Right to petition
The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals. The Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ensures the right to petition to the European Parliament. The right can be traced back to the Bill of Rights 1689, the Petition of Right (1628), and the Magna Carta (1215).
The prohibition of abridgment of the "right to petition" originally referred only to the federal legislature, Congress, and the US federal courts. The incorporation doctrine later expanded the protection of the right to its current scope, over all state and federal courts and legislatures, and the executive branches of the state and federal governments.
The right to petition includes, under its umbrella, the petition. For example, in January 2007, the US Senate considered S. 1, an omnibus "ethics reform" bill. This bill contained a provision (Section 220) to establish federal regulation, for the first time, of certain efforts to encourage "grassroots lobbying". The bill said that "'grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same".[this quote needs a citation]
This provision was opposed by a broad array of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association. On January 18, 2007, the US Senate voted 55-43 to strike Section 221 from the bill. However, other proposed regulations on "grassroots lobbying" remain under consideration in the 111th Congress.[needs update]
There are ongoing conflicts between organizations that wish to impose greater restrictions on citizen's attempts to influence or "lobby" policymakers, and groups that argue that such restrictions infringe on the constitutionally protected right to sue the government, and the right of individuals, groups, and corporations (via corporate personhood), to lobby the government.
Another controversial bill, the Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 984, would require over 8,000 Executive Branch officials to report into a public database nearly any "significant contact" from any "private party", a term that the bill defines to include almost all persons other than government officials. The bill defines "significant contact" to be any "oral or written communication (including electronic communication) . . . in which the private party seeks to influence official action by any officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States." This covers all forms of communication, one way or two ways, including letters, faxes, e-mails, phone messages, and petitions. The bill is supported by some organizations as an expansion of "government in the sunshine", but other groups oppose it as an infringing on the right to petition by making it impossible for citizens to communicate their views on controversial issues to government officials without those communications becoming a matter of public record.
- Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000), Article 44
- "The Right to Petition". Illinois First Amendment Center.
- "S.1 2007-2008". govtrack.us.
- "Section 220". govtrack.us.[broken citation]
- Newton, Adam. "Petition - Right to sue". First Amendment Center.
- Memorandum: "Congressman Waxman advances grave new threat to citizens’ ‘right to petition’ government officials," by Douglas Johnson and Susan Muskett, J.D., National Right to Life Committee, February 20, 2007.
- Letter from Richard D. Hertling, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, to the Honorable Henry Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, March 8, 2007.
- Letter from Robert I. Cusick, Director, Office of Government Ethics, to the Honorable Henry A. Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, February 14,valentines day, 2007.