The First Word Revisited
February 26, 2013
This short piece reexamines the original meaning of the first word of the First Amendment: “Congress.” Does “Congress,” in the Amendment, refer to the federal legislature alone – or does it function as a synecdoche and convey a broader meaning there, encompassing one or both of the other branches of the federal government?
That the Constitution in Article I defines “Congress” does not mean it has the same meaning throughout. The literature examining the contextual meaning of “Congress” there is scant. Only two sources directly consider the meaning of “Congress” in the Amendment and its implications for the scope and content of the rights there.
My purpose here is to update and expand on those sources. My discussion here reviews and updates the evidence of the (original public) meaning of “Congress” in the First Amendment.
Though the evidence is inconclusive, on balance it tilts to the second possibility. I will show that “Congress” in the First Amendment is best understood as a synecdoche that includes the Executive Branch as well.
(This draft is a working draft - comments are welcomed)
Number of Pages in PDF File: 15working papers series
Date posted: February 18, 2013 ; Last revised: February 27, 2013
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