Congress is Killing the Right to Petitition!

Public and Private Bills from 1947 to 2007Congress Hears Nothing, Sees Nothing, and Hears Nothing!

Congress Does Not Hear the People, Speak for the People, nor See the People!


SECTION 1: The Congress is Killing the Right to Petition

“While the absolute number of private bills submitted by individual members of Congress has remained relatively steady, the number that have become private laws has shown a precipitous decline.” (Citing Matthew Mantel, Private Bills and Private Laws, 99 Law Library Journal 87, 90 (May 2007)). Footnote 24 in Mantel’s article only listed data from 96th Congress (1979) to the 108th Congress (2003). Don Hamrick found the data to create a more expanded chart from the 80th Congress (1947) to the present day 110th Congress (December 12, 2007).

(a)Private Legislation

House Document No. 109-153, A History of the Committee on the Judiciary 1813–2006 Section II–Jurisdictions History of the Judiciary Committee, Private Legislation,” pp. 143-148

Nearly half of all the laws enacted by Congress have been private laws.[1] Unlike public law, which applies to public matters and deals with individuals only by classes, the provisions of private law apply to “one or several specified persons, corporations, [or] institutions.”[2]

Private legislation has its foundation in the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances”[3] guaranteed to all citizens by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Congress sometimes chooses to enact private law to grant relief in situations where no other legal remedies are available. Private legislation is premised on the idea that public law cannot cover all situations equitably, and sometimes Congress must address special circumstances with specially targeted legislation. In this sense, private law has been called “an anomaly,”[4] since it is intended to address specific problems that public law either created or overlooked.

The 1st Congress enacted 10 private laws. The 59th Congress–the historic high water mark of private legislation–enacted 6,249. Reporters observing the 59th Congress (1905–1906) noted that, on one occasion, 320 private pension bills passed the House in an hour and a half, “an average of three each minute.” One reporter characterized the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole as presiding with “auctioneer-like qualities” as these private pension measures were raised and rapidly adopted in turn.[5]

Today Congress enacts very little private legislation. In the last 10 Congresses combined it has enacted just 159 private measures, a mere two percent of the amount passed in the 1905–1906 sessions alone. In the 108th Congress, just one percent of the laws enacted by Congress were private – the lowest percentage of private legislation enacted at any time in the nation’s history.

The first private law enacted by Congress in 1789 awarded a year-and-a-half’s pay at the rank of Captain to a foreign citizen serving in the U.S. military.[6] Since that time, Congress has enacted over 45,000 private laws dealing with issues both commonplace and extraordinary: providing pensions or lump sum payments to soldiers and widows, satisfying sundry monetary claims against the government, correcting military records, eliminating the “political disabilities” of Civil War rebels, fixing immigration problems, extending patents, providing vessel documentation, refunding tariffs or overpayments, expediting the naturalization process for a potential Olympian, authorizing the Speaker of the House to wear a foreign military decoration, and permitting the family of an immigrant murdered in a post 9/11 hate crime to remain in the United States.

Historically, most private legislation introduced in the House of Representatives was considered by various private claims Committees in the House[7] or by the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization.[8] The 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act,[9] however, transferred jurisdiction over both immigration and claims to the House Committee on the Judiciary, along with jurisdiction over patents. Thus, since 1947, only a fraction of private measures dealing with sundry matters such as public lands, vessel documentation, military awards, veterans’ benefits and legislation relating to tax and tariffs introduced in the House have been referred to Committees other than the House Committee on the Judiciary. While the overall volume of private law has not been large in recent years, the internal workload of the Judiciary Committee and of its Members and professional staff, in dealing with private legislation has remained significant. Over the last 27 years, the House Judiciary Committee has processed 91 percent of all private laws enacted. In addition, the importance of the task of reviewing such legislation is as high as ever. In its truest sense, each private measure referred to the House Judiciary Committee represents a plea for relief from a petitioner who, in theory, has no other recourse. The problems involved may touch on some of the most important and emotionally-charged subjects imaginable: a mother’s plea to bring an adopted child into the United States, the death of a soldier’s toddler due to government negligence, payments justly owed to a small business but tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

Since 1947, private immigration and claims bills have been handled in the House by subcommittees of the full Judiciary Committee, initially known as Subcommittee No. 1 (dealing with immigration and nationality) and Subcommittee No. 2 (dealing with claims against the government.)[10] Currently, such measures are referred to one Judiciary subcommittee, the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, for review.

Individual private cases are examined by the Subcommittee to determine if they meet the criteria for private relief and are in keeping with precedents and with Congress’s overarching goal of making equitable law.

The decline in the introduction of private legislation in recent decades stems primarily from incremental reforms made by Congress to delegate the authority to address most private grievances administratively or through the courts. Examples of this progression include the creation of the United States Court of Claims in 1855, the enactment of the Federal Tort Claims Act, and the passage of similar statutes permitting administrative settlement of most military claims.[11] Likewise, changes in immigration law have, at times, led to reductions in the introduction of private legislation in Congress.[12]

Congress has also made numerous internal reforms that have had the effect of reducing the amount of private legislation introduced. For example, section 131 of the 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act barred the introduction of private bills addressing grievances that might be resolved by the Tort Claims Procedure of Title 28, bills to grant a pension, to construct a bridge over a navigable stream, or to correct a military or naval record. These provisions were made part of the standing rules of the House in 1953, and are currently codified in Rule XIII, clause 4.[13]

As former House Judiciary Committee Chairman Emanuel Celler noted, these changes initially did “effect some change in the private bill workload,” reducing the percentage of private measures enacted from 55 percent immediately before the reforms, to 34 percent after their adoption.[14]

Additional reforms undertaken by the House Judiciary Committee in 1947 barred stays of deportation simply because of the introduction of a private bill for “stowaways, deserting seamen, and border jumpers.” The Committee realized that a large fraction of private immigration bills were being introduced by Members, not with the hope of them becoming law, but simply to stay deportation proceedings. The simple introduction of a relief bill meant that the alien would not be deported while the measure was pending, whether or not the measure was ever acted upon.

The volume of private legislation introduced, and as a result, the workload of the House Judiciary Committee, however, remained unmanageably large despite these reforms. In the 90th Congress (1967–1968), for example, House Judiciary Subcommittee No. 2 was referred 779 private claims bills and oversaw the enactment of 116 of them into law. Subcommittee No. 1 was referred over 6,000 private immigration bills.[15] According to former Rep. William Cahill, this represented “the largest number [of private immigration bills] ever introduced” up to that time.[16] While the Judiciary panel worked hard to meet its responsibilities – its immigration subcommittee held 37 meetings and oversaw the enactment of 216 private laws – the strain from such legislative volume meant that it was simply, “unable to remain current.”[17]

In response to this challenge, the restrictions on stays of deportation for certain petitioners were further broadened. According to Rep. Cahill, in 1967, the Committee rule “was broadened to include those who entered the United States as transients en route to third countries and [who] illegally remain[ed] in this country.”[18] New Judiciary Committee rules adopted in 1969, and amended in 1971, further tightened procedures for the consideration of private immigration measures and contributed signifi cantly to an overall decline in their introduction. Specifi cally, the rules altered Committee policy by eliminating the stay of deportation of various additional petitioners that used to be automatic upon the introduction of a private immigration bill. These Judiciary Committee rules changes led the introduction of private immigration bills to “drop sharply.”[19]

The marked reduction in private laws enacted in recent decades stem largely from these reforms, but doubtless also stems in part from periodic accusations of impropriety or the appearance of impropriety in the introduction of private measures. In 1969 and 1976, Members and staff in both chambers were accused of soliciting and accepting bribes in exchange for the introduction of private immigration measures.[20] In addition, the widely publicized 1980 FBI Abscam bribery sting operation revolved, in part, around requests for the introduction of private bills in exchange for money.[21]

Today, in considering private immigration bills, the Judiciary Committee generally reviews only those cases that are of such an extraordinary nature that an exception to the law is needed and acts favorably on only those private bills that meet certain well-defined precedents. The Subcommittee has published detailed rules of procedure for the consideration of private immigration and claims bills, and works regularly with Members and staff to guide them in the framing and drafting of private legislation on behalf of their constituents.[22]

SECTION 2. Brief Legislative History of Civil Defense (50 U.S.C. § 2251 et. seq.)

On January 12, 1951: H.R. 9798, The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, became Pub.L. 920 (64 Stat. 1228). It authorized a Federal civil defense program.

On August 8, 1958: H.R. 7576 became Pub.L. 85-606 (72 Stat. 532). It amended the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 adding the thermonuclear provisions.

On October 5, 1994: Pub.L. 103-337 (108 Stat. 3101) repealed the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950.

In 5 U.S. Code Cong. And Adm. News 2182-2183 (1994) TITLE XXXIV CIVIL DEFENSE:

Civil defense programs were originally designed to protect “life and property in the United States from attack.” In 1981, the law was amended to permit states to use civil defense funds to prepare for natural disasters “in a manner that . . . . does not detract from attack-related civil defense preparedness.”

Section 3402 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1994 (Pub.L. 103-160) eliminated this restriction. The Civil Defense Act now reflects the “all-hazard” approach to emergency management, i.e., states are permitted to use the funds for all kinds of emergencies and disasters.

The committee believes that it should get out of the civil defense business for two reasons. First, the program has lost its defense emphasis. The threat of attack is no longer the driving force behind the program. Rather, the chief threats today come from tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, chemical spills, and the like.

Civil Defense gave way to FEMA.

Seven years later on September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked by terrorists. President Clinton dropped the guard abolishing Civil Defense. Instead of resurrecting Civil Defense President Bush created the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to which precipitated relentless thefts of constitutional rights, powers, and duties of citizenship as evidence in this Private Bill. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is the exact centralization of the federal government that was feared at the Constitutional Convention and in The Federalist Papers.

Further evidence of a grave need for the restoration of Second Amendment rights to its full constitutional limits, i.e., National Open Carry Handgun, is found in the growing epidemic of single-shooter suicidal mass murders in Gun-Free Terrorist Zones in schools, malls, and now churches.

[1] According to data obtained from Cannon’s Precedents of the House of Representatives, v.7, §1028, the Calendar of the United States House of Representatives and History of Legislation from the 74th through 79th Congresses, and the Congressional Record’s Resume of Congressional Activity from the 80th through 109th Congresses, between 1789 and 2006, Congress enacted a total of 94,120 laws. Of these, 45,937 — 49 percent — have been private laws.

[2] Hinds’ Precedents of the House of Representatives, v.4, §3285.

[3] U.S. Congress, Constitution, Jefferson’s Manual, and Rules of the House of Representatives, H.Doc. 108–241, 108th Cong., 2nd sess. (Washington: GPO, 2005), §208, p. 90. (Hereafter referred to as “House Manual”).

[4]Private Bills in Congress,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 79, June 1966, p. 1684.

[5] “Three Pensions a Minute,” New York Times, May 12, 1906, p. 9.

[6] Congressional Quarterly’s Guide To Congress, 5th ed., vol. I (Washington: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 2000), p. 526.

[7] These include the House Committees on Claims; Pensions and Revolutionary Claims; Private Land Claims; Revolutionary Claims; Military Pensions; Invalid Pensions; Revolutionary Pensions; War Claims; and Pensions. David T. Canon, Garrison Nelson, Charles Stewart III, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1789–1946, vol. 1, (Washington: CQ Press, 2002), pp. VI-XXXV.

[8] U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, History of the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, Committee Print, 92nd Cong. 2nd sess., (Washington: GPO, 1972), p. 5.

[9] P.L. 79–601, 60 Stat. 812.

[10] CRS Typed Report, (Trends in Activity on Private Legislation in Congress), by Richard S. Beth, p. 8.

[11] CRS Typed Report, (Trends in Activity on Private Legislation in Congress), by Richard S. Beth.

[12] Other changes in immigration law have arguably led to increases in the introduction of private bills at certain points in congressional history. For more information on immigration policy and its effect on private legislation, see Trends in Activity on Private Legislation in Congress, by Richard S. Beth, and CRS Report RL33024, Private Immigration Legislation, by Margaret Mikyung Lee.

[13] House Manual, §822, p. 601.

[14] Rep. Emanuel Celler, remarks in the House, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 95, pt. 15, May 12, 1949, p. A2901.

[15] U.S. Congress, House Committee on the Judiciary, Summary of Activities, Committee Print, 90th Cong., 2nd sess., (Washington: GPO, 1968), p. 9.

[16] Rep. William T. Cahill, remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 115, pt. 20, Mar. 12, 1969, p. H1629.

[17] Ibid., p. H1630.

[18] Rep. William T. Cahill, remarks in the House, Congressional Record, vol. 115, pt. 20, Mar. 12, 1969, p. H1629.

[19] Richard L. Madden, “Private Immigration Bills Found to Drop Sharply,” New York Times, Oct. 25, 1972, p. 14.

[20] “Rep. Helstoski Denies He Got Payoffs,” New York Times, June 26, 1976, p. A5.

[21] Charles R. Babcock, “FBI ‘Sting’ Ensnares Several In Congress,” The Washington Post, Feb. 3, 1980, p. A1.

[22] Subcommittee Rules of Procedure are available on the House Committee on the Judiciary’s website:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s