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The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution

Article I, Section 2

The Text

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

[Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.]1 The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

1Modified by Amendment XIV, Section 2.

The Meaning

Article I, Section 2, specifies that the House of Representatives be composed of members who are chosen every two years by the people of the states. There are only three qualifications: a representative must be at least 25 years old, have been a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and must live in the state from which he or she is chosen. Efforts in Congress and the states to add requirements for office, such as durational residency rules or loyalty oaths, have been rejected by Congress and the courts.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court used the language, “chosen . . . by the people of the several States” in Article I, Section 2, to recognize a federal right to vote in congressional elections. That right, along with the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, was later used by the U.S. Supreme Court to require that each congressional district contain roughly the same number of people, ensuring that one person’s vote in a congressional election would be worth as much as another’s.

Article I, Section 2, also creates the way in which congressional districts are to be divided among the states. A difficult and critical sticking point at the Constitutional Convention was how to count a state’s population. Particularly controversial was how to count slaves for the purposes of representation and taxation. If slaves were considered property, they would not be counted at all. If they were considered people, they would be counted fully just as women, children and other non-voters were counted. Southern slave-owners viewed slaves as property, but they wanted them to be fully counted in order to increase their political power in Congress. After extended debate, the framers agreed to the three-fifths compromise— each slave would equal three-fifths of a person in a state’s population count. (Note: The framers did not use the word slave in the document.) After the Civil War, the formula was changed with the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and Section 2 of the 14th Amendment, which repealed the three-fifths rule.

This section also establishes that every 10 years, every adult in the country must answer a survey– a monumental task when people move as often as they do and when some people have no homes at all. Based on the surveys, Congress must determine how many representatives (at least one required) are to come from each state and how federal resources are to be distributed among the states. The Constitution set the number of House members from each of the original 13 states that was used until the first census was completed.

In 1929 Congress limited the House of Representatives to 435 members and established a formula to determine how many districts would be in each state. For example, after the 2000 census, Southern and Western states, including Texas, Florida and California, gained population and thus added representatives while Northern states, such as Pennsylvania, lost several members.

Congress left it to state legislatures to draw district lines. As a result, at the time of a census, the political party in power in a state legislature is able to define new districts that favor its candidates, affecting who can win elections for the House of Representatives in the following decade. This process— redrawing district lines to favor a particular party— is often referred to as gerrymandering.

Article I, Section 2, also specifies other operating rules for the House of Representatives. When a House member dies or resigns during the term, the governor of that state may call for a special election to fill the vacancy. The House of Representatives chooses its own speaker, who is in line to become president, if neither the president nor the vice president is able to serve.

Lastly, this section specifies that only the House of Representatives holds the power of impeachment. House members may charge a president, vice president or any civil officer of the United States with “Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” (See Article II, Section 4.) A trial on the charges is then held in the Senate.

That happened during President Clinton’s term. The House of Representatives investigated the president and brought charges against him. House members acted as prosecutors during an impeachment trial in the Senate. (See Article 1, Section 3.) Clinton was not convicted of the charges and he completed his second term as president.