Non-Legislative Function and Power of US Congress

Non-Legislative Function and Power of US Congress. The Senate and the House of Representatives make the national Legislature of Congress of the United States. Article 1 of the Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress and then enumerates the functions it shall have to perform and the powers it is authorized to exercise. If the Founding Fathers had strictly adhered to the application of the doctrine of Separation of Powers, Congress would have been only a law-making body. But the system of checks and balances gives it non-legislative functions as well, and these functions are in no way less important than its Legislative functions.

Broadly regarded, Congress is the instrument by which the people frame, declare, and supervise the policies of the nation. Under the non-legislative functions, we may include:

  • Constituent,
  • Electoral,
  • Executive,
  • Judicial,
  • Directive and supervisory, and
  • Investigative.

With regard to legislative functions, it must be observed that Congress is not the only law-making authority notwithstanding what Article of the Constitution says.

Non-Legislative Function and Power of US Congress:-

Constituent Functions:-

The proposal to amend the constitution should either be made-by a two-third vote of Congress or by a national Convention which Congress calls at the request of the legislatures of two-thirds of states. Whatever method is adopted, and only the Congressional method has ever been invoked, not a syllable of that document can be changed without the intervention of Congress.

In addition to the initiation of proposals for the alteration of the Constitution, Congress determines the manner to be used for ratification by either the legislatures of three-fourths of the States or by conventions in three-fourths of the States, and may specify time limit for ratification.

Moreover, Congress has important duties in expanding and interpreting the original Constitution and this, as we have discussed, is one of the most important factors to make the Constitution dynamic.

Electoral Functions:-

Congress and each of its Houses have electoral functions to perform, As a matter of routine, it meets in joint session every fourth year to count the electoral votes cast for the President and Vice-President. If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes for President, then, the House of Representatives selects, each State voting as a unit, the President from among the candidates with three highest votes.

When no candidate secures a majority of the electoral votes cast for the Vice-President, the Senate makes the choice from among the two candidates with the highest number of votes. Only one Vice-President had been so far elected in this manner and – that, too, in 1837, when the party system was not fully developed.

Such a contingency cannot happen now, Congress by law determines who shall be the President in the event of the death or disability of the President and Vice-President. Congress, also, has authority to legislate on the times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, and that it judges the qualifications of its own members, including the validity of their elections. It may disqualify persons whose conduct a majority of the members disapprove.In 1926, for example, the Senate refused to seat William S. Vare because of his excessive campaign expenditure.

Executive Functions:-

Executive functions extend to appointments and treaty making, Administrative functions we take under the heading directive and supervisory. This bifurcation has been made for purposes of clarity. In relation to more than sixteen thousand officials who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the Congressional role is specially outstanding.

The Senators and the Representatives, but especially Senators, actually determine the vast majority of these appointments. Senators who belong to the president’s party do not wait to be asked which candidate they would like to favor. They immediately proceed on their own initiative to suggest names of the candidates whom they desire and, except in rare cases, they get their recommendations accepted.

If no Senator from a State belongs to the President’s party, Representatives claim their privileges to recommend such names. Sometimes, even when there are party Senators, an agreement may be worked out under which the Senators share the patronage with the Representatives.

The Senate has the important functions of ratifying treaties. In the negotiations of treaties, the President has the exclusive authority, but discreet and far-sighted Chief Executives consult the leading Senators and take their opinion in anticipation in order to facilitate its ratification.

Congress, as a whole, has intimate interest in the international relations of the United States. The President reviews the international situation in his messages and Congress permits the expenditure to be incurred on international obligations. The present tendency to incur international obligations through legislation rather than treaty emphasizes the need of a joint action by the Senate and the House.

Judicial Functions:-

Impeachment proceedings of the President, Vice-President, Judges and other federal officials can be brought about by the Senate as a Court of Trial (the Chief Justice of the United States presiding when the impeachment of the President is being tried).

Each Chamber exercises disciplinary powers over both its own members and to a limited extent Over private persons. Members of Congress are not subject to impeachment as they are not, according to the decision of the Supreme Court, civil officers of the United States. Both the Chambers, therefore, determine how to discipline their members, and a two-third vote of his own House is sufficient to expel a Congressman, though it is a most uncommon proceeding.

Each House has also the inherent power to punish private persons whose conduct directly interferes with the due transaction of Congressional business. If, for example, a witness before a Congressional Committee refuses to answer a question, the Chamber concerned to which the Committee belongs can sit as a court and convict him of contempt. It may order the Sergeant-at Arms to hold him in custody. But he cannot be held longer than the time Congress remains in session. Such a power, however ,Congress normally does not exercise. The matter is referred to the United States Attorney-General for punishment under the law whenever there is case of contempt of the House or the Senate.

Directive and Supervisory Functions:-

The President and his principal subordinates, no doubt, actually direct and supervise administration, but it is Congress with creates all the administrative Departments and agencies, The Constitution does not say anything about their organization. Nor does it define their powers and functions. The form, the organization and the powers to be exercised, by the administrative Departments are all defined by Acts of Congress. And, then, Congress provides money for carrying on their activities: All this opens a way for watchfulness over the work performed, for requests for information and reports for assignments of tasks and duties, and, of course, for curtailment of activities, or even termination of them altogether (perchance of the agency itself), by denial of funds.

The Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, stressed the importance of continuous vigilance over the execution of allows by the Standing Committees of both the Houses. Then, Congress may from time to time sec fit to pass laws directing the administrative Departments to report to it. Thus, the Controller-General has been made responsible Congress rather than to the President. Congress may sometimes pass a resolution directing the administration to follow a certain course of active the event of a particular situation.

Direction and review are a continuous process and both are complementary. Almost all agencies are required to make annual report to Congress. Members of Congress my call for information and explanation. Congressional Committees may undertake a review of a particular agency or problem. Confirmation by the Senate of an appointment or confirmation of a treaty may necessitate widespread resentment or criticism and may, thus, lead to a Congressional inquiry. But the most appropriate occasion of a thorough review is when representatives of the various agencies appear before Committees to defend budgetary demands.


While discussing the role of the investigative committees, it was pointed out how these watchdog Committees help to keep administration within its bounds. But appointment of such committees is not the peculiar function of the Senate alone. In fact, investigations by committees of Congress are as old as Congress itself, Legislative oversight of administration is familiar and well-grounded assumption of responsible Government, writes Arthur Macmalon, and Congress can look into any subject whenever it deems necessary in order to carry out its law making, amending, electoral, directive and supervisory, or other duties. Alexander Hamilton and the Treasury Department were investigated into by the Second Congress; Presidential and Cabinet officers have been frequently investigated ever since.

Congressional investigations help to make administration accountable. A proper function of the Legislature, a body representative of the people, is to keep constant watch and control over the activities of the Government which they support and to make public its policies and acts. Under a parliamentary system there are many devices available to do so. In the presidential system there are no such means available and responsibility cannot be adequately enforced.

Legislative investigations are, therefore, a major technique, even though it is sometimes cumber some and has fearful implications for holding the Executive and administrative agencies accountable. Still, the need for throwing adequate light Of publicity on what the administration does has become really imminent during recent times.

As Congress has been required to extend the area of governmental functions, it has also been compelled to delegate regulatory powers, to authorize Wide increase in the number of administrative bureaus, and to support by appropriation and Sustain by law a great and complex government Machine involving an expenditure of over $42,000,000,000 (which has exceeded by than a million by now) annually and the activities of over two million (which now touches the figure by a little more than half a million) government employees.

Many Americans have held investigatory powers of Congress as none-American and have pleaded that they should be outlawed. Actually the Constitution does not provide for such investigations, but, at the same time, they are deeply rooted in American legislative procedure. It is true that there has been extravagant abuse of the investigatory powers by the politically inspired members of these Committees, but corruption and bribery have often been revealed only through Congressional investigations. The inadequacy of old laws and the necessity for new ones have been determined only by investigations. The abuse of offices, inefficiency, misapplication of powers have all been curtailed not only by investigation but by the constant possibility of an investigation