Why You Should Care About Legislative History

It’s been more than 200 years since the United States Constitution was created, thereby by creating a list of fundamental principles with which to govern the nation. In the 200 years since its creation, it has been amended 27 times and is used every day as a tool that many different governing bodies use to determine what is allowed under the law.

With the Constitution being an important document in the founding of the United States, it has been used countless times to create legislative history.

What is legislative history? Well it refers to the documents Congress produces as a bill makes its way through Congress. Legislative history documents included those present when a bill is introduced and following to when it is studied and debated in Congress. Currently, there are more than 300 bills waiting for Senate action, so there is a continuous amount of legislative history produced.

Why is legislative history important? Well, this important collection of documents is most often used by attorneys and court systems to determine Congress’ intent (in other words, why a law is created)) and also to clarify any language which is considered ambiguous. Legislative history isn’t a source of authority, but is a very important part of the legislative process. For more than one hundred years, state courts have looked to evidence of legislative intent in construing state law.

Documenting the legislative process gives researches insight into how a bill is introduced, debated and eventually either approved or rejected by the legislative branch of Congress. This provides a wealth of information that is then used going forward to interpret existing laws and also for shaping new ones.

In 2012, 1,268,011 U.S. men and women practiced as licensed lawyers and legislative history plays an important role in the everyday workings of their jobs. Many law resources are available both online (such as LexisNexis) and in print which allow lawyers and others in need a database with which they can follow the legislative path of a bill.

During sessions of Congress, bills are continuously introduced, debated and then put up for a vote. In fact, the cumulative percent of bills enacted by Congress for December in the first year of a session is 33 percent. Legislative history plays a very important role in the path bills take and it ultimately becomes a sort of paper trail or blueprint that allows legislators, attorneys, judges and others in positions of authority to interpret federal laws, federal statutes and state laws and then make decisions based on that history and those interpretations.

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