Constitutional Authority Statements in Congress
53 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2012 Last revised: 22 Jun 2012
Date Written: March 22, 2012
At the opening of the 112th Congress in January of 2011, the House of Representatives created a new rule that requires each bill or resolution introduced in the House to include a constitutional authority statement. This statement must identify 'the power or powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the bill or resolution.' This is the first time that either house of Congress has required formal statements of constitutional authority for every bill that is introduced.
Constitutional authority statements are a practical example of constitutional interpretation in Congress, a subject much discussed by constitutional theorists. In this Article, I situate these statements within the debates over congressional constitutional interpretation and examine some questions about the substantive content of the statements. I argue that as the rule is currently structured, the statements are useful mainly as an internal deliberative tool for Congress, not as an interpretive guide for courts. Finally, I suggest modifications to the House rule that would strengthen the statements for use both by Congress and later interpreters.
Keywords: constitutional interpretation, Congress, legislation, judicial review, statutory interpretation, legislative history
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