Civic Literacy Curriculum
The materials for question 43 are also intended to cover question 44.
Q43: Who signs bills to become laws?
A. The FBI
B. The Head of Police
C. The President
D. The Vice President
Q44: Who vetoes federal bills?
A. The Attorney General
B. The President
C. The Supreme Court
D. The Secretary of State
The lawmaking power resides with Congress, but just because a majority of both houses of Congress passes a bill, it does not automatically become law. Again and again, the Founding Fathers came back to the idea of making sure that no one person or branch of government could wield tyrannical power. Responsibilities were split among the three branches, making it impossible for one to act alone.
Thus, just because a bill passes both houses of Congress, it does not turn that bill into a law. That generally requires the approval of the president, who either signs bills, giving his approval, or vetoing them, blocking the bill. The president can deny approval if he thinks a bill is either bad policy or unconstitutional.
Bills are signed by the president, or vetoed, or not signed (a pocket veto). While the president can make his or her wishes known for what would be in a better bill that he or should would sign, president are not allowed to rewrite bills they dislike. They either sign it, or they don’t.
The president’s approval can be bypassed if two-thirds of both houses of Congress override a president’s veto, however. In other words, even though the Constitution gives the president, part of the executive branch, a role in the lawmaking of the legislative branch, this is not an absolute obstacle. Congress has the ability to check this power and override the veto--- one more safeguard in place.
The judicial branch wasn’t left out, as it is their job to review laws or executive orders that are challenged as unconstitutional.
The three branches of government thus check each other throughout the process of turning a bill into a law, protecting the liberties of the citizens as the Founding Fathers sought.
Just because a bill passes through Congress does not mean it is either good policy or constitutional. This activity will give students the chance to practice their decision-making skills by deciding if they will -- or will not -- sign a bill into law. There are two variants of the activity, (one using a bill about pets, the other about “Drug X”, which is effectively a stand in for some of the contemporary legal issues surrounding medical marijuana but which has been made generic so that the students will assess the issue with more distance). Both require students to consider the same underlying constitutional or policy issues, with a discussion of a decision-making process at the end.
By using the optional documents, this activity can introduce the students to the decision-making model that is often taught in management courses to make decisions and solve problems.
- Provide each group with the Federalism reading.
- Provide each group with the case study, either:
- New bill regarding pet ownership
- New bill regulating Drug X
- Provide each group with an organizer (optional).
- A rubric is available if this is a graded activity.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric.
- This activity works well as an individual assignment. However, depending on the age and/or skills level of the students, you may want to have them work in pairs.
- If that is the case, divide the class into pairs 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 who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Pair those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- Explain to the students that they must determine whether a specific bill should be signed into law. Not only do they have to consider the merits of the underlying policy, but if they sign the law, they may violate the Constitution, which the president takes an oath to uphold and enforce.
- You want them to focus on the question of power: does the federal government have the authority to tell every state what to do on this topic? The students must decide if they believe Congress has the power to make the decision (regulate pets or medical marijuana) or if they believe either that the Constitution forbids the federal government from doing this. If they believe the bill is constitutional they should still explain whether they it would be better for the states to decide the issue individually and thus veto the bill on policy grounds, or if it is constitutional, if it is also good policy to have a uniform rule on this issue.
- If the students are not familiar with the decision-making process itself, review the steps with them at this point.
- They will receive a reading about federalism.
- After they complete the reading, they need to read the case relating to the bill and determine if they will or will not sign the bill.
- Emphasize again that they are not deciding on the topic or policy itself. They do not have to have an opinion on the topic and need to keep their personal feelings in check.
- They must decide if they will sign the bill, which takes the decision away from the states, or veto the bill, which will mean the states continue to make their own decision regarding the topic.
- If you wish, provide them with the worksheet, which they can use to organize their argument.
- Circulate throughout the room to help students as needed.
- Once the students have made their decision, hold a roundtable discussion. Consider using some of these questions:
- Will you sign or not sign the bill? Why or why not? Is it constitutional? If constitutional, is it a good idea or good policy, or no?
- How does the particular issue affect your opinion? Would you feel differently if the issue was (insert a current event)?
- Even though you need to keep them out of the decision-making process, did personal feelings affect your decision? For example, did you like what the bill did, but thought it unconstitutional for the federal government to act? Would you support this at the state level instead?
- Even though it was not one of the options for this assignment, the President can tell Congress that he or she will not sign the bill unless it is revised. Would that be a choice you would rather make? Why? What changes would you insist on? Or would you try to convince state governors to pass similar bills in their states?
Note: You may wish to turn this into an interdisciplinary activity and join forces with the English department and have the students write a short paper, an editorial, or a letter to the editor to justify their choices.
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.
In the quest to protect liberty, the Founding Fathers gave each of the three branches a role in the production of laws. Congress creates, debates, and modifies bills, the president then signs them into law and executes them, and the federal courts determine whether a law is constitutional. This system of checks and balances and the separation of powers aims to prevent one branch of person from taking too much power.
The Founding Fathers did not want one person in charge of the laws, so they gave Congress the power to create and debate the bills, but gave another branch the power to sign the bills into laws or veto them (reject them). According to the Constitution, who signs the bills into law, or, alternatively, vetoes them?
Vetoing a bill essentially means saying “no.” In general, that’s not an easy thing for people to do. Why do you think that a president would veto a bill -- especially when the bill might be popular but a veto puts his or her support by the people at risk? Use real-life scenarios to support your answer. What recent or past events can strengthen your argument?