Answered By: Jim Shaw
Last Updated: May 06, 2015     Views: 4

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution established Congress, and Article 1, Section 3, in particular, established the Senate.  As you read Article 1, you will note that there is no explicit instruction as to the manner or means by which members of Congress must or should communicate with their constituents [http://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm].

The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads thus:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

“Petition the Government” means that citizens must be permitted to express their concerns to the Government.  Note that the clause does not specify any particular means, though it is understood to include “marching, picketing, and pamphleteering.”  [See the annotated 1st Amendment, also at http://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm.]

The U.S. Government Publishing Office has posted its most recent edition of The Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation to the Internet and it is freely available [click here]. This is probably to best, most convenient, place to look for an authoritative treatment of the U.S. Constitution, and it includes citations to pertinent Supreme Court decisions.

You may also find it helpful to examine the Senate Manual which, “prepared during the second session of each Congress by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, contains the standing rules, orders, laws, and resolutions affecting the Senate… [click here].  The Senate Manual describes the rules by which the U.S. Senate governs itself, and Rule XL, in particular, addresses Senators’ privileges in relation to mail, radio, and television communication.

Finally, a recent study conducted by the U.S. Congressional Research Service details typical practice in Congressional offices in regard to responding to constituent communications, generally referred to as “casework.”  You may click this title to retrieve a PDF copy of the report:  Casework in a Congressional Office: Background, Rules, Laws, and Resources.

James Shaw, Government Documents Librarian, Criss Library, UNO; jshaw@unomaha.edu

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