Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 18: Who makes federal laws?
Q18: Who makes federal laws?
A. The executive branch
B. The Supreme Court
D. The nation’s governors
Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution gives Congress the federal lawmaking power. The process for passing a law is summed up in the second line of Article I, Section 7, of the Constitution:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.
The remainder of the section details what occurs after the bill is placed on the desk of the president and either signed or vetoed. (The president gets a partial check on Congress’s lawmaking powers.)
As you can see, the Constitution does not create a detailed, complex process for lawmaking beyond ensuring that both of its houses agree to legislation. Instead, the Constitution generally leaves it to the houses themselves to establish their own rules for the passage of laws (Article I, Section 5). As a result, the houses make their own rules on how committees will operate and how long members can speak, if any supermajorities are required to expedite legislation, among other things.
This activity will help students trace the path that an idea follows in the quest to become a law. By creating a flowchart, students will be able to visualize the process for bills that successfully become laws. They will also be able to see the role that the executive branch plays in the process, which demonstrates the system of checks and balances.
- Provide each student/group with a flowchart symbols handout.
- Provide each student/group with a sample flowchart.
- Provide each student/group with How a Bill Becomes a Law.
- Print a copy of the answer key.
- A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.
- Provide each student/group with a blank piece of 8 x 14 paper.
* Reference the legislative handout from Questions 16 & 17.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes an answer key and rubric.
- Divide the class into groups of 2-3 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material. Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Ideally, each group of 3 should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C.
- If students are in pairs rather than groups, divide them based on ability as well, pairing those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C). b. This activity works equally well on the individual level.
- Explain to the students that they are going to outline the steps that a bill takes to become a law. To do this, they will create flowcharts that show the exact path required.
- Provide the students with handouts and an 8 x 14 piece of paper.
- Recommend that they draft the flowcharts in pencil first so that they can make changes as needed before creating the final copy.
- You may wish to have the students bring markers, colored pencils, etc. to create the flowcharts.
- Circulate throughout the room to assist the students as they work.
Note: If the students are using flowcharts in math or science class, you may wish to work with the teacher(s) to create an interdisciplinary unit.
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events and historical events.
While the Constitution places responsibility for creating laws in the hands of the legislative body, it does not spell out the exact process for creating them. It simply states that bills that pass both houses must be signed by the president. The process itself was left to the legislature to determine.
The process of passing a law is not particularly easy. A law begins as a bill, and just because someone suggests a bill does not mean that the bill will be passed. What are the hurdles that the bill has to clear before reaching the president’s desk for signature?
The creation of a law is one of the hallmarks of the republic. Ideas for laws can come from anyone. What laws do you think we need to pass today and why? What arguments might there be against your suggestion(s) and why? Use real-life examples in your answer.