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CNN Student News One-Sheet: The U.S. Constitution

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  • Use this One-Sheet to help your students understand the U.S. Constitution
  • Contentious issues have cropped up throughout America's history
  • These issues from 2008 revolve around the U.S. Constitution
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(CNN Student News) -- Introduction
September 17, 2008 marks the 221st birthday of our government. On this date in 1787, 39 men changed the course of history by signing the U.S. Constitution. But this document is not just some relic of the past -- it continues to guide the way we live our lives. Each time there is a case that addresses the roles of the U.S. government or the rights of its people, the courts interpret the words written in the U.S. Constitution to determine whether the law is in accordance with the Constitution. . This CNN Student News One-Sheet examines some connections between four contemporary issues and the U.S. Constitution.

Federal Elections and Office Requirements
In November, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 seats in the Senate, and the presidency are up for election.

Can just anyone run for these offices? No. To serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, a person must be at least 25 years old, be a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and live in the state he or she will represent. To serve in the Senate, a person must be at least 30 years old, be a citizen for at least nine years, and live in the state he or she will represent. To serve as president, a person must be "a natural-born citizen", at least 35 years old, and be a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.

This year's race for the White House has produced several milestones. Hillary Clinton is the first woman to win more than one state in the primaries. Barack Obama is the first black Presidential nominee. Sarah Palin is the first Republican female vice-presidential candidate. If John McCain wins the presidency, he will become the oldest non-incumbent ever elected president.

U.S. Constitution Connection:
Which part of the U.S. Constitution tells us the qualifications for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate?

Article I. It also tells us how long the terms are for each office and its duties.

Which section of the U.S. Constitution describes the qualifications and duties of the executive branch?

Article II. It also defines the Electoral College, which selects the president.

One of the constitutional issues that you've heard a lot about in the news lately is immigration, or the process of coming into the U.S. Immigrants come to the U.S. for a variety of reasons: Some want to escape political or religious persecution; some come to the U.S. to work; others come here for an education. Some immigrants enter the U.S. through legal means, with the paperwork that the U.S. government requires. Others enter illegally.

The main difference between an immigrant and a U.S. citizen is that a citizen can vote and hold office. But an immigrant can become a citizen through a process called naturalization. Who decides what rights immigrants have and what laws restrict immigration? That's up to Congress. This past spring and summer, there was much debate in Congress over immigration, and there were demonstrations around the U.S. on both sides of the issue.

U.S. Constitution Connection:
Which amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines citizenship?

The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, defines U.S. citizens as "all persons born or naturalized in the United States."

Gun Control
From 1976 until this year, Washington, D.C. did not allow residents to own handguns. The Supreme Court struck down the ban in June with the District of Columbia v. Heller decision. The Court decided that the U.S. Constitution does guarantee an individual the right to own firearms. However, this does not mean that all gun regulation is unconstitutional.

U.S. Constitution Connection:
What part of the U.S. Constitution is at the heart of the gun control debate?

The Second Amendment states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Many who favor gun control interpret this amendment to mean that states shall keep militias, but that an individual's rights to own firearms may be restricted. Gun rights advocates argue that this amendment ensures individuals the right to own firearms without restrictions.

Habeas Corpus
Habeas corpus provides detainees with the right to question the reason for their detention. Do suspected terrorists and foreign fighters held by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay retain this right? In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act that stripped detainees of their habeas corpus rights by declaring that these prisoners are not within the federal courts' jurisdiction, and that the leased military base in Cuba is outside U.S. borders. Federal courts affirmed the MCA. In June, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision, ruling that Guantanamo Bay is within the jurisdiction of U.S. law, and that foreign prisoners held by the U.S. military do have a right to challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts.

U.S. Constitution Connection:
What part of the U.S. Constitution rules on habeas corpus?

Article I not only defines the duties of Congress, but also the limitations placed on it.

Sources:, The Constitution Center

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