more than one representative
- gerrymandering—drawing congressional districts to favor one political party or group over another
Getting Elected to the Senate
The Constitution guarantees that "no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate" (Article V).
- Members were originally chosen by the state legislatures in each state.
- Since 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment allows for the direct election of senators by the people of the state.
The incumbency effect is the tendency of those already holding office to win reelection. The effect tends to be stronger for members of the House of Representatives and weaker for the Senate. Advantages may include:
- name recognition—Voters are more likely to recognize the officeholder than the challenger.
- credit claiming—The officeholder may have brought government projects and money into the state or district.
- casework for constituents—Officeholders may have helped constituents solve problems involving government and the bureaucracy.
- more visible to constituents—Members can use the "perks" of the office to communicate with constituents. Franking, the privilege of sending official mail using the incumbent's signature as postage, provides communication with constituents.
- media exposure—Incumbents are more likely to gain "free" publicity during a campaign through the media.
- fundraising abilities—It is generally greater for incumbents.
- experience in campaigning—Incumbents have already experienced the campaign process.
- voting record—Voters can evaluate their performance based on their record.
Although several states have passed legislation establishing term limits for members of Congress, the Supreme Court has ruled that neither the states nor Congress may impose term limits without a constitutional amendment. Therefore, today, there are no limitations on the number of terms a member of Congress may serve.
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