Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

New Congress to require all bills to cite Constitution

January 5, 2011 by Dr. Steve Frank


I heard from Publius 2.0 recently. He’s feeling bullish about 2011, expecting sales of The Federalist Papers to soar on Capitol Hill.

That’s because the incoming Republican House leadership – Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, and Transition Team Chairman Greg Walden – have issued a Memorandum recommending that classic text to members of the 112th Congress and their staffs.

Publius 2.0The Memorandum, posted by Slate, offers instruction to House members on how to comply with the new “Constitutional Authority Requirement” for legislation, which was a promise made by House Republicans in their Pledge to America during the midterm election campaign.

As the new Congress convenes today, that promise is being kept.

To implement their commitment, the Republican leadership have proposed a change to standing Rules of the House to require that each bill or joint resolution introduced be accompanied by a statement citing the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the proposed law.

In their Memorandum, which instructs Members how to comply with the new rule, the leaders offer model compliance statements and a list of resources available to Members and staff to assist them in identifying the power granted to Congress by the Constitution to enact a bill.

After recently reading the memo, Publius 2.0 shared two thoughts with me about the Constitutional Authority Requirement.

His first observation – more an assumption than a thought – was that Members, who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, should have been giving this matter some thought all along, even without being required to submit a constitutional compliance statement with their proposed bills.

His second thought was that learning how to obey the Constitution should not be limited to House members. It’s the kind of knowledge that benefits us all. So he asked me to share with you the Resource List that has been distributed to Congress. Constitution Daily offers it here as a public service.


While the Office of the Legislative Counsel will assist Members by providing a properly formatted Constitutional Authority Statement form, it is the responsibility of the bill sponsor to determine what authorities they wish to cite and to provide that information to the Legislative Counsel staff.

In addition to the Constitution itself, there are a variety of resources available to Members and staff to assist them in identifying the power granted to Congress by the Constitution to enact a proposed bill. These include:

  • The Federalist Papers, written mostly by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton to explain the purpose of the Constitution, are considered by many to be the primary source of authority on what the Constitution was understood to mean when it was ratified.
  • The Congressional Research Service’s “Annotated Guide to the Constitution” includes an outline format that allows users to select main topics, then scale down to more narrow subjects within the Constitution and relevant Supreme Court decisions. For House Members and staff, this information may be accessed through CRS’s website.
  • The Heritage Foundation has a variety of resources available for Members and staff, including the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, which provides a clause-by-clause analysis along with relevant court cases that is written for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. For more information visit:
  • The Founder’s Constitution is an on-line version of a five-volume work first published in 1986 that includes a range of documents that help explain and place into context the specific provisions of the Constitution. Information is arranged by article, section, and clause of the U.S. Constitution, from the Preamble through Article Seven and continuing through the first twelve Amendments. It is available at:
  • There are a number of think-tanks and associations from across the political spectrum that provide research and commentary on constitutional issues, including:
  • The Brookings Institution
  • CATO Institute
  • The Federalist Society
  • The American Constitution Society

I would simply add to the list the National Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution.

Capital photo courtesy of Flickr user chucka_nc.

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