Order Code 98-839 GOV
Updated August 5, 2003
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Messages, Petitions, Communications, and
Memorials to Congress
Paul S. Rundquist
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The Constitution and the rules of the House and Senate identify various means that
citizens, subordinate levels of government, and other branches of the federal government
may use to communicate formally with either or both houses of Congress. The House and
Senate use written messages to communicate with the other. For more information on
legislative process, see [http://www.crs.gov/products/guides/guidehome.shtml].
Messages. The Constitution authorizes the President to recommend to Congress
“such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Presidents communicate
formally with Congress by written message. For many years, the President’s State of the
Union message was sent to Congress in writing only; in 1913, Woodrow Wilson resumed
giving this message both in person (not done since Thomas Jefferson) and in writing.
Presidential messages are printed in full in both the Congressional Record and the
Journal of each House, although accompanying supplemental materials are not. The
Speaker of the House and the presiding officer of the Senate refer such messages to the
appropriate committees. (For example, the House refers the State of the Union message
to the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union; a veto message is not
referred to a committee if the House or Senate votes immediately on overriding it.)
The two houses also formally communicate with each other by written message.
Under Rule IX, the Senate may receive a message from the President or the House
anytime, unless the Senate is voting, determining the presence of a quorum, having the
Journal read, or acting on a question of order or a motion to adjourn. In the House,
messages from the President and from the Senate (except those regarding Senate action
on certain bills) are referred to the appropriate committees (Rule XII, clause 1). If the
Senate has passed a bill that the House (under its rules) will not consider in the
Committee of the Whole, the House may act immediately on a message about that bill.
Petitions. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees that “Congress
shall make no law respecting ... the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Individuals, groups, or
organizations can petition Congress requesting it to act or not to act on a specific subject.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Petitions are normally addressed to individual Representatives or Senators.
Members may present petitions from citizens or groups outside their constituencies.
Under House Rule XII, clause 3, Members forward petitions they receive to the clerk of
the House for referral to committees having jurisdiction over the petition’s subject. The
text of the petition, the name of the first signer, the number of other signers and their
general place of residence are printed in the Journal and published in the Congressional
Record. In the Senate, petitions are presented from the floor or delivered to the secretary
of the Senate and are referred to the appropriate committee; Senate Rule VII, paragraph
4 provides a rarely used procedure in which the Senate may vote without debate on the
question of receiving a particular petition or memorial.
Communications. Narrowly defined, a communication is a written submission
from a federal government department, agency, or other entity. Most are sent to
Congress to comply with statutes (see Reports to Be Made to Congress, House Document
107-173), to comply with a specific request from either or both chambers, to suggest
legislation to appropriate congressional committees or comment on measures already
introduced. In both chambers, executive communications are numbered sequentially
throughout each Congress for identification and are referred to the appropriate committee
for possible further action.
Memorials. The term “memorials” dreives from the Latin, meaning literally “to
remember” or to “keep in mind.” A memorial is a request, usually from a state
legislature, that the Congress take some action, or refrain from taking certain action.
Memorials may be addressed to the House or Senate as a whole, to the Speaker or
presiding officer of the Senate, or to individual Senators or Representatives. The Senate
prints the full text of a memorial in its section of the Congressional Record, while the
House only prints the title of a memorial.
In the 18th and 19th centuries when state legislatures elected Senators, many of them
sent memorials to their Senators “instructing” them how to vote on certain pending
controversial measures. Some Senators viewed instructions as binding, but many did not.
Since the popular election of Senators in 1913, state legislatures have ceased issuing
instructions. Today, they use memorials or less formal means of communication to urge
congressional action rather than demanding it.
House and Senate sections of the Congressional Record note each chamber’s receipt
and disposition of messages, petitions and memorials, and other formal communications.
Committees rarely take any formal action on any of these items referred to them.
Nevertheless, they may prompt the committees to hold oversight hearings or they may be
cited in committee reports on related legislation. House precedents record instances in
which a memorial prompted the House to begin an impeachment inquiry and to
investigate the constitutional qualifications of a Member-elect.