The Purposes of Framework Legislation

41 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2004

Date Written: February 17, 2004


Much recent scholarship studying Congress has focused on issues of institutional design and assessed procedural innovations to determine why rules have been changed or retained and to describe the effects of certain design features on outcomes. Notwithstanding the focus on procedure, one component of contemporary legislative process has not received sustained attention. There is no systematic study of "framework legislation." Framework legislation creates rules that structure congressional lawmaking; these laws establish internal procedures that will shape legislative deliberation and voting with respect only to certain laws or decisions in the future. Often these procedural frameworks are part of more comprehensive laws that include delegations of authority to the executive branch or that have legal effects beyond shaping congressional procedure. Although these aspects of the laws that include framework legislation are relevant to the details of the framework and may explain why Congress decides to set up a framework, my objective is to focus primarily on the internal procedures, discussing the larger context only as it illuminates the decision to use frameworks and their design. This paper begins the study of framework legislation as a distinct legislative phenomenon in the United States. In this article, I first provide specific examples of framework laws. I then present five purposes served by framework legislation: enacting a symbolic response to a problem salient to voters; providing neutral rules for future decision making; solving collective action problems in areas where they are particularly acute; entrenching certain macro-objectives so that future decisions are more likely to align with them; and changing the internal balance of power in Congress. With a clearer understanding of the purpose of framework legislation, future work can more systematically describe its effects on the legislative process and provide recommendations for its use and reform.

Suggested Citation

Garrett, Elizabeth, The Purposes of Framework Legislation (February 17, 2004). Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth Garrett (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-0064 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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