Wednesday 30 September 2009

Supreme Court and Guns

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Wednesday it would decide whether the constitutional right of individuals to own guns takes precedence over state and local laws, reviving the legal battle over gun rights in America.
The nation's high court agreed to decide the reach of its landmark ruling last year that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed an individual right to own guns and use them for lawful purposes like self-defense in the home.

Gun rights cases have been among the most divisive social, political and legal issues to reach the Supreme Court.

Last year's ruling prohibited the federal government from imposing certain restrictions, but it left unclear whether the right also applied to state and local gun control laws.

The Supreme Court said in a brief order that it would decide that question in a dispute over a strict gun control law in Chicago.

It immediately became one of the most important issues to be decided during the court's new term that begins next week. Gun rights cases have been among the most divisive social, political and legal issues to reach the Supreme Court.

The justices are expected to hear arguments in the gun rights battle early next year, with a decision likely by late June.

Beck's Techniques exposed

Craig Crawford (CQ Politics) explains the techniques used by Glenn Beck.

We ought to be very wary of those who ruthlessly exploit manipulative techniques to rouse feelings of grievance and anger. Just watch another master of these techniques in action.

Judicial Review

Winston Churchill once described Britain and the USA as "two nations divided by a common language". This is evident in the use of the term "Judicial Review".

In the USA the term can be used to describe the review of the constitutionality of legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President. Of course it cannot have that meaning in the UK.

In Britain "Judicial Review" is limited to the review of executive decisions. (Although it can extend beyond Government institutions [local and national] to other bodies, who may be private, but exercise 'public functions'. {R v Panel on Take-overs and Mergers ex parte Datafin plc}. Allen & Thompson define the UK power of judicial review "as the jurisdiction of the superior courts (the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the House of Lords [now the 'Supreme Court'] to review the acts, decisions, and omissions of public authorities in order to establish whether they have exceeded or abused their powers."

There are Four main grounds. The first three were set out by Lord Diplock in the GCHQ case (one of the most important cases in 'Constitutional & Administrative Law') - and the fourth results from the Human Rights Act 1998. They are
  1. Illegality
  2. Procedural Impropriety
  3. Irrationality
  4. Breach of a European Convention [ECHR] right

There are a number of labels used - such as "improper purpose"; "irrelevant considerations" "fettered discretion"; "the rule against bias"; "right to a fair hearing"; "legitimate expectations" - which law students will be familiar with - and the succesful ones know the circumstances which can give rise to complaints associated with those labels.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

A V Dicey

One of the greatest writers about the British Constitution was Albert Venn Dicey. He lived from February 4, 1835 to April 7, 1922. His first major work, "An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution" appeared in 1885. He is most famous for his work in describing and defining the doctrines of "Parliamentary Sovereignty" and the "Rule of Law".

The doctrine of parliamentary supremacy was summarised by Dicey in three points:

  • Parliament can make law concerning anything. - this is in contrast to the position in many countries where the acts of the legislature can be struck down for conflicting with the Constitution (as can happen in the USA after the Supreme Court claimed the power in Marbury v Madison)

  • No Parliament can bind a future parliament (that is, it cannot pass a law that cannot be changed or reversed by a future Parliament) - put another way, no incoming Parliament is bound by previous parliaments. Again this contrasts with other countries where certain rules are 'entrenched' - meaning the rule can either never be repealed (as with the French Constitution Art 89 "The republican form of government shall not be the object of any amendment") or requires special procedures to amend ( such as Art 5 of the US Constitution requiring 2/3rd of all States or 2/3rd of both House of Congress to propose an amendment - and ratification of the amendment by3/4th of all state legislatures)

  • A valid Act of Parliament cannot be questioned by the court. Parliament is the supreme lawmaker.
There is a very useful article on recent developments on Wikipedia (NOT A SOURCE I WOULD GENERALLY USE OR TRUST) - but whoever the author was, they have produced a useful resource.

Recent developments

Parliamentary sovereignty prevents judicial review of primary legislation passed by Parliament. However, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the notion of parliamentary supremacy was modified under the influence of five principal sources: The devolution of power to regional assemblies in Scotland (Scottish Parliament), Wales (Welsh Assembly) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Assembly). All three assemblies can pass primary legislation within the areas that have been devolved to them. As the system remains devolved and not federal, the powers of these assemblies stems from the UK Parliament and can be suspended.

The UK's membership of the European Economic Community, later the European Union, from 1973. The EU represents, as the European Court of Justice ruled in 1963 in the case Van Gend en Loos, a "new legal order of international law for the benefit of which the [Member] States have limited their sovereign rights, albeit within limited fields". The UK became part of that legal order - though the fact that UK membership of the EU has been brought about through Acts of Parliament - principally the European Communities Act 1972 - raises the possibility that Parliament could, as a matter of UK law, pass further legislation unilaterally withdrawing the UK from the Union, or selectively barring the application of European law within the UK.

Following the case of Thoburn v Sunderland City Council certain statutes are protected as Constitutional Statutes. The case involved amendments to the Weights and Measures Act 1985 by the Weights and Measures Act 1985 (Metrication) (Amendment) Order 1994 pursuant to Directive 80/181/EEC. This stated that Imperial measurements could be displayed so long as the metric measurements were displayed in larger type beside them. Thoburn was convicted for only using Imperial measurements. In his defence he argued that allowing even limited use of Imperial measurements was in contravention of the relevant directive and therefore in contravention of Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. This would have invoked the doctrine of implied repeal which is essential to the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty. In his judgment, Lord Justice Laws held that certain statutes of constitutional importance including Magna Carta and the European Communities Act 1972 could not be repealed by implied repeal. As such, this has slightly limited Parliament's sovereignty.

The enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998 which incorporates part of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. The Act gives UK courts the power to issue a declaration of incompatibility where they believe that the terms of an Act of Parliament are in contravention of the rights guaranteed by the Act. The effect of the declaration is not to annul the Act but send a signal to Parliament which may then choose to amend the offending provision. As with the UK's membership of the European Union, the principle of parliamentary supremacy means that Parliament can at any time vote to repeal the Act and indeed the UK's ratification of the Convention itself.

The increasing use of referendums. Although the result of a referendum is in no way binding on Parliament unless it has previously agreed that this will be case, in practice there will be considerable pressure on Parliament from the electorate to take the result into account.

However, Parliament may withdraw from the most of the commitments it has made or repeal any of the constraints it has imposed on its ability to legislate. Thus, Parliament theoretically remains almost entirely sovereign. The qualifier "almost" is provided because in 1921, after a century of dispute, Parliament passed the Church of Scotland Act 1921 which finally agreed that it does not have sovereignty over the Church of Scotland, the established church in Scotland.

There is a concept in political science of 'legal' and 'political' sovereignty. It can be argued that legal sovereignty has not been lost, because Parliament still retains all its theoretical powers. There are no legal limits on Parliament's sovereignty. However, as it is highly unlikely that the UK would repeal the European Communities Act and leave the EU, and it is unlikely the devolved legislature would be abolished, there are significant political limits on the sovereignty of Parliament. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the UK Parliament could do so without seeking the mutual consent of the EU or the devolved legislatures, as it did with the abolition of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1972, and that if it did, these repeals would be legally and politically binding.

This stands in contrast to the Acts of Parliament which have been used to grant independence from the UK to former dominions and colonies in the British Empire. Following the Balfour Declaration, the Statute of Westminster 1931 established a status of legislative equality between the self-governing dominions of the British Empire and the United Kingdom, and provided that Acts passed by the UK Parliament would not apply in the dominions without a dominion's express consent. It is difficult to see how the UK could later resile from that position. By way of further example, the UK Parliament passed the Canada Act 1982 which stated that the UK Parliament would no longer be able to amend the Canadian constitution. If the UK parliament were to repeal or amend the Canada Act 1982, it would be unenforceable as Canada is no longer subject to UK sovereignty.

The full article is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliamentary_supremacy#Recent_developments

Monday 28 September 2009

Labour Party Conference

I'm not in Brighton to give a first hand account of events in Brighton. BBC Parliament will be giving live coverage - and there are newspaper websites giving up to date information.

The Labour Party's Conference website:


The final of the 2009 Britbowl was played yesterday at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster. For the third year running the two teams were the Coventry Jets and the London Blitz. This year the Blitz came out on top - winning 26-7.

It was an excellent game - both teams played hard. Once I find any videos online or press reports I will post links here.

Sunday 27 September 2009

Tweeting in Congress

A couple of days I wrote about MPs who tweet. Last week CRS produced a report entitled "Social Networking and Constituent Communication: Member Use of Twitter During a Two-Week Period in the 111th Congress". It's a fascinating snapshot of use of Twitter, and I'm sure many people will be looking closely at it.

In it's summary it says: -

The data show that 158 Representatives and Senators are registered with Twitter (as of August 2009) and issued a total of approximately 1,187 “tweets” during the data collection periods in July and August 2009. With approximately 29% of House Members and 31% of Senators registered with Twitter, Members sent an average of 85 tweets per day collectively. House Republicans sent the most tweets (54%), followed by House Democrats (27%), Senate Republicans (10%), and Senate Democrats (9%). The data also suggest that more tweets were sent on Thursday than any other day of the week.

Members’ use of Twitter can be divided into six categories: position taking, press or web links, district or state activities, official congressional action, personal, and replies. The data suggest that the most frequent type of tweets were press and web link tweets, which comprised 43% of insession and 46% of recess tweets. This is followed by official congressional action tweets during session (33%) and position-taking tweets during recess (14%).

Saturday 26 September 2009

Learning About Congress

It's a few days since I posted about the US Congress - which is not to say that I'm not following events (so much happening - and Roll Call; The Hill & Washington Post are so useful - as is the blog "Congress Matters"). I'm also reading Senator Kennedy's "True Compass".

I have found the "Considered Forthwith" series by "Casual Wednesday" so useful in my reading about Congressional Committees. I have mentioned the series previously, but clearly the writer is continuing the research and writing - and I heartily recommend it.

For students of American Politics there are a number of books I would recommend. CQ Press publishes some excellent books - of which my personal favourites are Davidson, Oleszek & Lees' Congress and its Members and Dodd & Oppenheimer's Congress Reconsidered. Oxford University Press publishes Quirk & Binder's The Legislative Branchand Cambridge University Press The American Congress Reader.

Friday 25 September 2009

Update on twitter and Parliament

This piece of research has just been published by the Universities of Plymouth & Bournemouth


They might be trailing the Conservative Party in the opinion polls but when it comes to using Twitter, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are kings of the House of Commons.

Further detail

Research has revealed that nearly 67% of all tweeting MPs belong to Labour ahead of 18% for the Liberal Democrats, with the Tories relegated into third place with just 12%. When you factor in the proportion of MPs that each party boasts, it is clear that the Lib Dems are leading the way when it comes to embracing the popular social media site. And yet overall, just 51 of our 645 MPs are classed as regular Twitter users – among them Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families; Ben Bradshaw, Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, former Tory party leadership contestant Peter Lilley and John Prescott. The figures have been released following a joint research project by the University of Plymouth and Bournemouth University into how politicians are engaging with their constituents using Social Networking Sites and modern media. Together, the institutions have identified three main indicators of the parliamentary tweeter:

Gender – women MPs are more likely to tweet. While they compose just 19.4% of the Commons they make up 29.4% of tweeters.
Party – Labour has 54.2% of all MPs, and provides 66.7% of tweeting MPs. The Liberal Democrats have only 9.8% of all MPs, but provide 17.6% of all tweeting MPs. The Conservatives have 29.8% of all MPs, but provide only 11.8% of tweeting MPs.
Portfolio – 43.1% of tweeting MPs are either Government Ministers or Official Opposition spokespersons.

MPs tend to use Twitter as a means of promoting their activities in their constituency or when they are in Westminster, and again, the research has identified several trends:

On average 27% of MPs tweet as part of an impression management strategy. MPs promote their activities, such as giving speeches, speaking in parliament, holding positions or launching a policy document to help build a positive impression of them both as a professional and as an individual.

21% of MPs’ tweets are used as promotion of self whereby the MP seeks to present a ‘hinterland’ which shows them as human beings. This tends to include details of their personal life, personal interests, such as sport and music and the use of humour.

14% of MPs’ tweets support their constituency service role where they explain what they are doing in the constituency, highlight local issues and mention local constituents.
Only 11% of MPs’ tweets are partisan in nature. So this means that MPs are far more likely to raise their own profile rather than that of their party!

Dr Darren Lilleker, of Bournemouth University, said: “So far the number of tweeting MPs is fairly small, but Twitter may be a more effective means of enhancing an MPs representative role than weblogs or social networking sites. Because Twitter is quick to update, MPs can use it to regularly explain what they are doing on behalf of constituents. “In a time of public scepticism towards politicians, Twitter may be more effective than other non face-to-face communication channels, but only if MPs’ tweets are seen as worth receiving. “With MPs finding audiences hard to reach, Twitter may well be used more widely in order to speak directly to the public. However, Twitter cannot be simply a tool for broadcasting. MPs need to talk to others in the ‘Twittersphere’ and respond to questions if they are to gain a loyal, trusting audience” One very new trend is that of MPs using Twitter to provide the public with a ‘ring-side seat’ at major occasions. For example, when the new Speaker was elected on 22 June, a number of MPs sent updates from the Chamber during the speeches and voting – with Sandra Gidley, Lib Dem MP for Romsey, Hampshire, tweeting over 100 times. The number of tweets made during June – the month selected for the purpose of the research – ranged from just one to 827 (Labour’s Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy), while the number of followers ranged from 63 to the 4,441 reading the updates of Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East. And the research has also revealed that tweeting is not necessarily a one-way street. The number of other tweeters that MPs follow ranges from zero to over 1,000, with a median of 133. Twenty two MPs follow less than 50 others tweeters, while 23 reciprocated by following at least 100, and in some cases entering into ‘public conversations’ with followers.

Dr Nigel Jackson, of the University of Plymouth, added: “There are clear differences in usage between those who barely use Twitter and the enthusiasts for whom this has quickly become a regular communication channel. Within what has now become for these pioneers a parliamentary community, Twitter has become a ‘virtual social club’ where they tease one another, gossip and occasionally score political points. “There is evidence that it is not just among sitting MPs that Twitter is becoming popular, with an increasing number of Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) also adopting the technology. This development may add significantly to citizen involvement at the next general election campaign, where voters quickly and easily question the candidates. Twitter may help break down barriers between elected and elector.”

American Football in Britain

This weekend defending champions, the Coventry Jets, will - for the third year running - meet the London Blitz in the Britbowl final. Unlike last year, when I was at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester, I will be in Doncaster to cheer on the Jets.

If you are interested in following the great game in the UK - there's an interesting blog called "British Football Online".

Who's Tweeting?

More and more politicians are using Twitter to communicate - on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK a wedsite has been set up which seeks to identify (and link to) all the current MPs and PPCs (Prospective Parliamentary Candidates) who tweet. It isn't a complete list - but you may find it useful - Tweetminster

If you are not listed, and should be, get in touch (ie. sign up to follow) with tweetminster

Thursday 24 September 2009

The Act of Settlement 1700

The Act of Settlement is one of the key statutes that - along with other Statutes (also known as 'Acts of Parliament'); cases; and other non-legal rules such as conventions - make up the so-called 'unwritten constitution" of Britain. It not only defines who can be the Head of State, but adds to the Bill of Rights in laying down the limits of the power of the monarch relative to Parliament.

It was designed to ensure that England never again became a Catholic country. The only legitimate line of descent of the Crown was through the Protestant branch of the royal family. To make doubly sure anyone who becomes a Catholic is disqualified to be monarch. This law is still in force!

The text of the Act is available here.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

The Parliamentary Archives

Every day Parliament produces a host of documents - Bills; Committee Reports; Hansard - and many others. It has been doing so for centuries. The collections in the Parliamentary Archives contain over three million records. Many of these documents have great historical significance.
Some of the cornerstones of the British constitution can be accessed here.

For scholars the records are important primary documents for their research. Once they were available to a priviliged few - but now increasing numbers of these records are available to many more people. Some have been digitised - To access these press here. The Archives at Westminster is usually open to the public all year round, Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.00pm (apart from public holidays).

As well as useful for researching Parliament; and British history (political and social), the records can be useful for investigating family trees. There is a guide for users.

To find out more about the Parliamentary Archives go to http://www.parliament.uk/publications/archives.cfm

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Spoof Speech by Nye Bevan

A friend sent me this hilarious video - where the voice of Nye Bevan has been replaced by a pretty good impression.

Nye Bevan was the visioniary Labour MP and cabinet minister responsible for establishing the NHS. He is one of my personal heroes. (My A-Level project was a study of his life and achievements). My grandmother - also born a Bevan appears on the same page in the records of births, deaths and marriages - as they were born a few days apart (although in different parts of Wales.

Despite the reverence I have towards this great man - I loved this video. Thanks Marielle for forwarding it to me.

Monday 21 September 2009

Committee Meetings

Much of the important work of both Parliament - and to a greater extent - Congress, is conducted in committee meetings. The following webpages may be of use to you in seeing what meetings are coming up. Just click the symbol of the relevant House. The links are to the list available now.

Sunday 20 September 2009

House Committee Documents and Reports

(Reproduced from House of Representatives Committee on Rules Legislative Process Program)

Documents produced by the standing committees of the House are useful resources. During each Session of a Congress, every standing committee produces a “Journal and History of Legislation” or a “Calendar of Business” and at least once each Congress a “Survey of Activities”.

These documents provide some or all of the following information: a list of the legislation acted on by the committee, a list of legislation referred to the committee, an official Membership list, votes cast in committee, a statistical profile of activities, a history of the committee, its jurisdiction, oversight plan, a list of printed publications and a variety of other information.

These Documents can usually be found on the committee’s website ( http://www.house.gov/house/CommitteeWWW.shtml) or through another government source such as the Government Printing Office (http://www.gpoaccess.gov/).

Committees also prepare reports to file with the House. These reports accompany legislation referred to the committee and marked up by it. These reports often contain an explanation or summary of the legislation, background, an explanation as to the need for the legislation, committee votes, a list of earmarks, a Ramseyer (a detailed description of how the legislation will change current law), and minority views. House Rules require many of these things to be included in any report accompanying a bill.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Riddicks Manual

(reproduced from House of Representatives Committee on Rules Legislative Process Program)

Floyd M. Riddick, Parliamentarian of the Senate from 1964 to 1974, compiled the first version of Riddick’s Senate Procedure in 1981 while serving as its Parliamentarian Emeritus. The current 1992 edition was revised and edited by Alan S. Frumin, Parliamentarian of the Senate for seven years following Floyd Riddick. Topics are presented in chapters arranged alphabetically by subject matter ranging from ‘Adjournment’ to ‘Washington’s Farewell Address’. This format provides an easy to use reference when questions related to the Senate arise.

Riddick’s Manual can be found on the Government Printing Office’s website at:

Friday 18 September 2009

How Our Law Are Made

This booklet is indispensible reading for anyone wanting to understand the legislative process in Congress. I would however suggest that you also read "Unorthodox Lawmaking" by Barbara Sinclair and Walter J Oleszek's "Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process".

The House of Representatives Committee on Rules Legislative Process Program says -

“This brochure is intended to provide a basic outline of the numerous steps of our federal lawmaking process from the source of an idea for a legislative proposal through its publication as a statute. The legislative process is a matter about which every person should be well informed in order to understand and appreciate the work of Congress. It is hoped that this guide will enable readers to gain a greater understanding of the federal legislative process and its role as one of the foundations of our representative system. One of the most practical safeguards of the American democratic way of life is this legislative process with its emphasis on the protection of the minority, allowing ample opportunity to all sides to be heard and make their views known. The fact that a proposal cannot become a law without consideration and approval by both Houses of Congress is an outstanding virtue of our bicameral legislative system. The open and full discussion provided under the Constitution often results in the notable improvement of a bill by amendment before it becomes law or in the eventual defeat of an inadvisable proposal.

Link to the Table of Contents for “How Our Laws Are Made”:

Link to the entire document “How Our Laws Are Made”:

Thursday 17 September 2009

The Senate Manual

(Reproduced from House of Representatives Committee on Rules Legislative Process Program)

The Senate Manual, prepared during the second session of each Congress by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, contains the standing rules, orders, laws, and resolutions affecting the Senate, as well as copies of historical U.S. documents, such as Jefferson’s Manual, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Constitution of the United States, et cetera. and selected statistical information on the Senate and other Government entities.

It is issued each Congress as Senate Document 1. The Senate Manual, 110th Congress edition, is available on the Government Printing Office’s website at: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/smanual/browse.html

Various editions of the manual can be searched at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/smanual/index.html

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Disciplining a Member of the HoR

As expected the House of Representatives yesterday voted to censure "Joe" Wilson, the South Carolina Congressman who shouted "You Lie" in the middle of President Obama's joint address to Congress last week.

The Congressional Research Service have produced a paper on measures that may be taken by the House to discipline its members.

Newsweek have produced an article which highlights the members who crossed party lines over the resolution. http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/thegaggle/archive/2009/09/15/joe-wilson-vote-house-censure.aspx
House Legislative Procedures: Published Sources of Information
CRS Report: 98-3096
Updated December 8, 2006
Betsy Palmer
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division

The House of Representatives has published information about its current procedures in three primary sources: a House manual, a book on House procedure written for everyday use, and a set of House precedents. The predecessors to these compilations also remain valuable for some purposes. These documents can enable Members and staff to study the House's rules and precedents and to gauge how they are likely to apply in various circumstances.

During the first session of every Congress, the House publishes the House Rules and Manual, formally entitled Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives. Each clause of the rules is followed by notes, prepared by the House parliamentarian, that summarize the most important precedents and interpretations relating to that clause. The Rules and Manual also contains a summary of recent changes in the House's rules and provisions of law that establish expedited procedures by which the House can act on certain kinds of measures. The volume begins with the annotated text of the Constitution and excerpts from Thomas Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice.

In 1997 and again in 2003, the House published House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, by Wm. Holmes Brown, and Charles W. Johnson, both former parliamentarians of the House. In more than 900 pages, this book explains all aspects of the House's procedures in considerable detail. The book is organized alphabetically by topic, beginning with "Adjournment" and ending with "Withdrawal." House Practice is the successor to Procedure in the House of Representatives, published in 1982 and with Supplements published in 1985 and 1987, and to Cannon's Procedure in the House of Representatives, last published in 1963.

The precedents established by the House and its presiding officers since the mid-1930s are in the process of being published. To date, 16 volumes have been released. The first nine are entitled Deschler's Precedents of the United States House of Representatives; the seven latest volumes are called Deschler-Brown Precedents, in recognition of the contributions made to the House by Mr. Brown and his predecessor, Lewis Deschler. Additional volumes in this series will be published as they are completed. This collection includes an exhaustive compilation of procedural rulings and interpretations, accompanied by summaries of the events producing them. They often also include relevant excerpts from the Congressional Record and its predecessors. Precedents from earlier periods are found in the 11-volume set of Hinds' and Cannon's Precedents of the House of Representatives, published in part in 1907 and in part in 1936. Both collections of precedents are organized topically, beginning with the first meeting of the House at the beginning of a new Congress and continuing through the various stages of the legislative process.

For most purposes, the most effective research strategy likely is to begin with an examination of House Practice, followed by the House Rules and Manual, and then Deschler's and Deschler-Brown Precedents. Several other published sources of information also can prove useful:

• The rules adopted by the House's committees are compiled and published for each Congress in Rules Adopted by the Committees of the House of Representatives, a committee print of the House Rules Committee.

• The Rules of the Republican Conference and the Preamble and Rules of the Democratic Caucus, adopted at the beginning of each Congress, include some party rules that are relevant to the House's legislative proceedings.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

House Calendars

Calendars of the House of Representatives
CRS Report: 98-4374
Updated June 4, 2007
Christopher M. Davis
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division

In the House of Representatives, the term "calendar" has two related meanings. This fact sheet, one of series of fact sheets on legislative process, explains calendars and their use in the House of Representatives

First, "calendar" refers to several lists of measures and motions that are (or soon will become) eligible for consideration on the House floor. When a House committee reports a measure, it is placed on one of these calendars. If a measure is not on one of the calendars, either it is awaiting action by one or more House committees to which it was referred, or it is being held "at the Speaker's table" in anticipation that the House may agree to consider it, perhaps by unanimous consent, without first referring it to committee.

Second, "calendar" also refers to the document that contains these lists and other information about the status of legislation. The full title of this document is Calendars of the United States House of Representatives and History of Legislation. The calendar is printed daily and distributed within the House. The most recent daily issue of the calendar is available online at

The front cover of the calendar gives

(1) the dates on which each session of the current Congress convened and adjourned sine die;
(2) the number of days the House actually has met during the current session;
(3) the date and time at which the House is next scheduled to meet, and any special procedures that are in order on that day; and
(4) any special orders — concerning special order speeches and morning hour debates, for example — to which the House has agreed.

The remainder of the calendar presents:
• Lists of measures that are on the Union Calendar, the House Calendar, or the Private Calendar. In general, authorization, appropriations, and tax bills are placed on the Union Calendar when they are reported from committee. All public bills and resolutions that are not placed on the Union Calendar are placed instead on the House Calendar. Private bills, affecting specific individuals or entities, are placed on the Private Calendar when reported from committee. On each of these three calendars, bills are listed in the order in which they were reported. Each list includes, in addition to the number and title of each bill, (1) the date on which the bill was reported and the Member reporting it; (2) the committee that ordered it reported; and (3) the number of the written committee report accompanying the bill.

• A list of any motions to discharge committees that have received the required signatures of 218 Members and that are awaiting action by the House.

• Lists of public laws and private laws that have been enacted during the current Congress, giving for each the public or private law number and the corresponding House or Senate measure number.

• A legislative history of bills and resolutions that have been reported to or considered by either or both houses of Congress. There are separate sections for House bills, House joint resolutions, House concurrent resolutions, House resolutions, and each of the same four kinds of Senate measures. Within each section, the measures are listed in numerical order. The entry for each measure presents the dates on which various stages of the legislative process took place — for example, the dates on which the bill was reported from committee in the House, the date on which it later passed the Senate, and the date it became law. Also included are the numbers of relevant House and Senate reports, and the rollcall tally, if any, by which the House or Senate passed or defeated the measure. This is one convenient place to determine the current status of a measure on which some legislative action has occurred.

• A list of measures that one House committee has reported and that the Speaker has referred to one or more other committees for a limited period of time.

• A list of bills in conference, with the dates on which each house agreed to go to conference and the names of the House and Senate conferees.

• A calendar for each month of the year, showing the days on which the House was in session, and indicating the total number of days to date on which the House has met. Calendars published during the second session of a Congress include corresponding information for the first session.

• A chart that depicts the legislative history and current status of major bills, including appropriations bills, considered during the current session. For calendars published during the second session of a Congress, a comparable chart shows the legislative history and current status of major bills during the first session. Calendars that are printed on Monday of each week, or on the first day that the House was in session during the week, contain three additional features: (1) information on bills through conference — that is, measures on which conference committees have completed action; (2) an alphabetical index of the short titles of pending bills; and (3) and a subject index of the House and Senate measures that are listed in the section of the calendar on the history of bills and resolutions.

The final edition of the calendar that is published at the end of each Congress contains still more useful information, including lists of measures that became law and measures that the President vetoed, and statistical data comparing the workload of the Congress with prior Congresses.

Monday 14 September 2009

Congressional Documents

As well as the many print and broadcast resources about the work of Congress, there are the documents produced by the two Houses themselves. Over the next few days this blog will highlight the most important sources

1. Congressional Record
2. House Calendars
3. House Manual, House Practice, and Precedents
4. Senate Manual
5. How Our Laws Are Made
6. Riddicks Manual
7. Legislative Committee Documents and House Reports

These articles were written by the Congressional Research Service - and published by the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives as part of their "Legislative Process Program". I have edited the pieces for this blog.


Searching the Record

The Congressional Record can be accessed via http://www.gpoaccess.gov/ or http://thomas.loc.gov/ to search the record.

A User's Guide to the Congressional Record
CRS Report: 98-2653
Updated May 6, 2008
Mildred Amer
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division


The Congressional Record is a substantially verbatim account of remarks made during the proceedingsof the House and Senate, subject only to technical, grammatical, and typographical corrections.

It consists of four main sections:

the proceedings of the House
the proceedings of the Senate,
the Extensions of Remarks, and
the Daily Digest.

The daily Record sections are numbered separately and consecutively in each session of Congress. The pages of the House proceedings are preceded by an "H," those of the Senate with an "S," those of the Extensions of Remarks section with an "E,"and the Daily Digest with a "D." The placement of Senate and House proceedings are usually alternated in the consecutive issues of the Record. There are no letter designations in the final, hardbound versions of the Record.

The Daily Digest is the key to use of the daily Record. It is the last section in each edition of the daily Record and serves as an index. By reading the Digest first, a reader can locate the times of meetings of both houses; measures reported, considered, or signed into law; and information on the previous and current days' committee activities and schedules. At the beginning of each month, a resume of congressional activity is published. It contains cumulative, statistical information on the congressional session.

Senators and Representatives may have remarks and other extraneous material, not necessarily pertaining to legislation, printed in the Record without ever speaking or reading the text on the floor. In the House, Members may also revise their remarks by asking permission of the residing officer to "revise and extend" (i.e., expand their statements). However, these remarks as well as any other undelivered speeches and insertions are distinguishable by a different type style. The Extensions of Remarks portion of the Record, located after the House and Senate proceedings, but before the Daily Digest, contains the bulk of House undelivered remarks and other insertions, such as constituent tributes. On the back page of each daily Record is found a list of the Members who have remarks in the "Extensions" section.

The initial pages of the House and Senate proceedings contain an opening prayer and designations of the presiding officers. Then, typically, the House will turn to "one minute" speeches and the Senate to "morning business," during which Members have the opportunity to speak on current events or other matters. Debate on bills and resolutions usually follows. Unanimous consent agreements, if any, are printed in the Senate proceedings; they guide when or how a measure will be considered. Rollcall or voice votes on amendments, passage, or tabling of measures are shown in the Record. For a rollcall vote, a list is printed indicating how Members voted. Information on the status of amendments adopted or rejected is easily obtained in the Daily Digest.

In the Senate, a bullet symbol (●) precedes and distinguishes undelivered remarks. Inserted
Senate statements unrelated to pending business are usually printed near the end of Senate proceedings under the heading "Additional Statements." In the House proceedings, any portion of a statement not spoken is printed in different type style. In the Senate, with unanimous consent, undelivered remarks are printed as if spoken.

The Senate and House portions of the Record list measures reported out of their committees, and thus, ready for floor consideration. Also, in Senate proceedings, is report and vote

information on treaties and nominations from the Senate's Executive Calendar. Printed separately in the Record portion for each house is a list of measures introduced, including original sponsors and the committees to which they were referred. Texts of Senate bills are printed upon request within the Senate proceedings, with the sponsor often giving a statement of introduction. The list of introduced House measures is printed at the end of its proceedings. Texts of House measures are rarely printed, and there are usually no statements of introduction. Also published in the proceedings of each house are appointees to conference committees; messages from the House and Senate to each other; presidential messages; and petitions and memorials (i.e., messages from state and local governments calling for actions by Congress). The Senate prints the names of Members filing cloture motions, votes on such motions, notices of hearings, and requests for committees to meet beyond the ending time established in its rules.

Found in the last portion of the Senate proceedings are the announcements of the time and business for the next meeting as well as a list of any executive nominations. The last pages of the House proceedings usually include the granting of special orders and permission to submit Extensions of Remarks, the announcement of the costs of Record insertions exceeding two pages, statements on the time and agenda of the next House session, and the list of House measures introduced.

At the back of the Record, following the Extensions of Remarks, when space permits, are published the names and office numbers of each Member, committee rosters, officers of the House and Senate, and judges on the federal courts. The "Laws and Rules for Publishing the Congressional Record" are also often found on the back pages of the Record.

Indices to the Record are published periodically during a session of Congress and can also be found online with the full text of the Record at http://www.congress.gov/.

Friday 11 September 2009

The new NFL Season

The new season has begun. For information on the Washington Redskins you can visit the Redskins website. There is also information available at NFL. If you, like me, are outside the USA, you can subscribe to Gamepass, which allows you to watch all games and some of the associated TV programmes online - and for a limited period afterwards. A great advantage when the time difference makes watching live a little awkward. (Having said that, I didn't intend to stay up to watch President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning - but woke up just as proceedings began - rather worrying that I have this inbuilt body clock atuned to Washington).

It's unlikely that I will be in Washington during the season - but I can watch the Coventry Jets in Britbowl - and look forward to doing so. It will be played at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium on Sunday September 27th.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Keeping up with News from Congress

As well as signing up for "Tweets" [See the post http://washminster.blogspot.com/2009/08/watching-newswires.html] - it is possible to read some of the newspapers in Washington online.

The Hill - there is a link in column 4 to "print editions"

C-SPAN is available on the internet - and their current schedule is available at http://www.c-spanarchives.org/library/index.php?main_page=schedule

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Challenges for Climate Change

One matter will be discussed frequently in both Washington and Westminster over the next few weeks - how to tackle climate change.

Gary Robertshaw wrote the following - your comments would be appreciated both here and by Gary directly. His website is

Population growth - the other side of the coin

Reading through the various reports on climate change and environmental damage it can sometimes seem as though the problems we face are insurmountable. That, despite the hard work of environmental campaigners and those concerned with fair trade and green issues, we are merely forestalling inevitable environmental collapse.

As the overdue realisation dawns on governments around the world, particularly those with most to lose because of dense populations perilously exposed to sea level rises, there is a clamour for ‘quick fix’ solutions. Everything from geo-engineering to devices in space designed to block out sunlight.

Whilst well-intentioned, these efforts overlook a far more fundamental problem. This problem can be expressed in a simple, single statement: There are too many people on the Earth, consuming too many resources.

In other words, our impact on the environment can be broadly expressed as follows:

Number of people x Per capita resource consumption

Stabilisation of the global population and a reduction in per capita resource consumption will, in combination, do more to mitigate environmental damage than anything else. The Pareto principle of directing most effort into that which produces the greatest result has never been more important, whilst political prevaricating and drawn-out discussions on relatively minor issues serve only as a distraction.

An effective solution must address both population growth and resource consumption together. There is little point in trying to reduce per capita resource consumption with a surging population as the total impact on the environment will continue to rise.

Politically, however, that is what is happening. Governments regard the subject of population stabilisation as almost taboo. A no-go area not up for debate. Almost immediately, there are accusations of totalitarianism and coercion in reducing family sizes.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be like that. Empowerment and better education of women in developing countries is known to have a downward impact on birth rates. The Obama administration’s progress in encouraging family planning in the US and more broadly within the UN will have a positive longer-term impact. There is so much that can be done and without recourse to totalitarian policies.

However, the size of the problem should not be underestimated. For example, China’s population is still growing now despite the policy of one child per couple having been in place for many years. There is an inherent time lag involved. On top of that there are likely to be greater food shortages and displacement of large populations as climate change impacts upon agriculture in low lying areas, coupled with desertification of areas where deforestation has taken place. This will inevitably compound the problems of migration.

Environmental organisations need to avoid focusing almost explicitly on reducing per capita resource consumption whilst neglecting the other side of the equation; population growth. Global environmental strategies can only be truly effective when addressing both sides of the coin.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Richard Wolffe - Obama: Was the Hype & Hope Justified?

He could have used the opportunity merely to push his book that is currently on sale - but Richard Wolffe yesterday gave a considered analysis of Obama's first months in office and the challenges to come. It was a very interesting presentation and Q&A.

We heard that Obama's greatest problem is the economy, not healthcare - that he is by nature cautious and a compromiser - and a disciplined rule breaker. Obama's own phrase was stressed - "ruthless pragmatism".

I asked who was the greatest threat to Obama's future - re-invigorated opponents on the right? Democrats in Congress? or grassroots supporters in the country?

Wolffe pointed out that the greatest threat came from the right - Conservatives were fighting for the independent voters. They are seeking to divide Obama from the voters - many who formerly identified with the Republican Party - particularly women in the exurbs and rural areas.

There will be disillusionment amongst the Obama volunteers - but Wolffe expects several rounds of healthcare reform.

Democrats in Congress will cause difficulties. But this is to be expected. A deliberate policy was followed of recruiting conservative democrats to fight and win seats in conservative areas - it would be difficult to complain now that they now represent conservative Democratic views. As Wolffe said - you can't campaign to represent 'red' and 'blue' America, but govern just for 'blue' America.

In Congress This Week


Thursday, September 10, 2009
9:30 a.m.(EDT)
Full Committee Hearing:
Outlook for Iraq and U.S. Policy
U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Chairman

The Honorable Christopher R. Hill,
American Ambassador to Iraq
Room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building

Congress Returns

With Labor Day celebrated, the new political term begins in Congress. It's likely to be a bruising few weeks - which this blog will be following. The schedule for the House of representatives can be found at http://democraticleader.house.gov/docUploads/27WeeklyLeader090309.pdf?CFID=7017212&CFTOKEN=43085550

The President will be addressing a Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday. Sadly it is in the evening - which is not good news for those of us the wrong side of a five hour time difference. The House assembles at 8pm EDT (1am in England).

A CBS piece from the weekend is available below

Monday 7 September 2009


This evening Richard Wolffe is due to speak at Chatham House on "Obama's First Months: Was the hype and hope justified?". I'm very much looking forward to hearing his talk. Recently he has published a fast moving, but thoughtful study of the new American President "Renegade: The Making of Barack Obama". As well as attending Jazz Matters at the Stables, Wavendon - and two superb visits to Bletchley Park this weekend, I've been reading this book - which I would recommend to anyone wanting a deeper insight into the President.

Richard Wolffe was born in Birmingham, England and graduated with a first from Oxford University. He has worked as a journalist (Deputy Bureau Chief & US diplomatic correspondent, Washington DC) for the Financial Times before moving to Newsweek where he became their Chief White House correspondent. Currently he is a Senior Strategist for Public Strategies Inc. is a political analyst for MSNBC.

This short video shows Richard Wolffe talking about the book

Saturday 5 September 2009

Bletchley Park this weekend

If you can, it's worth visiting Bletchley Park this weekend - A celebration is planned of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman at this important site. Veterans of Bletchley Park will also be holding their reunion.

As a principal feature of the event there will be a display of Enigma and other cipher machines from private and museum collections throughout Europe and elsewhere – some rare and unusual variants will be on public display. The early 20th century through the cold war years will be represented.

Many well known experts, specialists and collectors from the cipher-machine world have expressed their intent to be there with their machines on display.

There will be a number of guest speakers giving talks, which will be taking place over the two days of the event.

In addition all of the regular, fascinating exhibits at Bletchley Park will be open to visitors. These include the rebuilds of Colossus and the Bombe, Jack Darrah’s unique collection of Churchillian memorabilia and Block B museum. Guided tours are available to visitors.

A timetable and further details are available at http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/resources/file.rhtm/589814/visitor+itinery.pdf

Friday 4 September 2009

Fires in Whitehall

The later years of the Seventeenth Century were not kind to the Palace of Whitehall. A number of fires caused considerable damage. The Palace had been all but abandoned by William and Mary. William was asthmatic - and found the riverside fogs and damp morning mists unpleasant. The great palace of the Tudors and Stuarts was moved out of - and "Nottingham House" was purchased. Today we know it as Kensington Palace. However many courtiers continued to live in lodgings within Whitehall Palace.

In 1691 a fire began when, so it was said, a careless maid allowed some candles to remain lighted. After several hours it had "consumed the greatest part of the Stone Gallery on both sides, that towards the privy garden and that towards the Thames". New buildings were designed by Sir Chritopher Wren, which included a garden and lodgings for Queen Mary. Simon Thurley writes that "the fire had in fact removed the largest residential parts of the surviving Tudor Palace and brought a greater sense of order to the remaining buildings."

Another "careless maid" was blamed for the much greater fire of 2nd January 1698. Her mistake was to leave linen drying, unattended, by an open fire. "Such was the fury and violence of this dreadful and dismal conflagration, that its flames reduced to ashes all that stood in its way from the Privy Stairs to the Banqueting House and from the Privy Gardens to Scotland Yard."

A graphic description of the fire can be found on pages 103 to 105 of Simon Thurley's "Whitehall Palace".(pictured) Only the Banqueting Hall remained intact. However the area soon became one of the most important private residential areas as leases were granted. It was only when these leases expired that Whitehall again become one of the great centres of the State.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Marvin Gaye

Perhaps it is appropriate for a city that is known for its political gossip (which in itself is a currency of sorts) - that one of it's native son's, Marvin Gaye, is known for his song "I heard it through the grapevine"

Marvin Gaye (real name - Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr.) was born in Washington in April 1939. He grew up in the city, and returned there after service in the Air Force. He began singing around the city, but in the late 1950s relocated to Chicago. While on tour he met in Detroit Berry Gordy Jr., who signed him to the Motown label in 1961.

His life ended tragically - shot by his own father - with a gun that Marvin had given to him as a present. A heated argument broke out between his parents, and Marvin tried to intervene.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Edward the Confessor

English history can be confusing - especially when it comes to the names by which monarchs are known. Edward is a particular problem. Edward I (1239-1307) was not the first English King of that name. He was preceded by Edward the Elder (c870-924), son of Alfred the Great; Edward the martyr (c962-978) and Edward the Confessor (c1003-1066).

It is this last Edward who was to play a key role in the development of Westminster. While there had been temples, monasteries and churches on Thorney Island in the centuries before Edward - it was he who set about being the Abbey. In order to oversee the building he build an adjacent palace.

Simon Thurley says "It was Edward the Confessor who founded Westminster as the political and religious capital of England. He built a palace and a great church more or less where Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament stand today." He lived, and died, in the Palace of Westminster.

He is known for his holiness. He was canonised in 1161 - and was for almost 150 years regarded as the patron saint of England. [today he is regarded as patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses].

He had no son to succeed him (this may be related to the fact that he took a vow of celibacy) - and as has happened so often in history, this led to a fight for the succession. 1066, the year Edward died is the greatest "memorable date" in English history. Later that year William of Normandy launched his invasion; defeated and killed (or is it the other way round?) King Harold - and then, after the English finally surrended at Berkhamsted, was crowned in Edward's Abbey.