There are millions of examples every day of people exercising their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, press, religion, and peaceable assembly. The amendment also gives one more right, but I’m unaware of when it has been used or how often . Can anyone tell me the process and give any specific examples of people “petitioning the [Federal] Government for a redress of grievances”?
You want examples of peaceful political protest marches and rallies?
I’d call protest rallies “peaceable assembly”, not “petition for redress of grievances”.
To me, petition would involve something written submitted through some sort of process and specifically answered through another process. I see this as something beyond writing a letter to your Senator asking for a handout.
I’ll be happy to provide one. Every year my organization and many others come together for “child advocacy day” at our state capitol. We start with a rally, then parade to the capitol building, and spend the rest of the day meeting with elected representatives.
I suppose it wouldn’t be out of line for the state police to freak out when they see 600 or so people marching toward the state capitol, but they know we have assembled peacefully and are on our way to petition our representatives. It’s been going on for more than 20 years, and no one has called out the riot squad yet.
The issue goes back a while. But it looks like the Supreme Court didn’t rule on the topic until 1876.
Citizens have access to the U.S. federal court system, including the right (with lots and lots of restrictions) to sue the federal government itself in certain cases.
One could construe this right in a more general sense–we have the right to give our elected representatives and senators an earful if they do something we don’t like. The federal government also has all kinds of public hearings that interested parties can go to and make their case.
The detailed method of administering every law is published (in the Federal Register I think). The regulations that are proposed by the executive to carry out the intent of the law are listed and a date for hearings on those regulations is announced. Anyone can attend those meetings and protest the regulations, or support them as the case may be.
kunilou, got any examples at the federal level?
Is “petition” equivalent to “sue”? It does seem so in the context of “redress of grievances”.
Would the right to petition be limited to the right to sue, or could there be some expanded meaning?
The link I provided above stated that in medieval England, the House of Commons would petition the King for “redress”, usually to get their taxes lowered.
The right to petition seems to be closely related to the right to peacefully assemble.
You can only sue the government when it consents to be sued. The ability to sue the federal government is granted by statute, and is NOT a Constitutional right.
I remember hearing all the time when I was growing up about how, sometime in … I think it was 1840 or 1841, Joseph Smith petitioned the US government for the redress of grievances that the Mormons suffered in Missouri, and how the government declined to redress the grievances. It was often claimed that President Martin Van Buren listened to Joseph Smith and then said “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you,” because he would lose the support of Missouri.
So I guess that would be one example.
There were lots of petitions sent to Congress in the 19th Century about the abolition of slavery. The House, for a while, would not allow debate on them or let them be entered into the record. John Quincy Adams successfully fought the rule.
People occasionally go to their congresspeople with things they want straightened out. They do it without lawsuits or public demonstrations.
The officer commanding the USS Indianapolis was blamed for its sinking at the time. A few years ago, he was officially exonerated.
Remember those guys who refused to load ammunition onto a ship after another ship blew up (during wartime)? They were court-martialed and spent years in prison. The family of one of them got them pardoned.
Some of the tribe-wants-its-land-back cases were petitioned to congress.
Then there’s all those folks pardoned by presidents. They petitioned for it.
Congressmen handle all kinds of non-legislative grievances and problems brought to them by their constituents – helping get a held-up Social Security check issued, unsticking a paperwork foul up at the IRS, facilitating a visa application, obtaining copies of reports from agencies, etc. It’s called constituent casework, and every Congressional office has staff members specifically for this sort of thing.
The enumeration of “petition” as a separate right, and not just an inherent part of free speech, is a hangover from British practice in which the mere act of signing one’s name to a petition to the King might be considered seditious or disloyal. As this site explains,
In modern times, the separate enumeration is perhaps redundant. As FindLaw explains,
First, I’m not a lawyer and in no way an expert on Constitutional law, but if I may offer the way I’ve always seen this?
(Not really asking for permission, I’m saying it anyway)
The petition for grievence is bundled into the peaceful assembly part. Think about society at the time it was written. Often many were illiterate and completely oblivious to the legal system. But they knew how to gather together and let it be known to the powers that be that they were pissed about something.
Think of the logistical nightmare at the time of getting together a letter-writing campaign or class-action-style lawsuit. I’d have to think it would have been nearly impossible. The best way to let the legislators know the popular support of change in whatever area they were concerned with was to get a large group of people together at once. Seeing a huge crowd can be very effective at the time. (IMHO).
So the Constitution protects not only the right of the people to let the government know their concerns, but also gives them the right to gather together in a show of support.
(That may not be spot on in regards to the meaning of the wording, but it makes sense to me. If that’s way off base I’m willing to hear different reasons for the wording since the above is all opinion.)
Sorry for the rambling, hope it helps a little in the understanding, though.
I don’t know abaout American constitutional law, but as a German law student, I can say that the German constitution grants a right to petition to public authorities at all levels (federal, state, and local) too, and while it’s not one of the most important rights it’s not totally inoperable either.
It, indeed, goes back to the Middle Ages, when the right to address the monarch to inform him of something of concern, so he might think about it and, possibly, decide in your favor was one of the few possibilities subjects had to have an impact on politics. It’s not about lawsuits, but about pleas, suggestions and similar things without immediate legal consequences.
What the petition right grants is not only that you may not only file a petition, but that the authorities have to take notice of it, and some jurists argue it obliges the authority to reply so you know your petition has been considered. Of course it does not oblige the authority to do what you asked for, but at least they know what people are thinking.
To keep the right operable, the federal and state parliaments have installed petition committees. Once I wrote a letter to it about an act of parliament I disagreed with, and I actually got a reply (not a helpful one, though, as it only said the issue had long been discussed, and that the opinion of the parliament regarding it was clear). If it’s a matter of current political debate, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of parliament sitting in the committee actually took arguments from petitions into account in their voting behavior, especially if there’s a lot of petitors stating similar opinions.
Again, this is German law. But maybe it can contribute a bit to clarifying the OP.
I am not a lawyer, but does the right to petition also include the right to advocate a change in the law? For example, does the First Amendment prohibit Congress from passing a law making it illegal to advocate the legalization of marijuana?
IANALY, but what about habeas corpus? It’s a petition. I think it’s usually considered part of due process, but might it be covered here as well? Or am I mixed up?