In the chapters which are immediately to follow will be taken up seriatim the legislative powers of Congress except in so far as these powers have been considered incidentally elsewhere in this treatise.
In addition to its legislative powers the Houses of Congress have certain other powers, judicial or executive in character, such as, for example, with reference to impeachments, to punishing their members for disorderly conduct, or their expulsion if necessary, the determination of contested elections, etc. Each House of Congress has also, it has been held, the power to obtain the information necessary for an intelligent exercise of its lawmaking power, and for this purpose to summon witnesses, and compel the production of documents, and to punish as contempt disobedience to orders thus given. These non-legislative duties are discussed elsewhere in this treatise, and especially in the chapters dealing with the Separation of Powers.
In some cases the powers granted by the Constitution are also made obligations, and, in general, it may be said that where legislation is necessary to make effective the provisions of the Constitution there is laid upon Congress the constitutional obligation to enact this legislation. At the same time it must be said that this obligation is an "imperfect" one in that no legal means exist for compelling its performance or providing for what shall be done in the event of its non-performance. Thus the Constitution provides that "The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." Should Congress fail by legislation to establish these inferior judicial tribunals and to clothe them with jurisdiction, there would be no constitutional means of compelling it to do so. Indeed, by failing as well to provide for the appointment and remuneration of Justices of the Supreme Court, Congress might render impossible the exercise of any federal judicial power whatever. Once established the Supreme Court, by the immediate effect of constitutional provision, has the original jurisdiction provided for in Section II of Article I, but it is unable to exercise any appellate jurisdiction by way of appeals either from the state or lower federal courts except as Congress has by statute provided.
This is but a single illustration of many that might be given of the manner in which the existence and administration of the federal government is absolutely dependent upon the action of Congress. For it may be laid down as a principle which admits of no exceptions that no legal means exist for compelling a legislative body to enact a given piece of legislation, or, indeed, to perform any of its functions.
Though, in many respects, not self-executory, and the obligations created by its provisions not enforceable by legal process, the federal Constitution is, it is to be repeated, in all other respects a law and directly enforceable as such in the courts of the land. It is, as has been already said, a law legislatively enacted by the state legislatures or the state conventions which, quoad hoc acting as a national law-making body, established it and ratified the amendments to it.