Learning to research and understand legislative history is an important part of any legislator’s job. Legislative history includes the official reports that are generated in Congress throughout the course of the legislative process, such as committee reports and joint statements.
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When researching case law, be aware that court decisions can frequently include the use of the term “conference report” in order to refer to joint statements of managers. Reports and joint statements should be used with caution.
Joint statements are actually more authoritative than reports. This is because a joint statement is prepared by both chambers, but it must also be voted on and adopted by both chambers. As a result, the joint statement is the only form of legislative history that is produced by and considered by both chambers of Congress.
Justice Scalia: Text Over Intent and the Demise of Legislative History
A committee report is considered to be inferior to a joint statement in two significant ways. First, the committee report is the product of only one chamber. Second, the committee report is produced and considered earlier in the process.
The legislative history also includes statements that are made by members within the course of official proceedings, such as floor debate. Individual statements only reflect the views and motives of that individual member. Consequently, individual statements are less authoritative than committee reports, and they will be disregarded if they conflict with a committee report or joint statement. Individual statements will also be disregarded if they conflict with history and context. Due to this, individual statements typically only carry weight when there is no other legislative history available. Whenever two or more individual statements are in conflict, the Court gives slightly more weight to a statement that is made by a member who is in charge of the bill. This would include a committee chairman or the sponsor of a bill.
The Court gives very little weight to a statement that is made by any opponent of a bill. Whenever individual statements on the House side conflict with individual statements of the Senate side, the Court will give greater weight to those from the chamber that actually originated the provision.
Reference: Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook, by Tobias Dorsey, § 3.75 Report Language, and § 3.76 Individual Statements.
For more information about drafting legislation and statutory construction, see these resources from TheCapitol.Net:
- Joint Explanatory Statement of Managers (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- About Committee Reports, Congress.gov
- Committee Reports, Congress.gov
- Congressional Reports, Govinfo.gov
- “Conference Reports and Joint Explanatory Statements,” CRS Report 98-382 (5-page PDF)
- Legislative History Research Guide at Georgetown Law School
- Federal Legislative History: Initial Steps, Library of Congress
- Legislative Histories of Selected U.S. Laws on the Internet: Free Sources, Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, DC (LLSDC)
- “The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): A Brief Legislative History,” CRS Report R44825 (19-page PDF)
- “The Child Tax Credit: Legislative History,” CRS Report R45124 (18-page PDF)
- “Juvenile Justice: Legislative History and Current Legislative Issues,” CRS Report RL33947 (40-page PDF)
- “The Federal Excise Tax on Motor Fuels and the Highway Trust Fund: Current Law and Legislative History,” CRS Report RL30304 (35-page PDF)
- “Qualified Charitable Distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts: Features and Legislative History,” CRS Report RS22766 (8-page PDF)
- “Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange: Legislative History, Litigation, and Current Issues,” CRS Report R43790 (29-page PDF)
- “Legislative History Research: A Guide to Resources for Congressional Staff,” CRS Report R41865 (19-page PDF)
- Congressional Operations Briefing – Capitol Hill Workshop
- Drafting Federal Legislation and Amendments
- Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing
- Custom, On-Site Training
- Drafting Effective Federal Legislation and Amendments in a Nutshell, Audio Course on CD
- Congress, the Legislative Process, and the Fundamentals of Lawmaking Series, a Nine-Course series on CD
Legislative Drafter’s Deskbook: A Practical Guide
Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates
CongressionalGlossary.com, from TheCapitol.Net
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