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 Collection: Congressional Research Service Reports
Selected Theories of Constitutional Interpretation

Selected Theories of Constitutional Interpretation

Date: February 15, 2011
Creator: Thomas, Kenneth R.
Description: This report examines theories of constitutional interpretation, the role of the judiciary in this interpretation, and constitutional protections for fundamental rights.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
Legal Standing Under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause

Legal Standing Under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause

Date: April 5, 2011
Creator: Brougher, Cynthia
Description: This report analyzes the constitutional issues associated with standing (a restraint on the power of federal courts to render decisions), specifically related to cases arising under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment regarding religion. It provides a background on the doctrine of standing, including the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of various types of standing: standing to sue as a citizen, as a taxpayer, and on behalf of another party. It also examines the current standing rules related to the Establishment Clause.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
The Article V Convention for Proposing Constitutional Amendments: Historical Perspectives for Congress

The Article V Convention for Proposing Constitutional Amendments: Historical Perspectives for Congress

Date: July 10, 2012
Creator: Neale, Thomas H.
Description: This report identifies and examines historical issues related to the Article V Convention, which allows amendments to be added to the Constitution via Congressional vote or votes by the people.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress

The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress

Date: July 9, 2012
Creator: Neale, Thomas H.
Description: This report looks at how Article V of the Constitution allows Congress to propose amendments, specifically the process of organizing an Article V Convention, a method which has never been used and which is only breifly outlined in the Constitution.
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A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options

A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options

Date: July 20, 2011
Creator: Saturno, James V. & Lynch, Megan Suzanne
Description: One of the most persistent political issues facing Congress in recent decades is whether to require that the budget of the United States be in balance. Although a balanced federal budget has long been held as a political ideal, the accumulation of large deficits in recent years has heightened concern that some action to require a balance between revenues and expenditures may be necessary. This report provides an overview of the issues and options that have been raised during prior consideration of proposals for a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options

A Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment: Background and Congressional Options

Date: July 8, 2011
Creator: Saturno, James V. & Lynch, Megan Suzanne
Description: One of the most persistent political issues facing Congress in recent decades is whether to require that the budget of the United States be in balance. Although a balanced federal budget has long been held as a political ideal, the accumulation of large deficits in recent years has heightened concern that some action to require a balance between revenues and expenditures may be necessary. This report provides an overview of the issues and options that have been raised during prior consideration of proposals for a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications

Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications

Date: January 4, 2012
Creator: Garvey, Todd
Description: Presidential signing statements are official pronouncements issued by the President contemporaneously to the signing of a bill into law that, in addition to commenting on the law generally, have been used to forward the President's interpretation of the statutory language; to assert constitutional objections to the provisions contained therein; and, concordantly, to announce that the provisions of the law will be administered in a manner that comports with the administration's conception of the President's constitutional prerogatives. This report focuses on the use of signing statements by recent administrations, with particular emphasis on the Administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
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Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Date: January 20, 2011
Creator: Luckey, John R.
Description: This report is divided into two parts. The first gives a brief history of the flag protection issue, from the enactment of the Flag Protection Act in 1968 through current consideration of a constitutional amendment. The second part briefly summarizes the two decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, that struck down the state and federal flag protection statutes as applied in the context punishing expressive conduct.
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The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement

The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement

Date: March 15, 2011
Creator: Saturno, James V.
Description: Article I, Section 7, clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution is known as the Origination Clause because it provides that "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." The meaning and application of this clause has evolved through practice and precedent since the Constitution was drafted. The Constitution does not provide specific guidelines as to what constitutes a "bill for raising revenue." This report analyzes congressional and court precedents regarding that constitutes such a bill. Second, this report describes the various ways in which the Origination Clause has been enforced. Finally, this report looks at the application of the Origination Clause to other types of legislation.
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Armed Career Criminal Act (18 U.S.C. 924(e)): An Overview

Armed Career Criminal Act (18 U.S.C. 924(e)): An Overview

Date: October 13, 2010
Creator: Doyle, Charles
Description: This report briefly explores the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e), which requires imposition of a minimum 15-year term of imprisonment for recidivists convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 922(g). Section 924(e) applies only to those defendants who have three prior state or federal convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses. The report includes descriptions of constitutional challenges to the application of section 924(e), which have been generally unsuccessful.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Recent Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Recent Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Date: January 7, 2009
Creator: Luckey, John R.
Description: Many Members of Congress see continued tension between "free speech" decisions of the Supreme Court, which protect flag desecration as expressive conduct under the First Amendment, and the symbolic importance of the United States flag. This report is divided into two parts. The first gives a brief history of the flag protection issue, from the enactment of the Flag Protection Act in 1968 through current consideration of a constitutional amendment. The second part briefly summarizes the two decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, that struck down the state and federal flag protection statutes as applied in the context punishing expressive conduct.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment

Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment

Date: October 16, 2009
Creator: Cohen, Henry
Description: This report provides an overview of the major exceptions to the First Amendment - of the ways that the Supreme Court has interpreted the guarantee of freedom of speech and press to provide no protection or only limited protection for some types of speech. For example, the Court has decided that the First Amendment provides no protection to obscenity, child pornography, or speech that constitutes "advocacy of the use of force or of law violation ... where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."
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The Assault Weapons Ban: Review of Federal Laws Controlling Possessions of Certain Firearms

The Assault Weapons Ban: Review of Federal Laws Controlling Possessions of Certain Firearms

Date: December 1, 1995
Creator: Schrader, Dorothy
Description: This report reviews the 1994 assault weapons ban, which is effective for ten years on 19 types of semiautomatic assault weapons. The Act builds upon a 60-year history of federal regulation of firearms. The report also summarizes the pre-1994 federal gun control laws, analyzes the major cases relating to constitutional and statutory challenges to these laws, and reviews judicial and legislative developments since enactment of the ban.
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Child Pornography: Constitutional Principles and Federal Statutes

Child Pornography: Constitutional Principles and Federal Statutes

Date: October 10, 2008
Creator: Cohen, Henry
Description: This report discusses the constitutional status of child pornography and summarizes federal statutes banning and regulating child pornography as well as selected court cases that have ruled on their constitutionality or interpreted them.
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Federal Farm Promotion ("Check-off") Programs

Federal Farm Promotion ("Check-off") Programs

Date: October 20, 2008
Creator: Becker, Geoffrey S.
Description: The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 affirmed the constitutionality of the so-called beef check-off program, one of the 18 generic promotion programs for agricultural products that are now active nationally. Supporters view check-offs as economically beneficial self-help activities that need minimal government involvement or taxpayer funding. Producers, handlers, and/or importers are required to pay an assessment, usually deducted from revenue at time of sale - thus the name check-off. However, some farmers contend they are being "taxed" for advertising and related activities they would not underwrite voluntarily. The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the beef check-off is considered significant for the future of the other programs, although the Court left open the possibility of additional challenges.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
Federal Gun Control Laws: The Second Amendment and Other Constitutional Issues

Federal Gun Control Laws: The Second Amendment and Other Constitutional Issues

Date: February 1, 1995
Creator: Schrader, Dorothy
Description: This report examines the historical, legal, and constitutional arguments for and against an individual right to bear firearms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Those who favor federal gun control laws tend to assert that the Second Amendment has been correctly interpreted by the courts to confer only a collective right, which may be exercised through state militias. Those who oppose gun control laws tend to assert that the Second Amendment should be interpreted to grant an individual right to bear arms for lawful purposes, subject to appropriately minimal restrictions.
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Federal Tort Reform Legislation: Constitutionality and Summaries of Selected Statutes

Federal Tort Reform Legislation: Constitutionality and Summaries of Selected Statutes

Date: July 7, 2008
Creator: Cohen, Henry & Burrows, Vanessa K.
Description: This report considers the constitutionality of federal tort reform legislation, such as the products liability and medical malpractice reform proposals that have been introduced for the last several Congresses. Tort law at present is almost exclusively state law rather than federal law, although, as noted in the appendix to this report, Congress has enacted a number of tort reform statutes.
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The Brady Handgun Control Act: Constitutional Issues

The Brady Handgun Control Act: Constitutional Issues

Date: October 25, 1995
Creator: Schrader, Dorothy
Description: The Brady Handgun Control Act established a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases, during which local law enforcement can make reasonable efforts to conduct background checks in available records and block and sales to convicted felons and other disqualified persons. This report reviews the background of federal gun control legislation, analyzes the conflict in the courts over the constitutionality under the Tenth Amendment of the duties placed on local law enforcement, and considers the implications of the decisions for Brady Act enforcement.
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Statutory Interpretation: General Principles and Recent Trends

Statutory Interpretation: General Principles and Recent Trends

Date: August 31, 2008
Creator: Kim, Yule
Description: The Supreme Court has expressed an interest "that Congress be able to legislate against a background of clear interpretive rules, so that it may know the effect of the language it adopts." This report identifies and describes some of the more important rules and conventions of interpretation that the Court applies. Although this report focuses primarily on the Court's methodology in construing statutory text, the Court's approach to reliance on legislative history are also briefly described.
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Legislative Prayer and School Prayer: The Constitutional Difference

Legislative Prayer and School Prayer: The Constitutional Difference

Date: October 26, 1994
Creator: Ackerman, David A.
Description: The Supreme Court's decisions holding government-sponsored prayer in the public schools to violate the First Amendment's establishment clause but prayer in legislative assemblies to be constitutional are sometimes lifted up as contradictory. This report summarizes the relevant decisions and identifies the distinctions the Court has drawn between the two situations.
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The Constitutionality of Requiring Photo Identification for Voting: An Analysis of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board

The Constitutionality of Requiring Photo Identification for Voting: An Analysis of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board

Date: May 19, 2008
Creator: Whitaker, L. Paige
Description: In a splintered decision issued in April 2008, the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana statute requiring identification for voting, determining that lower courts had correctly decided that the evidence in the record was insufficient to support a facial attack on the constitutionality of the law. Written by Justice Stevens, the lead opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board finds that the law imposes only "a limited burden on voters' rights," which is justified by state interests.
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Delegation of the Federal Power of Eminent Domain to Nonfederal Entities

Delegation of the Federal Power of Eminent Domain to Nonfederal Entities

Date: May 20, 2008
Creator: Meltz, Robert
Description: Congress has on several occasions delegated its power of eminent domain to entities outside the federal government -- public and private corporations, interstate compact agencies, state and local governments, and even individuals. The constitutionality of such delegation, and of the exercise of such power by even private delegates, is today beyond dispute. However, among delegates with both federal and private characteristics, there is some subjectivity to deciding which to list in a report limited to "nonfederal entities." For delegatees of federal eminent domain power listed here, delegations since 1920 have primarily been to Amtrak, hydroelectric facilities (for dams and reservoirs), and entities engaged in the movement of electricity, gas, and petroleum (the last one expired), and for interstate bridges.
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The European Union's Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty

The European Union's Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty

Date: July 3, 2008
Creator: Archick, Kristin
Description: In December 2007, leaders of the European Union (EU) signed the Lisbon Treaty, which seeks to reform the EU's governing institutions and decisionmaking processes to enable a larger EU to operate more effectively. This new treaty represents the latest stage in a reform process begun in 2002 and essentially replaces the proposed EU "constitution" that foundered after French and Dutch voters rejected it in referendums in 2005. In June 2008, Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, and have thrown its future into doubt. This report provides background information on EU reform efforts and possible implications for U.S.-EU relations that may be of interest in the second session of the 110th Congress.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department
Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Recent Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Flag Protection: A Brief History and Summary of Recent Supreme Court Decisions and Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Date: June 28, 2006
Creator: Luckey, John R.
Description: Many Members of Congress see continued tension between "free speech" decisions of the Supreme Court, which protect flag desecration as expressive conduct under the First Amendment, and the symbolic importance of the United States flag. Consequently, every Congress that has convened since those decisions were issued has considered proposals that would permit punishment of those who engage in flag desecration. This report is divided into two parts. The first gives a brief history of the flag protection issue, from the enactment of the Flag Protection Act in 1968 through current consideration of a constitutional amendment. The second part briefly summarizes the two decisions of the United States Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, that struck down the state and federal flag protection statutes as applied in the context of punishing expressive conduct.
Contributing Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department