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Absence of a Quorum

When less than 51 Senators answer a quorum call, the absence of a quorum is established. In the absence of a quorum, the Senate may not conduct legislative business. Instead, the Senate must either adjourn or continue to make motions to obtain a quorum.  A motion to get a quorum instructs the Sergeant-at-Arms to either request, compel or arrest absent Senators. 


A bill which has passed both houses of Congress and has been signed by the president or passed over his veto, thus becoming a law.

Advice and Consent

The United States Constitution (Article II, section 2) requires that the Senate give its advice and consent to the president on war and treaty-making decisions and on appointments to certain key offices. A treaty is a formal compact between the United States and one or more nations that must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. It then becomes part of the supreme law of the United States, equally binding with the Constitution in all places to which the national jurisdiction extends, and taking precedence over state constitutions and laws. The need for Senate consent may be circumvented if the president terms an international accord an executive agreement. The latter needs only presidential consent to bind the government and avoids possible delays involved in gaining Senate approval for a treaty. Most presidential appointments require confirmation by a majority vote in the Senate. Presently, between fifty and seventy thousand individuals are nominated annually. Over 99 percent of nominations are to minor positions (mostly military officers). Nominees to major positions (federal judges, members of regulatory bodies, and key executive and diplomatic personnel not covered by merit systems) face the closest scrutiny.

The first time George Washington sought the advice of the Senate on a treaty, he came before the Senate in person on August 22, 1789, expecting the Senate's immediate consent. But the Senate was not to be rushed and decided to take its time deliberating the matter. Washington was infuriated that the Senate would not act quickly while he waited. He left the halls of Congress but returned two days later when the Senate ratified the treaty. After this incident, Washington never again returned in person to seek the Senate's advice and consent. This incident established the Senate precedent of offering advice and consent only after time for debate and deliberation and only after the president has submitted the treaty in writing.


The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the nation's largest union organization, was created in 1955 when the separate AFL, founded in 1886, and the CIO, founded in 1938, merged into one organization


The space which divides the Majority side from the Minority on the House/Senate floor. 


Amending is the process by which members attempt to change the content of legislation as it is considered in committee markup sessions and during House and Senate floor sessions. The legislative process permits a bill to be amended at as many as seven different stages: when it is considered by a subcommittee of the House, by the parent committee of that subcommittee, and by the full House; when it is considered by a subcommittee and committee of the Senate and by the Senate itself; and when the House and Senate try to reach final agreement on the bill's content, either in a conference committee or by a formal exchange of amendments between the two houses. In some cases, one or more of these stages are bypassed; for example, the House and Senate sometimes pass noncontroversial bills without first considering them in formal committee and subcommittee meetings. In other cases, stages are added to the process; for example, some bills are considered by one House or Senate committee only; after having been debated and amended by another committee of that house.


Proposal of a congressman to alter a bill; usually printed, debated, and acted upon in the same manner as a bill.

Amendment I

Perhaps the most important and most widely cited part of the Constitution, the First Amendment protects individual religious freedom, free speech, a free press, and the freedom to petition the government by written word, marching, and picketing. [Ratified 1791]

Amendment II

This amendment has been the subject of heated debate in recent years. What it meant in the 1790s may be quite different from what it means in the 1990s. Does it mean that individuals have the right to own and carry firearms, or does it refer to the right of the people to maintain a militia for their mutual protection? [Ratified 1791]

Amendment III

In the 1790s citizens were still angry about the old British practice of quartering soldiers in the homes of colonists. This provision addressed that concern, but in modern times this is obsolete. [Ratified 1791]

Amendment IV

Guarantees that citizens be safe from unreasonable searches or arrests without a warrant. [Ratified 1791]

Amendment V

Provides certain protections in matters of law such as double jeopardy where a person cannot be tried twice for the same offense. It also provides that no person shall be forced to give testimony in court against themselves. In popular language this is known as pleading the Fifth Amendment.

Amendment VI

Provides for speedy public trials by jury for those indicted in criminal cases. [Ratified 1791]

Amendment VII

Provides for jury trials in civil cases. Even though the Constitution sets a civil dispute with a minimum of $20 as sufficient grounds for a jury trial, this amount has been increased considerably over two centuries, and the small claims, which could overwhelm the court system, have been handled in other ways such as small claims courts. [Ratified in 1791]

Amendment VIII

Punishment for crimes or bail shall not be excessive nor cruel and unusual. Does the death penalty constitute cruel and unusual punishment? This has been hotly debated for many years, with no clear resolution in sight. [Ratified 1791]

Amendment IX

This is a catch-all clause that retains for the people other rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution.

Amendment X

The states or the people retain the powers not specifically granted to the federal government in the Constitution. Some use this amendment to argue that the federal government should be limited and state government and states' rights should be increased.

Amendment XI

Provides that states can only be sued in state courts. [Ratified 1798]

Amendment XII

Calls for separate elections for president and vice president. This amendment was added in 1804 following the unusual circumstances of the presidential election of 1800, where Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in the electoral college, forcing the House of Representatives to elect the president. [Ratified 1804]

Amendment XIII

The first of the landmark Civil War and Reconstruction Era amendments, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. [Ratified 1865]

Amendment XIV

Declares that African Americans born or naturalized in the United States were citizens subject to the equal protection of the laws. Earlier, in the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the Supreme Court had declared African Americans were not citizens.  Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment also rendered obsolete the controversial passages in Article 1 which declared that only three-fifths of African Americans held as slaves be counted in the census for purposes of representation . [Ratified 1868]

Amendment XV

Protects the right to vote of African Americans. Even though this constitutional language is clear, many southern states tried to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment through their own state constitutions and state laws which made it difficult or impossible for African Americans to vote. But the Fifteenth Amendment was a powerful tool for those who fought for civil rights over the past century. This amendment is the basis of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. [Ratified 1870]

Amendment XVI

Provides constitutional authority for the collection of income taxes. This amendment became necessary to overcome an 1895 Supreme Court decision which declared a federal income tax was unconstitutional. [Ratified 1913]

Amendment XVII

Provides for the direct election of senators. Until 1913 senators were elected by the state legislatures rather than by the people.

Amendment XVIII

This amendment ushered in the era of Prohibition, when the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was banned in the United States. This so-called noble experiment lasted 14 years and saw the rise of organized crime, the development of speakeasies (places where liquor was consumed illegally), and the rise of large government police units such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which tried to enforce the provisions of this amendment and laws related to it. [Ratified 1919]

Amendment XIX

While women had voted in some states before the adoption of the 19th Amendment, this important amendment established uniform rules in all states that guaranteed women the right to vote. [Ratified 1920]

Amendment XX

Sometimes called the Lame Duck Amendment, this provision reduced the time between the November elections and the beginning date of the new term of office for the president and Congress. It also provides for presidential succession should the president-elect die before taking office. [Ratified 1933]

Amendment XXI

This amendment repealed Prohibition as established in the 19th Amendment. Alcoholic beverages became legal again in the United States. [Ratified 1933]

Amendment XXII

This amendment, pushed by Republicans following the unprecedented election to four terms of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, limited the president to two terms. [Ratified 1951]

Amendment XXIII

Provides for the first time for residents of the District of Columbia to vote for three presidential electors. The election of 1964 was the first time District residents could exercise their right to vote in a presidential election. [Ratified 1961]

Amendment XXIV

Eliminates the poll tax as a qualification for voting. The poll tax prevented many individuals from voting, especially in the South where it was still in use in five states as late as the 1960s. [Ratified 1964]

Amendment XXV

This amendment clarifies the language regarding what happens when the president dies in office or resigns. While it was a long standing custom that the vice president succeeds the president, this amendment confirms that the vice president becomes the president under these circumstances. [Ratified 1967]

Amendment XXVI

This amendment gives the right to vote to those 18 years of age or older. Its adoption was prompted by the circumstances of the Vietnam War, where those 18 years of age were subject to be drafted into the military even though they were not yet old enough to vote. This amendment corrected that disparity.

Amendment XXVII

One of the most unusual amendments because of the amount of time it took to be ratified, this amendment provides that no congressional pay raise can take effect until the voters have had a chance to go to the polls in a congressional election. Throughout American history the issue of congressional pay increases has often led to great political controversy. Under this amendment, if Congress votes itself a pay raise, they must face the voters before that raise goes into effect, thereby giving the voters an opportunity to decide if the raise is warranted.  First proposed as one of the original amendments to the Constitution in 1789, this amendment lay dormant and unratified until a recent flurry of states ratified it. Since there was no time limit specified in the original amendment in 1789, this provision became part of the Constitution. [Ratified 1992]

American Civil Liberties Union

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), founded in 1920 to protect the constitutional rights of individuals and institutions, has been in the thick of many highly visible and often controversial cases involving free speech and the protection of civil rights. The organization depends on the support of dues-paying members and a corps of lawyers willing to volunteer their services to protect the First Amendment of the Constitution, and other constitutional provisions that bear on civil liberties. To visit the ACLU homepage, click here.

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)

The ADA was formed in 1947 to promote a liberal political agenda including civil rights for all Americans. Among the founders of the organization were former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Walter Reuther, president of the United Automobile Workers; John Kenneth Galbraith, economist; Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., historian; and others, including Hubert H. Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who later, as a member of the U. S. Senate, would play a major role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To visit the ADA homepage, click here.

Apportionment and Redistricting

The boundaries of congressional districts in all but the smallest states are redrawn at the beginning of every decade to equalize their populations. The need for such adjustment stems from the constitutional requirement that congressional districts have equal populations, together with a constantly shifting U.S. population. The alteration of old district lines to achieve new ideal populations is the essence of redistricting, or, as it is sometimes called, reapportionment. The first step in congressional redistricting is called apportionment. The Census Bureau calculates each state's share of congressional districts when the decennial census is finished. The second step is to adjust congressional boundaries within each state's border to achieve near equality in district populations. The result of this two-stage process is that district populations are made equal within states but, by strict standards, remain relatively unequal across states. The authority for congressional apportionment is constitutional. Article I, section 2 states that "Representatives shall be apportioned among the states according to their numbers."

Appropriation Bill

A bill granting the actual monies approved by an authorization bill, but not necessarily to the total approved; must originate in the House.

Article I

The first Article of the U.S. Constitution deals with the structure, duties, and powers of the legislative branch of government, the part of government that makes laws and has broad powers to influence the way all Americans live and work.

Article II

Article II is about the executive branch of government, how the president and vice president are elected, their terms of office, the powers of the president, and the president's powers in relationship to the legislative branch of government.  The Framers of the Constitution wanted to strike a balance between an all-powerful executive and a chief magistrate, an executive who would merely carry out the laws passed by Congress. Throughout American history there has been a constitutional tug of war between Congress and the president over the proper exercise of power. Throughout much of the 19th century, Congress held the upper hand in setting national policy and determining the course of national action. In the 20th century, however, the balance of power shifted in favor of the executive branch. Many factors accounted for this shift, but among them were the growth in the size and power of the executive branch as a result of two world wars and the actions of government to end the economic depression of the 1930s.

Article III

This article, on the powers of judicial branch of government, is very brief and contains very few details when compared with Articles I and II. It was up to Congress to establish the actual structure of the federal court system, which it did in the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Constitution does not mention one important function of the Supreme Court, which is known as judicial review, the right of the Supreme Court to declare state laws unconstitutional. This practice was established in the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803 and upheld in many cases since that time.

Article III, Section 2

This section spells out the kinds of cases which can come directly to the Supreme Court without having been heard first in a lower court. It also provides for the familiar role the Supreme Court has of reviewing decisions of lower courts, which is known as appellate jurisdiction.  Another very important provision of Article III, section 2 is the right of anyone accused of a crime to have a trial by jury (except in cases of impeachment).

Article II, Section 2, Clause 3

This provision of the Constitution is now obsolete. But it is a reminder of a time when holding slaves was legal in the country and those who tried to escape became fugitive slaves who could be captured and returned to slavery.

Article V

This article describes the two methods by which the Constitution may be amended. One requires both houses of Congress to pass the proposed amendment by two-thirds vote in each house before submitting the amendment to the states for their approval (ratification). The second method is for two-thirds of the states to petition Congress to hold a national convention to propose amendments which would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. In the past 200 years there have been thousands of proposals introduced in Congress to amend the Constitution. But the Constitution has only been amended 27 times. Considering that the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were adopted in 1791, during the first two years of government under the Constitution, the Constitution has only been amended seventeen times in the past 206 years.

Article VI

This article calls for the new federal government to assume the debts of the earlier government which operated under the Articles of Confederation, this nation's first constitution. This was one of the most hotly debated topics at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  Article VI also declares that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, binding all states and all courts to recognize that federal law takes precedence over state law.

Article VII

The shortest of all the articles of the Constitution, it provides the number of states necessary to ratify the Constitution. In 1787 there were thirteen states and nine were required for ratification.

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation is the name of the first United States Constitution used during the American Revolutionary era. It was introduced in the Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, drafted by John Dickinson and others, and sent to the states for ratification on November 15, 1777. It was not ratified by a sufficient number of states until March 1, 1781. The Articles of Confederation left most power to the state legislatures. There was no federal executive branch and only very limited federal court functions. Congress under the Articles of Confederation was a unicameral, or "one house," legislature which sometimes acted on judicial and executive matters. Members of the Confederation Congress voted by state with each state, regardless of the number of delegates in attendance, receiving only one vote. Congress could borrow money but most of its funds came from the state legislatures. Many members of Congress and the state legislatures were disappointed with the government as established under this constitution and in 1787 Congress called for a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Federal Convention that met in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 went beyond mere revisions of the Articles of Confederation and drafted a whole new constitution, the one under which this nation is governed today. You may want to compare the similarities and the differences between the two constitutions. To see a copy of the Articles of Confederation, click here.

At-Large Representatives

Representatives from states with a population size qualifying for only one House seat.  At-Large Members represent Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Attorney General

The chief law officer and the legal counsel to the executive branch of government. The office of attorney general was created by Congress in 1789. The attorney general is also the chief administrator of the U. S. Department of Justice.

Authorization Bill

Authorization legislation has two functions: to provide legal authority for federal programs and activities and to authorize subsequent appropriations to fund them. Authorizations are within the jurisdiction of all House and Senate legislative committees, except the committees on appropriations. The bifurcated process of setting policy through authorizations and then separately appropriating annual funding, in place since 1836, is not constitutionally required but was instituted under the rules of the House and Senate to facilitate both policy-making and annual appropriations. Congressional committee structure and procedure draw clear distinctions between authorizing and appropriating and the committees with those respective responsibilities.


A political activity in which two or more congressmen attempt to influence each other in order to reach an agreement.


An interstate highway encircling Washington, DC and passing through Maryland and Virginia suburbs.


Composed of two legislative bodies, or houses, through which all bills must pass. Congress is a bicameral legislature, as are most state legislatures.


A proposed law, printed, and presented to Congress for action that may lead to its adoption through the legislative process. Many bills are introduced into each session of Congress, but few actually become law.

Bill of Attainder

The Constitution prohibits Congress from passing any law that strips an individual of civil rights or property.

Bill of Rights

The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. For more information, click here.

Bill Referral

When a member of Congress introduces a bill in the House or Senate, it is first referred to the proper House or Senate committee that has jurisdiction over the topic covered by the bill. Sometimes bills are referred to more than one committee. The committee (or committees) examines the bill and decides if it should be sent to the floor of the House or Senate to be voted on by all the members. Sometimes a bill is "killed" early in its journey through the House or Senate when it is referred to a committee which is unfavorable to its provisions, or when it is referred to several committees at the same time, which is called a joint referral.

Bill Sponsorship

When a member of Congress introduces a bill, he or she is said to be the bill's sponsor. A bill may have one or more sponsors. Many bills have hundreds of sponsors. The more sponsors, the better the likelihood of passage when the bill comes to the floor of the House or Senate. A member may later decide to remove his or her name as a sponsor of a bill, by announcing this change on the floor of the House or Senate.


This word means "two party". If a bill has bipartisan support, it means that both major political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats support it.

Blocs and Coalitions

Composed of members of legislative assemblies who work and vote together in pursuit of particular legislative goals, blocs and coalitions have arisen despite attempts by political party leaders to maintain strict party discipline. Such groups coalesce around policy issues on which neither political party has established a position that satisfies the constituents of group members. Congressional coalitions do not form with the intention of dominating the entire legislative agenda. Rather, they are interested in the resolution of particular and immediate policy questions.

Blue Dog Democrat

One of twenty-four conservative Democratic Members of the House of Representatives who have banded together to support a more centrist position on economic issues than that held by their party's leadership.  The name comes from the artwork of Louisiana painter, George Rodrigue, who is well-known for a series of paintings featuring an unusual blue dog.  The coalition formed after meeting regularly in the offices of two Louisiana Members, whose walls featured the blue dog paintings.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)

This was a landmark civil rights case which struck down state laws which allowed for racial segregation in public schools. Racial segregation of public schools had been widely practiced in the United States and was sanctioned by an earlier Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In the Plessy case the doctrine of "separate but equal" became the law of the land. But seldom, if ever, were the education facilities available provided to black school children equal to those of white students. In 1954, however, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier position and said: "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The Court cited the 14th Amendment of the Constitution which guaranteed all citizens "equal protection of the laws." Click here for more information.


A document sent to Congress by the president in January, detailing estimated revenue and expenditures for the next fiscal year and recommending appropriations. This is the first step in the process of determining annual appropriations bills for the money needed to keep the federal government operating.

Budget Process

The power of the purse granted to Congress in Article I of the Constitution has long been an essential element of Congress's role as a policymaker. In recent years, the budget process has become the central feature of the internal operations of Congress. It affects the relative power of committees, the resources of majority party leaders, the rules and floor procedures, and Congress's ability to negotiate with the president. Three important factors help explain the evolution of the congressional budget process and judgments about its performance. First, the experimentation in congressional budgeting since the late 1960s reflects legislative attempts to adapt to a rapidly changing budgetary, economic, and political environment. Second, the development of the congressional budget process reflects the constitutional separation of powers and institutional combat between the executive and legislative branches. Third, apparent inconsistencies in Congress's budgeting performance reflect the tension between two basic roles of members of Congress: that of responsible national policymakers versus that of local district representatives concerned about reelection and oriented toward providing tangible benefits for constituents.

Bully Pulpit

A term which stems from President Theodore Roosevelt''s reference to the White House as a "bully pulpit," meaning a terrific platform from which to persuasively advocate an agenda.  Roosevelt often used the word "bully" as an adjective meaning superb or wonderful.  Roosevelt also had political affiliation with the Progressive Party, nicknamed the "Bull Moose" party.  It got the moniker when Roosevelt ran for President as its candidate in 1912, after declaring himself as "fit as a bull moose."

Byrd, Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle Byrd (b. 1917), a Democrat of West Virginia, served in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1953 to 1959, and has served in the U. S. Senate since 1959. He has served in leadership posts in Senate, as Democratic whip from 1971 to 1977; minority leader from 1981 to 1987; majority leader 1977-81; and from 1987 to 1989. During the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Senator Byrd was the only non-southern Democrat to vote against cloture. He has written about the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act in his 4- volume history of the United States Senate. To read Senator Byrd's account of the filibuster click here


Schedule of the order in which bills will be considered on the House or Senate floor.

Calendar Wednesday

Procedure by which standing committees may call bills out of regular calendar order on Wednesdays; not often used.

Call up a Bill

To raise a bill on the floor for immediate consideration.

Campaign Committees

The four congressional campaign committees- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC)- were founded to assist in the reelection of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Though they continue to pursue this mission, their focus has broadened to include the recruitment and election of challengers and of candidates for open seats. They have also increased the kinds and quantity of the assistance they provide to candidates.


Congress is prohibited from levying taxes on the basis of an equal sum per person. This is sometimes called a head tax or a poll tax.

Capitol Hill

The Capitol Hill neighborhood is relatively compact, generally considered to be bounded by Massachusetts Avenue on the north, the foot of the Capitol on the west, E Street on the south, and Lincoln Park and 11th Street on the east. The most important buildings are the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress (now in three separate structures), the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Botanic Gardens, and Union Station. The Capitol Complex includes the Russell, Dirksen, and Hart Senate office buildings and the Cannon, Longworth, and Rayburn House office buildings. 


Intermediary work performed by members of Congress on behalf of constituents who may have problems, or "cases," with the federal government.


An informal group of Members sharing an interest in the same policy issues.  Every member of Congress is automatically a member of his or her party caucus.  Other examples include the Arts Caucus, the Women's Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Rural Caucus, etc.

Celler, Emanuel

Emanuel Celler (1888-1981), a Democrat of New York, served in the House of Representatives for fifty years from 1923 to 1973. He was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 1949 to 1952 and again from 1955 to 1972. As a liberal Democrat he supported civil rights legislation that came before his committee and played a key role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


An official reprimand or condemnation.


Population count held every ten years, pursuant to provisions of the U. S. Constitution.


The actual meeting places of the total membership of either the House or Representatives or Senate. The Senate chamber is the place where Senators gather to debate and vote on bills. The House chamber, at the opposite side of the Capitol from the Senate chamber, is where House members gather to debate and vote on bills. Sometimes the chamber is referred to as the "floor" of the House or Senate. When the members of the House or Senate are gathered in their respective chambers, the entire assembly is called a "house" of Congress or a "body."

Checks and Balances

The mixing of legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the U.S. Constitution is known as the system of checks and balances. The mixing is particularly noteworthy because the Constitution is based on the doctrine of separation of powers, which requires clear demarcation of the powers and responsibilities of the institutions entrusted with different government functions. The separation of powers is an institutional device fashioned partly to prevent the tyranny thought to result from concentrating legislative, executive, and judicial powers in a single person or in one part of the government. From their study of history, however, the Framers of the Constitution understood that the complete separation of functions had failed to prevent the accumulation of different types of powers in one institution. To help ensure that the powers would remain separated, the Framers qualified the separation-of-powers doctrine by mixing executive, legislative, and judicial powers, thereby giving each branch a set of tools with which to prevent encroachment on its powers by either of the other branches.

Chief Justice

The Chief Justice of the United States is mentioned only once in the Constitution. Article 3 of the Constitution, which is about the judicial branch of government, does not refer to the Chief Justice. While the framers of the Constitution planned for the establishment of a Supreme Court and a federal court system, the details were left to Congress to determine by law. The Federal Judiciary Act of 1789 established the Supreme Court and the federal court system. It is proper to refer to the Chief Justice as the Chief Justice of the United States, not as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.


No, this is not a misprint. It is merely an 18th century spelling of the word choose. You will find chuse and chusing used elsewhere in the Constitution.

Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties is the overall term for the fundamental liberties,
privileges, and immunities of citizens that are protected by law.

Civil Rights

Civil rights are those rights that belong to all persons who are citizens of a state or country. These include those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments to the Constitution, including the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. Not all citizens have had the equal benefit of civil rights, especially minorities, such as African Americans and other ethnic or religious minorities, and women. The laws of the United States in the last half century have generally moved in the direction of guaranteeing all Americans full protection of the law and full exercise of their civil rights. The civil rights movement of the 1960s made great strides forward in this area. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this important law has been expanded and modified on numerous occasions to address the continuing struggle to insure the civil rights of all Americans are protected and that the law is fair to all.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957

This law, the first civil rights legislation passed in eighty years, was introduced by the Eisenhower administration in 1956. Congress, after much delay and debate, passed it the following year. It was limited in scope and not as far-reaching or as comprehensive as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It did, however, create a Civil Rights Commission and a civil rights division in the Department of Justice. It prohibited interference in the exercise of voting rights but depended on the filing of citizen complaints before voting irregularities would be investigated by the federal government. This act was an important first step which helped pave the way for additional legislation related to civil rights.

Civil Rights Act of 1960

This act attempted to deal with some of the deficiencies of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and strengthen protection of African Americans exercising their right to vote. But a key provision of the bill which would have provided for federal voting registrars in the South was defeated by southern opposition. The act did require that voting and registration records be preserved. It extended the life of the Civil Rights Commission. It also made any criminal act using explosives a federal crime for the first time.

Clean Bill

Bill written by a standing committee, incorporating recommended changes plus what is left of the original bill into a new measure with a new bill number.

Clerk of the House

The chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives.  The Clerk creates and maintains legislative documents, voting tallies, and other records.


L-shaped rooms located adjacent to the House and Senate chambers and beneath the visitors' galleries, the Capitol cloakrooms were originally used for storing members' personal belongings while they were on the floor. Both the House and Senate have Democratic and Republican cloakrooms, modestly furnished with chairs, sofas, and telephones. Members use the cloakrooms to conduct conversations without disrupting business on the floor. They may discuss strategy on legislation, conduct business by telephone, purchase a light meal, read newspapers, watch television, or rest. Cloakrooms are among the few areas of the Capitol restricted to members only. No personal staff members are allowed in the cloakrooms; selected committee staff may be allowed access when they have legislation pending on the floor. Over time, communications equipment has been added, and the cloakrooms have become clearinghouses for information relating to the status of business on the floor and centers for disseminating information from the leadership to the members. Staff persons and pages are assigned to the cloakrooms to relay messages to members, to inform them regarding the scheduling of legislation, and to notify members when their presence is required on the floor.

Closed Rule

A rule by the House Rules Committee that limits or prevents amendments to a bill placed on the Calendar.

Cloture, or Closure

The procedure used to cut off debate and end a filibuster is known as cloture. A filibuster is a delaying tactic used in the Senate to prevent a vote on a bill or resolution. The Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, has a tradition of unlimited debate. The Senate cannot stop debate as long as at least one Senator objects to cutting off the debate. Therefore, a Senator, or a small group of Senators, could delay the business of the Senate by keeping control of the floor in endless debate.  Senate rules were changed in 1917 to help control filibusters by creating a procedure called cloture, which means to bring a debate to a close. Under the cloture rule (Senate Rule XXII), if at least 16 Senators want to end debate they can petition the Senate. Two days after the filing of the petition the Senate would take a vote to end debate by placing a one-hour time limit on each Senator. Debate, and therefore the filibuster, would be ended and the matter before the Senate would be brought to a vote if two-thirds of the Senators present voted for cloture. This was the rule in force during the debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1975, however, the rule on cloture was changed to reduce the number of votes required to invoke cloture from a two-thirds to three-fifths of those present. In other words, since 1975 it has been easier to cut off a filibuster than it was before. If, however, the Senate is filibustering consideration of a change in a Senate rule rather than a bill, two-thirds of the members present are still required to achieve cloture. During Senate consideration of a civil rights bill in 1957, for example, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina opposed the bill and filibustered it by holding the floor of the Senate for 24 hours and 18 minutes. During the long filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Senate stayed in session around the clock, forcing Senators to eat and sleep near the Senate chamber.


A temporary alliance of individuals or groups, often from opposing political parties.


The abbreviation for cost-of-living-adjustment.  A COLA increases federal benefit payments to keep current with inflation. 


The norms that sustain cordial relations in decision-making bodies and that facilitate the bargaining essential to policy-making are collectively referred to as comity. At the core or comity are courtesy and reciprocity. The tenets that sustain comity are institutional patriotism, apprenticeship, specialization, and hard work.

Commander in Chief

The Constitution provides that the highest level of command in the military be vested in the civilian position of president. In the 20th century the president's role as commander in chief has extended the power of the presidency into areas of foreign and domestic policy. For example, only the Congress can declare war, but the president, acting as commander in chief, can send troops into battle or defend the United States from attack before a declaration of war.  The only time in American history that a sitting president has led troops in the field was during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when George Washington led 13,000 militiamen from four states against rebellious western Pennsylvanians who had refused to pay a federal excise tax on distilled whiskey.

Commit a Bill

To send a bill to a committee for initial consideration rather than debating it immediately.


A division of the membership of the House or Senate which prepares legislation for action or makes requested investigations. The committee system is the way Congress organizes itself to handle legislation and investigations. The committees may be divided into subcommittees, each of which handles part of the work of the full committee.

Committee Hearings

When a committee meets to seek information about a bill or to conduct an investigation, it holds hearings, where witnesses appear before the committee to offer information about a bill or to be interrogated by the committee in the case of a House or Senate investigation.

Committee of the Whole

The House of Representatives sitting as one large committee of any 100 or more members to debate legislation. The rules of debate and procedure in the Committee of the Whole make it easier to consider bills and amendments. It is a way to expedite the preparation of a bill for final floor action.

Companion Bill

Bills that may be identical or very similar and are introduced separately in the House or Senate. The House, for example, may decide to "take up," (consider) a Senate version of the same bill, or the Senate may choose to consider the House version of the bill.


The salary of the president since January 1969 has been $200,000 per year, which is taxable. The president can also draw upon a $50,000 annual expense allowance, which also is taxable.  The salary of the first president, George Washington (1789), was $25,000 annually, which was not taxed since this was long before the advent of the income tax. The salary of the president was doubled to $50,000 in 1873, increased to $75,000 in 1909, and not increased again until 1949, when it became $100,000 annually.


The salary paid to members of Congress has frequently been a controversial political issue. The most recent amendment to the Constitution, the 27th Amendment, prohibits Congress from receiving a pay increase until after the next election of House members. This prohibits members from increasing their pay before they have to face the voters again. Strangely enough the 27th Amendment was originally proposed in 1789, but a sufficient number of states did not ratify it until 1992. Most constitutional amendments have a time limit (usually seven years) for the states to ratify them. But the original 1789 amendment made no mention of time limit. Recent voter concern about rising congressional salaries spurred some states to renew the ratification effort, which eventually succeeded. For a list of congressional salaries, click here.


To come to agreement by concession: hence, a compromise bill is secured by mutual concessions. Most legislators will agree that successful legislation is always the result of compromise, although in some floor speeches, members may pound their desks and vow never to compromise.

Concurrent Powers

Concurrent powers are those exercised simultaneously by both national and state governments. Taxation is an example of a concurrent power, which falls under national as well as state authority.

Concurrent Resolution

Designated H. Con. Res. or S. Con. Res., a concurrent resolution must be passed by both houses but does not go to the President for his signature. It is an expression of congressional opinion, or congressional action that does not require the force of law.


The act of judging someone or something to be guilty or wrong.

Conference Committee

A temporary joint committee appointed by the House and Senate to iron out differences in a bill passed by both houses.

Conference Report

The final version of a bill proposed by House and Senate conferees.


The legislative branch of government made up of the Senate and House of Reprensentatives.

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record, published daily while Congress is in session, is the printed compilation of the debates, motions, votes, and disposition of bills of the House and Senate, which includes all floor statements, announcements, speeches entered into the record but not delivered on the floor, and related matter that members of the House and Senate desire to have included in the official record. It is not a verbatim record of what transpires on the floor of the House or Senate, since members have five legislative days to make changes and corrections to the text of their statements. To access the Congressional Record through the Library of Congress THOMAS website, click here.

Congressional Research Service (CRS)

The Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress, does much of the research members of Congress require in relation to bills, House or Senate procedures, matters of law, and many other topics. CRS has experts in law, economics, history, political science, and many other fields to assist Congress. CRS does not respond directly to inquiries from the public, although many CRS printed reports are made available through the offices of members of Congress.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights group founded in Chicago in 1942, began as an organization dedicated to direct, non-violent action and had its origins in a pacifist organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Members of CORE from the University of Chicago staged a sit-in demonstration to end segregation in a Chicago restaurant as early as 1942. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, CORE and another organization, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), gained national attention for Freedom Rides in the South, which were instrumental in getting public attention focused on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After 1966 CORE became more militant in its approach and also purged its white members from leadership posts and advocated "Black Power" and support for black businesses and black institutions while not ruling out cooperation with whites and white-run businesses and institutions.

Consent Calendar

List of bills, generally noncontroversial, from the Union or House Calendar.  Considered by the House out of regular order by unanimous consent, usually on the and third Mondays each month.

Constituency Service

From the first meeting of the First Congress, senators and representatives have been attending to the needs, requests, and demands of their constituents for help in dealing with governmental problems. The range of constituency service is immense. Legislators routinely secure White House tour tickets for visitors, mail out pamphlets and government documents on a host of topics, answer constituents' questions about government policies or regulations, expedite the purchase of flags that have been flown over the Capitol, help job seekers, and select young men and women for the armed service academies. More importantly, they engage in individual casework and federal projects assistance. Individual ("low-level") casework involves intervening on behalf of citizens who feel aggrieved by or need assistance in dealing with federal (and sometimes state or local ) agencies. The most common cases involve social security, health insurance, and pension claims; military and veterans' affairs; job-related matters; immigration and visa issues; housing; and taxes. Federal projects assistance involves helping states and localities to win grants from federal departments and agencies.


A person who is represented by a particular member of the House or Senate, whom they may or may not have voted for. When you write to the member of Congress who represents the district or state in which you live, you may say: "I am one of your constituents."

Constitution of the United States

The Constitution was written and adopted by a convention of delegates from the states, meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the summer of 1787. The delegates completed their work on September 17, 1787. A sufficient number of states had ratified the Constitution by June 21, 1788. The order of ratification follows: Delaware, December 7, 1787; Pennsylvania, December 12, 1787; New Jersey, December 18, 1787; Georgia, January 2, 1788; Connecticut, January 9, 1788; Massachusetts, February 6, 1788; Maryland, April 28, 1788; South Carolina, May 23, 1788; New Hampshire, June 21, 1788. Other states continued to ratify the Constitution: Virginia, June 25, 1788; New York, July 26, 1788; North Carolina, November 21, 1789; Rhode Island, May 29, 1790; and Vermont, January 10, 1791. For more information on the U.S. Constitution, click here.


A determination by the Supreme Court as to whether Congress enacted a law that is within the powers granted by the Constitution.

Contempt of Congress

Contempt of Congress is an act of disrespect or disobedience to an official congressional body. Typical acts punished as contempt of Congress are refusing to testify or to submit documents ordered by a committee, or misbehavior before a legislative body.

Continuing Resolution

Congress normally funds federal agencies for a fiscal year by annual enactment of thirteen general appropriation bills. If Congress fails to complete action on one or more of these bills before the start of a fiscal year, it enacts a joint resolution specifying that appropriations continue at some specified rate. These measures are usually of a specific, limited duration and restrict funding to a specified rate of operations- usually the previous year's rate, the rate set by either the House or Senate version of the pertinent regular appropriation act for the upcoming fiscal year, or possibly the lowest of these alternatives.


A member who formally adds his or her name as a supporter to another member's bill.


The Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN) is a nonprofit corporation created by the cable-television industry to disseminate gavel-to-gavel coverage of congressional proceedings, as well as other public-affairs programming, to cable subscribers. The service was made possible by decisions of the House n 1979 and the Senate in 1986 to televise their legislative sessions and make the signals available for public broadcast. C-SPAN is "long form" television- it covers events in their entirety without editing or editorial commentary and presents them without the high production values and technological wizardry that characterize commercial public-affairs programming. The network seeks out public-affaires events that the major networks don not cover or cover only partially. It also takes the lead in encouraging political institutions to open their sessions to the public, arguing that televised proceedings are a vital extension of the public gallery that democracy requires. C-SPAN has also established an educational division to encourage academic use of its programming, which is recorded for research and educational use by the Purdue University Public Affairs Video Archives.

Curtis, Carl

Carl Thomas Curtis, (b. 1905) a Republican of Nebraska, served in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1939 to 1954, and was a member of the U. S. Senate from 1955 to 1979.


A member of the House from Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, or Washington, D.C.  The Constitution prohibits delegates form voting on the House floor but allows them to vote in committee. 

Democratic Party

The older of the two major political parties in the United States, the Democratic party's beginnings can be traced to the coalition formed behind Thomas Jefferson in opposition to the dominant Federalist party.  This group, first called the Republican Party, and then the Democratic-Republican party, split into two during the presidential campaign of 1828.  One, the National Republican party, was absorbed into the Whig party, and the other became the Democratic party.  Today Democrats are known as the more liberal of the two major political parties, especially when dealing with social policies.  Democrats usually support extended civil rights and privacy rights and are more inclined towards environmental controls, pro-labor policies, and consumer protection.

Democratic Study Group

The Democratic Study Group (DSG) is a legislative service organization (LSO) in the House of Representatives. Founded in 1959 as a liberal counterpoint to the influence of senior conservatives and southern Democrats, it now consists of nearly all Democratic members of the House. The oldest and best known LSO in Congress, it has the largest budget and staff. The DSG's principal activity is to disseminate detailed written materials to members of the House about upcoming legislation and policy issues, which it does on a daily basis when the chamber is in session.


The process of ending segregation (separation) of the races, especially in public places. Desegregation may be achieved through protest, such as a sit-in demonstration like those used in the South during the civil rights movement, or, if the segregation stems from a law, it is necessary to overturn that law in order for segregation to cease. School desegregation began as a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954).

The Desk

The rostrum where the presiding officer and the various clerks of the chamber sit.

Dirksen, Everett McKinley

Everett McKinley Dirksen (1896-1969), a Republican of Illinois, was Senate Minority Leader from 1959 to 1969, during the years when the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak. Dirksen wielded power as few minority leaders before him or since have been able to do. He achieved his power through an effective working relationship with Democrats Lyndon B. Johnson and Mike Mansfield when they served as Senate Majority Leaders. Dirksen, a colorful and crafty politician, with a marvelous sense of humor, was a master orator, who became well known to millions of Americans with the rise of television coverage of national politics. He played a vital role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For more information, click here.

Discharge Petition

In the House, a motion to discharge a standing committee from considering a bill pigeonholed for more than 30 days, or to bring a bill out of the Rules Committee. A discharge petition requires 218 signatures. Discharge petitions have seldom been successful.

Discharge Resolution

Same as special resolution.

Discharge Rule

Especially in the House, congressional committees play a gatekeeping role, because introduced measures are normally referred to committee and cannot receive floor consideration unless reported. Discharge circumvents this obstacle by taking an unreported measure from the committee charged with it. The Senate has no explicit discharge rule, but permits a discharge motion. Discharge occasionally occurs on nominations, where those alternatives are unavailable because only the president can initiate nominations.


This clause refers to the District of Columbia which is still under the governance of Congress even though the city of Washington, D.C., has its own mayor and city council. The quest for home rule, which would give the citizens of the District of Columbia the same rights as those enjoyed by citizens of a state, has been a recurring theme in American history for 200 years. The District of Columbia is represented in Congress by a delegate who does not have the full voting rights of a Representative elected from districts within each state.


The geographical area in a state represented by a House member.  Each congressional district contains about 600,000 citizens.

District Work Period

The time set for House members to work in their home district.

Divided Government

The condition that exists when the majority party in either or both houses of Congress differs from the party of the president is called divided government. The constitutional structure of the U.S. government, which separates the legislative and executive branches, sets differing terms of office for representatives, senators, and the president, and ensures that they will be chosen from different constituency bases, makes divided government possible.


To compose or write a bill.

Eastland, James

James Oliver Eastland (1904-1986), a Democrat of Mississippi, served briefly in the U. S. Senate in 1941, and then was elected to consecutive terms that stretched his Senate service from 1943 to 1978. Eastland's long tenure in the Senate led to his rise to important Senate positions including chairman of the Judiciary Committee and his election as President Pro Tempore. Throughout the years of the civil rights movement, Senator Eastland was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving in that capacity from 1956 to 1978. A staunch southern segregationist, he was effective in blocking or delaying civil rights legislation with a combination of support from conservative southern Democrats and Republicans. The Senate had to find ways to circumvent Chairman Eastland and the Judiciary Committee in order to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, marked the beginning of the end for slavery in the United States and gave hope to millions of African Americans held in bondage until the end of the Civil War. To read the text of the Emancipation Proclamation, click here.


Compensation or payment for service.

Enacting Clause

Every bill begins with an enacting clause, and every resolution with a resolving clause, as a formal declaration that the substantive language that follows has been duly adopted in accordance with the constitutionally mandated procedures. The exact form of these clauses was first prescribed by statute in 1871 and is at present set forth in Title 1 of the United States Code.
The enacting clause reads as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States
of America in Congress assembled...

The resolving clause in a joint resolution uses the single word Resolved in place of Be it enacted with two thirds of each House concurring therein inserted before the final comma if the resolution is one proposing a constitutional amendment. In either case, the Senate is always mentioned first, regardless of where the measure begins. In a concurrent resolution the clause reads Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) (with the names of the two houses reversed if it originates in the Senate). In a simple resolution it consists of the single word Resolved.

Engle, Clair

Clair Engle (1911-1964), a Democrat of California, served in the U. S. Senate from 1959 to 1964. Earlier he had served in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1943 to 1959. Although he had suffered a stroke, he was able to cast his vote for cloture on the Civil Rights Bill on June 10, 1964. He died in office less than two months after the vote.

Engrossed Bill

The final copy of a bill as passed by one chamber, after the text has been amended or approved by floor action.

Enrolled Bill

The final copy of a bill that has been passed in identical form by both chambers; printed on parchment, but not yet signed by the President.

Entitlement Spending

Funds for programs like Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and veterans' benefits.  Funding levels are set by the number of eligible recipients, not at the discretion of Congress.

Enumerated Powers

Specific powers of Congress, listed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution; also called "expressed" or "delegated" powers. The enumerated powers of Congress, found chiefly in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, consist of seventeen specific grants of authority. A number of constitutional amendments, beginning with the Civil War amendments, grant Congress further enumerated prerogatives. Among the initial enumerated grants are the economic powers of taxation and spending, the permission to pay debts, the borrowing of money, the management of commerce, and the regulation of currency. Other expressly stated powers include the authority to build post offices and roads, create inferior courts, declare war, and raise and support armies and navies.


The enumeration, or counting, of the population of the United States is done every ten years to determine the number of representatives of each state. We call this process the census, a word derived from Latin, which means a recognition or counting of citizens for the purpose of assessing taxes.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commission

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its purpose is to eliminate discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or age in the hiring, promoting, firing, setting of wages and in other conditions of employment. The Commission has the power to investigate cases of discrimination in employment.


Relating to moral action and conduct; conforming to professional standards.

Evers, Medgar
Medgar Evers, the field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi and a prominent leader of the civil rights movement was shot and killed in the driveway of his home on June 12, 1963, as he got out of his car carrying some sweatshirts which contained the slogan "Jim Crow Must Go." His assassination came in the midst of a very turbulent period in the civil rights movement. As historian Taylor Branch described it is his book Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63: "The Evers murder came at the midpoint of a ten-week period...when statisticians counted 758 racial demonstrations and 14,733 arrests in 186 American cities."
Executive Authority

The governor of a State.

Executive Branch

The President and departments that carry out the laws of the federal government.

Executive Session

Session of a committee, or occasionally of an entire chamber, that is closed to the public.

Ex post facto Law

Congress is prohibited from passing laws that punish persons for deeds committed before the law was passed. To put it another way, if Congress declares something to be illegal in 1997, a person cannot be punished for this illegal act if the act was committed at any time prior to the passage of the law.

Expressed Powers

Same as "enumerated" powers.

"Extensions of Remarks"

A section of the Congressional Record where members of the House or Senate are able to add additional arguments or statements that were not made on the floor during debate.

Farmer, James

James Farmer was one of the founders of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942, CORE's first national chairman, and one of the organization's most charismatic leaders. A graduate of Howard University with a Bachelor of Divinity degree, Farmer was well-versed in Christian pacifism and was a practitioner of the methods of non-violent direct action that became the hallmark of the civil rights movement in many sit-ins and Freedom Rides throughout the South. It was Farmer who planned and executed the Freedom Ride of 1961, which expanded the protest against segregation from lunch counters to buses and bus stations. The original group of seven blacks and six whites who began that fateful bus ride in a Trailways bus met stiff opposition and violence, and at one point in the journey the bus was fire bombed. All the passengers managed to escape safely. Later, in Jackson, Mississippi, Farmer and other Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed for using white facilities at the Jackson bus station.

Federal Deficit

The amount by which federal expenditures exceed federal revenues.


A filibuster is a delaying tactic used in the Senate to prevent a vote on a bill or resolution. The Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, has a tradition of unlimited debate. The Senate has great difficulty stopping debate as long as at least one Senator objects to cutting off the debate. Therefore, a Senator, or a small group of Senators, could delay the business of the Senate for days, weeks, or months by keeping control of the floor in endless debate. The procedure used to cut off debate and end a filibuster is known as cloture.  During Senate consideration of a civil rights bill in 1957, for example, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina opposed the bill and filibustered it by holding the floor of the Senate for 24 hours and 18 minutes. During the long filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Senate stayed in session around the clock, forcing Senators to eat and sleep near the Senate chamber.

Fiscal Year

Fiscal means the finances or funds of the national government. The fiscal year is the 12-month period in which annual appropriations passed into law by Congress, with the approval of the president, are expended. The fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, using the date of the calendar year in which it ends. For example, fiscal year 1998, begins October 1, 1997 and ends September 30, 1998.


The chamber in the Capitol where members of Congress assemble to conduct debate and vote.  Members are said to be "on the Floor" when they assemble, and "to have the Floor" when they speak.

Floor Action

Action taken on the floor of the House or Senate to debate or amend a bill or resolution leading to an eventual vote to approve or disapprove the measure under consideration.


Franking is the marking of a piece of mail with an official signature or sign that indicates that the sender has the right to free mailing. Members of Congress have a franking privilege that permits them to send official mailings. Instead of a postage stamp or metered mail in the upper right-hand corner of the envelope, the member of Congress's signature on the envelope is called a frank and is recognized by the U.S. Postal Service.

Freedom Riders

Led by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), students and other activists, both black and white, boarded buses in the South to challenge the transportation system which segregated passengers and also maintained segregated waiting rooms, ticket windows, and restrooms in bus terminals. Everywhere the Freedom Riders went, Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans and other southern cities, and also in places like Baltimore, they were met by mob violence and received brutal treatment at the hands of local police authorities. Federal marshals sent to assist the Freedom Riders were often intimidated or threatened with arrest. But the Freedom Riders prevailed and one more racial barrier was broken down.


The balconies which overlook the House and Senate chambers.

Gallup Poll

The Gallup Polls are conducted by the Gallup Organization, a public opinion survey firm founded in 1935 by George Gallup, Elmo Roper, and Archibald Crossley. The Gallup Polls help determine public sentiment on political issues and political campaigns. To visit the Gallup Organization website, click here.


Relevant.  Amendments are said to be germane or non-germane to a bill.  The House requires germaneness of amendments at all times unless an exception is made by special rule.  In most cases, the Senate does not require germaneness.  Senate tradition allows Senators to offer amendments on any subject even if unrelated to the bill's topic.


Drawing of a strangely-shaped congressional district to give an advantage to a particular party, faction, or race.

Gore, Albert Arnold

Albert Arnold Gore (b.1907), a Democrat of Tennessee, served in the U. S. Senate from 1939 to 1944; and from 1945 to 1971. His son, Albert A. Gore, Jr. is vice-president of the United States in the Clinton Administration.

Greensboro, North Carolina

Beginning in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, local NAACP chapters organized sit-ins, where African Americans, many of whom were college students, took seats and demanded service at segregated all-white lunch counters. It was, however, the sit-in demonstrations at Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, beginning on February 1, 1960, that caught national attention and sparked other sit-ins and demonstrations in the South. One of the four students in the first Greensboro sit-in, Joe McNeil, later recounted his experience:  " ...we sat at a lunch counter where blacks never sat before. And people started to look at us. The help, many of whom were black, looked at us in disbelief too. They were concerned about our safety. We asked for service, and we were denied, and we expected to be denied. We asked why we couldn't be served, and obviously we weren't given a reasonable answer and it was our intent to sit there until they decided to serve us." See, Henry Hampton and Steve Fayer (eds.) Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s. Vintage Paperback, 1995.


House Concurrent Resolution.  (See "Concurrent Resolution.")


Committee sessions for hearing witnesses who may testify voluntarily or be subpoenaed.


House Joint Resolution.   (See "Joint Resolution.")


A box on House clerk's desk where bills are deposited on introduction.


The House of Representatives as distinct from the Senate, although each body is a "house" of Congress.

House Bill Clerk

An employee of the Clerk of the House, whose job it is to monitor and record bills and resolutions introduced in the House of Representatives.

House Calendar

A listing for action by the House of all public bills except those relating to revenues, appropriations, and government property.

House LEGIS system

A full text data retrieval system for bills and other legislative information, such as the Congressional Record, which is maintained by the House of Representatives and available for use by members of Congress and their staff. The public can access much of this material, including the Congressional Record, through the Library of Congress, THOMAS website or through GPO ACCESS.

House Parliamentarian

One of the most important officers in the House of Representatives is that of House Parliamentarian. This nonpartisan expert assists the Speaker of the House in determining the rules and procedures which govern the conduct of floor proceedings. Among the important duties of the Parliamentarian is advising the Speaker and members on the process of referring bills to the proper committee for consideration.  When you visit the House of Representatives or watch its proceedings on television, you will see the Parliamentarian standing to the Speaker's right, or seated near the Speaker's rostrum. Often the Parliamentarian will provide advice to the Speaker during a floor debate. The office had its origins in 1857, although the first person to actually be called by the title of Parliamentarian was Lehr Fess in 1927. Only eighteen persons have held this position since 1857, and only three persons since 1928. The current Parliamentarian is Charles W. Johnson who has held the position since 1994, after serving many years as deputy parliamentarian.

The House of Representatives

House of Representatives, popularly referred to as the lower house, is the larger of the two houses of Congress. It has a unique place in the structure of government as the first branch or the people's branch of government, since it the part closest to the people because its members are elected every two years by a direct vote of citizens in districts and each state. Electing House members every two years was a compromise between those framers of the Constitution who wanted longer terms and those, such as Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who thought House elections should be held every year as the only defense of the people against tyranny. The size of the House is determined by the population of each state. Members are elected from districts within each state. The current size of the House is 435 representatives and 5 territorial delegates representing American Samoa, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. The views of the Framers of the Constitution on the nature of the House of Representatives can be found in the following essays of the Federalist Papers: Federalist 51, Federalist 52, Federalist 53, Federalist 54, Federalist 55, Federalist 56, Federalist 57, and Federalist 58.

For a complete listing of the 85 Federalist essays click here. 
For background on The Federalist click here.

House Rules Committee

The House Committee on Rules can claim to be one of the oldest House committees, dating back to a select committee of eleven members on April 2, 1789. Over the past two centuries the committee's role has evolved considerably. This important committee controls the flow of all bills to the floor of the House and often determines whether the bills, once on the floor, can be amended or not. During the years of the civil rights movement the chairman of the House Rules Committee was a conservative southern Democrat from Virginia, Howard W. Smith, who did everything in his power to block civil rights legislation.


The abbreviation for House of Representatives and designates a measure as a bill (e.g. H.R. 1100).


House Resolution.  (See "Resolution.")

Hruska, Roman

Roman Lee Hruska (b. 1904), a Republican of Nebraska, served in the U. S. Senate from 1954 to 1976.

Humphrey, Hubert H.

Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. (1911-1978), a Democrat of Minnesota, served in the United States Senate from 1949 to 1965 and from 1971 to 1978. Prior to his election to the Senate he was mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and, in 1947, a founder of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal political action group. He was vice president of the United States from 1965 to 1969, during Lyndon Johnson's presidency. Senator Humphrey, as majority whip of the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1964, led the long battle to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A much-respected Senator by members of both parties, Senator Humphrey was known as "the Happy Warrior" for his witty, often upbeat, optimistic speeches. When he died in 1978, his body lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol, one of the nation's highest honors.


Constitutional privilege of a congressman to make statements in committee or on the floor without fear of slander or libel; also freedom from arrest while traveling on official business.


Impeachment is a two-step process. The House has the sole power to indict or formally charge a federal official (including the President of the United States) with official wrongdoing. Once the House has charged an official with a crime (See Article II, section 4) it is up to the Senate to try the charges brought by the House. If the president is impeached, the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the Senate during the trial.  In order to convict on a charge of impeachment, the Senate must muster a two-thirds vote. Only two presidents of the United States were ever impeached by the House of Representative:  Andrew Johnson in 1867, and William Jefferson Clinton in 1998. When the Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction, Johnson was acquitted of the impeachment charges and remained in office. Similarly, Clinton was not convicted after a Senate trial early in 1999.  In the case of President Richard Nixon, the House voted in the House Judiciary Committee to recommend that the House impeach him. But before final House action could take place, the President resigned from office on August 9, 1974.  There are six clauses of the Constitution that address impeachment. The Framers of the Constitution spent considerable time debating how impeachment would work. See: Article 1, Sec. 2, Clause 5; Article 1, Sec. 3, Clause 6; Article 1, Sec. 3, Clause 7; Article 2, Sec. 2, Clause 1; Article 2, Sec. 4; and Article 3, Sec. 2, Clause 3.

Implied Powers

Powers necessary for Congress to carry out its expressed or enumerated powers; see Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the Constitution.


A current Member of Congress running for re-election.


One who does not belong to either of the two major political parties in the United States.

Inherent Powers

Powers necessary to the existence of the national government.

Johnson, Lyndon Baines

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973), a Democrat of Texas, was the 36th President of the United States, serving from 1963 to 1969. Earlier he had served in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1937 to 1949, before his election to the U. S. Senate, where he served from 1949 to 1961. From 1955 to 1961, he was majority leader of the Senate. He served as Vice President of the United States in the Kennedy administration and assumed the presidency when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22. 1963. With the civil rights legislation stalled in the Senate at the time of President Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson, upon assuming the presidency, gave a ringing speech in favor of passage of the bill that appealed to the memory of the late president. As a former Senate Majority Leader, President Johnson knew the internal politics of the Senate well, and with the cooperation and hard work of Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, the bill was eventually passed.

Joint Committee

A Committee appointed for a temporary investigative purpose or as a continuing group, composed of members of both houses.

Joint Referral

This means a bill is referred simultaneously to more than one committee of the House or Senate. Such a bill cannot be reported to the floor until it has been cleared by all the committees to which it was referred. This process usually diminishes a bill's chances of ever making it to the floor for a vote.

Joint Resolution

A joint resolution, designated H.J.Res. or S.J.Res., requires the approval of both houses and the signature of the president and has the power of law if it is approved.  Joint resolutions are introduced simultaneously in identical form in the House and the Senate.

Joint Sessions and Meetings

Joint sessions and joint meetings of Congress occur when members of the House and Senate gather together to transact congressional business or to receive addresses from the president or other dignitaries. The first such gathering was a joint session held on 6 April 1789 to count electoral votes for the nation's first president and vice president. Of the two types of gatherings, a joint session is the most formal and occurs upon adoption of a concurrent resolution passed by both houses of Congress. Congress holds joint sessions to receive the president's annual State of the Union address and other presidential addresses, and to count electoral votes for president and vice president every four years. A joint meeting, on the other hand, by unanimous consent or by resolution, declare themselves in recess for such a joint gathering in the Hall of the House of Representatives. Because the Hall of the House of Representatives has more seats than the Senate chamber, both joint sessions and joint meetings have nearly always been held in the Hall of the House. Congress holds joint meetings for such matters as receiving addresses from dignitaries (e.g., foreign heads of state and famous Americans such as astronauts and military leaders) and for commemorating major events. The Speaker of the House of Representatives usually presides over joint sessions and meetings; however, the president of the Senate presides over counts of the electoral votes, as required by the Constitution.


The Constitution (Art I, sec. 5) provides that "Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgement require Secrecy." The House maintains one Journal and the Senate keeps two: the Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, which reports Senate legislative action, and the Executive Journal, which records Senate actions on matters requiring the Senate's advice and consent (i.e., treaties and nominations). Actions taken by the Senate in secret session or when it sits as a court of impeachment are kept separate and are published only by Senate order as separate journals. The journal, a more technical and abbreviated parliamentary document, differs substantially from the Congressional Record, which contains less formal and more voluminous information about the daily proceedings.

Judicial Branch

The courts, which interpret the laws; including the Supreme Court, which interprets the Constitution.

Judicial Review

The authority of a court to review the official actions of the legislative and executive branches of government.  Also, the authority to declare unconstitutional the actions of the other branches.

Judiciary Committee (House)

The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives was established in 1813. It has jurisdiction over all matters related to federal courts, federal crimes, civil rights, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and many other areas. The committee chairman from 1955 to 1972 was Emanuel Celler, a Democrat of New York.

Judiciary Committee (Senate)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of the Senate's oldest committees, created in 1816. The committee has wide-ranging jurisdiction over important aspects of American law including civil liberties, the federal courts, civil and criminal judicial proceedings, and other areas. Throughout the years of the civil rights movement the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman was James O. Eastland, Democrat of Mississippi, who was a staunch supporter of segregation in the South. He served as chairman of the committee from 1956 to 1978, and was effective in blocking or delaying civil rights legislation with a combination of support from conservative southern Democrats and Republicans. The Senate had to find ways to circumvent this committee in order to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


Official trips by congressmen to particular areas of the United States and other countries affected by a proposed law. Often the term is used in a derogatory manner to indicate the trip may not be necessary and may be little more than a vacation at the expense of the taxpayers.

Justice Department

The U. S. Department of Justice, headed by the Attorney General of the United States, is, in essence, the largest law firm in the nation, with far-flung responsibilities of law enforcement, investigation of federal crimes, and the conduct of all lawsuits in the Supreme Court, where the United States is a concerned party. This department includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U. S. Marshals Service, the Office of Inspector General, and the Solicitor General of the United States. The department also manages a civil rights division. Marshals from the Department of Justice were sent in large numbers into the South during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. To visit the Justice Department's home page, click here.

K Street

The downtown Washington, D.C. street where many lobbyists and lawyers have offices.

Katzenbach, Nicholas

Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach, (b. 1922) a lawyer and law professor, served as assistant attorney general from 1961 to 1962; deputy attorney general from 1962 to 1964, acting attorney general in 1964, and attorney general from 1965 to 1966. In his various capacities at the Department of Justice, Katzenbach played an important and highly visible role in the civil rights movement and in the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was Katzenbach, representing the President of the United States, who confronted Governor George Wallace, when Wallace attempted to block two black students from being admitted to the University of Alabama in 1963.

Kennedy, President John F.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) a Democrat of Massachusetts, was the 35th president of the United States, elected in 1960 and serving as president from 1961 to 1963, when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Earlier in his career he was a PT-Boat commander in World War II. He served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1953, and was elected twice to the U.S. Senate serving from 1953 to 1960. He resigned from the Senate early in his second term, upon his election as president.  At first President Kennedy moved slowly and cautiously on issues related to civil rights, confining his actions to executive actions of limited scope. He did not seek comprehensive civil rights legislation from Congress because he believed it would divide the nation and the Democratic party. He established by executive order the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and through the Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation in interstate commerce. The Justice Department of the Kennedy administration also helped protect African American voting rights in the South. Black students were enrolled for the first time at the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama.  Increasing racial violence in the South finally convinced President Kennedy to call for a broad civil rights act. In a nationally televised speech on June 11, 1963, he argued for such a bill. Southern Democrats objected and the president found he needed Republican support to see the bill through Congress, especially the Senate. The civil rights bill cleared the House Judiciary Committee and was headed for its next hurdle in the House Rules Committee just two days before the president was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Others, including the new President Lyndon B. Johnson and Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, completed the work that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Kennedy, Robert F.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968), President John F. Kennedy's younger brother, was attorney general of the United States from 1961 to 1964, when he resigned to become a candidate to the U.S. Senate. He served as a Democratic Senator from New York from 1965 until June 6, 1968, when he was assassinated while running for president of the United States. As attorney general, Robert Kennedy played a major role in the unfolding drama of the civil rights movement.

King, Martin Luther, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister from Atlanta, Georgia, and a leader of the civil rights movement. He played a central role in mobilizing the nation, both African Americans and whites, to demand major social reforms that would break down the barriers of racial segregation and racial discrimination.  King rose to prominence beginning with his role in the Montgomery bus boycott began in December 1955. In 1957 King was elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which became his base for expanding his message of non-violent protest against racial injustice. In 1963 he led hundreds of thousands of Americans, black and white, in a march on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I have a Dream" speech.  King was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1964. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated while in Memphis, Tennessee.

Kuchel, Thomas

Thomas H. Kuchel (1910-1994), a Republican of California, was elected to fill the Senate seat held by Richard Nixon, when Nixon resigned to become vice president. Kuchel served in the Senate from 1953 to 1969. He served as Republican whip from 1959 to 1969 and in this capacity played an important early role in organizing Republican support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But as the battle for passage progressed, the Republicans and the Democrats in the Senate, as well as President Johnson, turned most often to Everett Dirksen, the Minority Leader of the Senate, to hold his party in line and break the opposition to the bill by leading the long filibuster.

Lame Ducks

Members who are finishing their current term but who will not return in the next Congress.  Lame duck sessions are those held after the November election up to when the new Congress begins.


An Act of Congress which has been signed by the president or passed over his veto; listed numerically by Congress, e.g. the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (H. R. 7152), which became Public Law 88-352, during the 88th Congress.

Leader Time

Time reserved at the beginning of each day's session for use by the majority and minority leaders.  Each leader is given ten minutes to discuss the day's legislative agenda or to address policy issues.

Legislative Assistants

Employees of a member of Congress who assist in drafting bills, gathering information, and providing background information on a particular bill as well as performing other duties related to the legislative process.

Legislative Branch

Congress, which is the division of government that makes laws.

Legislative Day

In the Senate a legislative day is the period beginning with Morning Hour and ending with adjournment. It may involve one or more calendar days; in an extreme case, one legislative day ran for 162 calendar days (from 3 January to 12 June 1980). Alternatively, two legislative days may occur withing a single calendar day. At the end of each calendar day, the Senate adjourns or recesses pursuant to either a unanimous consent request or a motion. The decision of whether to adjourn or to recess is significant because Senate Rule VII provides for a two-hour period called Morning Hour at the beginning of each legislative day, during which routine morning business is transacted before any unfinished business may be considered. If the Senate recesses, the legislative day remains the same and the Senate may turn immediately to any unfinished business. This distinction between legislative and calendar days is not as significant in the House, where the motion to recess is not highly privileged and the practice accordingly is to adjourn at the end of each day's session. On occasion, however, the House has had two legislative days on a single calendar day by reconvening immediately after an adjournment to comply with the requirement that resolutions reported by the Rules Committee lie over for one day.

Legislative Intent

Legislative Intent is the meaning that Congress imbues in a statute as a guide to its purposes and direction. How that intent is to be discerned has been the subject of ongoing debate. What should the balance of authority be between those political institutions, the agencies and the courts, charged with interpreting legislative intent? What should constitute the materials by which legislative intent is divined? How should the courts, the ultimate interpreters of legislative intent, approach their task?

Legislative Service Organizations

A special type of informal caucus created under House regulations, a legislative service organization (LSO) is a congressional caucus, committee, coalition, or similar group that "operate[s] solely to provide legislative services or other assistance to... members... in the performance of their official duties." Such groups must (a) consist solely of House members or members of both bodies; (b) receive support from the House (office space, furniture, telephone service, and the like) or from members' office allowances; and (c) accept no substantial income or contributions from outside sources.

Lincoln, Abraham

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), a Republican of Illinois, was the 16th President of the United States, serving as president from 1861 to 1865, when he was shot by an assassin on April 14, 1865, and died the next day. Lincoln led the Union during a bloody Civil War, fought over the issue of slavery. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863, spelled the beginning of the end for slavery in the United States, but it did not begin to address the many issues of civil rights that would have to be dealt with in order to insure that newly freed slaves would have full citizenship. Many steps along the way, including the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and the efforts of civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century, would continue to do battle with the powerful legacy of slavery.

Line-Item Veto

Under the Constitution, the president must sign a bill into law or veto it in its entirety.  The line-item veto gives the president authority to cancel the funds for selected programs after he signs a bill into law.  Congress is given 30 days to review his cancellations.  Within that time, if they do nothing, the cancellation takes effect.  If Congress, however, passes a disapproval resolution by majority vote, the funds are spent.  The president may then veto the disapproval resolution.  If he does, Congress must override his veto by a 2/3 vote for the funding to go forward.  The line-item veto was first brought before Congress in 1876 during  President Grant?s term of office.  Since that time is has been brought before Congress in one form or another 200 times.  The line-item veto was passed into  law on April 9, 1996.  President William Clinton used it 82 times.  The city of New York, New York, appealed the line-item veto to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional on June 25, 1998. 

Little Rock, Arkansas (1957)

On September 24, 1957, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to be deployed in Little Rock to quell civil rioting that occurred during attempts to desegregate the public schools there. In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 and the Supreme Court's later ruling that school desegregation begin with all deliberate speed, Little Rock, Arkansas became an early test case of the government's will to enforce school desegregation.


A noun referring to a group of persons or an organization seeking to influence the passage or defeat of legislation. A lobbyist is a person who represents a particular individual or group for the purpose of affecting the outcome of legislation. To lobby Congress is to seek to influence the decisions of members of the House or Senate.


An informal pact in which members agree to vote for each other's priorities.

Lying in State

Upon the death of a distinguished citizen, such as a president, or other national leader, the nation sometimes honors the memory of that individual by having the flag-draped coffin of the deceased placed for a day or more in a location of high honor, where the public can pay its respects. The Rotunda of the Capitol is the place of highest national honor on such occasions. For a list of those who have lain in state in the Capitol Rotunda, click here.

Majority Leader

The chief legislative strategist for the majority party who plans the order of business on the floor and directs the daily business of the chamber. Majority Leaders in the House and Senate are elected by the members of the majority party. The role of the Majority Leader in the House and Senate has evolved differently over the years because of differences in the rules and in the manner in which the House and Senate conduct parliamentary proceedings and organize themselves for administrative purposes. While Majority Leaders of the House and Senate perform similar functions, they are not identical in duties, power, or influence. The Speaker the House is the top administrative officer of the House, while in the Senate the Majority Leader is the top administrator.

Majority Party

The political party with the most elected members.

Majority Whip

Assistant floor leader; canvasses party members to determine their votes and marshal support.


Managers are members of Congress who serve as floor leaders during a bill's consideration, as negotiators during conference deliberations, or as prosecutors during an impeachment trial. The chairman and ranking minority member of the committee (or subcommittee) that reported a measure act as its floor managers. The majority floor manager has the responsibility to defend the committee text, while the majority floor manager seeks to either alter the bill's language prior to passage or to defeat the bill altogether. Floor managers explain their party's position on the measure and control the debate time allotted their party. They take the lead in defending against or offering amendments to the bill, and are responsible for handling the parliamentary motions or points of order that may arise. Members who represent their chamber in conference committee negotiations seek to resolve the differences between House and Senate versions of a bill. Although officially known as managers on the part of the House or Senate, they are more commonly called "conferees." Conferees are expected to uphold their chamber's version to the maximum extent possible without jeopardizing the ultimate goal of achieving agreement with the other body. They are appointed by their chamber's presiding officer, upon the recommendation of the chairman or ranking member of the original committee(s) of jurisdiction.


Federal regulations in which states and districts must adhere. Also,
when the vote in a particular election basically endorses the views adopted by a candidate ahead of time.

Mansfield, Mike

Mike Mansfield (b. 1903), a Democrat of Montana, was Majority Leader of the United States Senate from 1961 to 1977. His style of leadership was one of friendly persuasion and a willingness to listen to all sides of an issue. During the debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, he was willing to listen to the objections of southwest senators. He worked closely with Everett Dirksen, the Senate Minority Leader, on the civil rights legislation. Mansfield later served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1989.


The name given to a session of a committee or subcommittee of the House or Senate during which the provisions of a bill are discussed in detail and are usually revised. Since the 1970s mark-up sessions have been open to the public and press, although on some occasions the committee may vote to hold the mark-up as a private, closed door meeting.

McCulloch, William

William Moore McCulloch, (1901- 1980) a Republican of Ohio, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1947 to 1973.

Meredith, James

James Meredith, (b. 1933), was the first African American to attend the all-white University of Mississippi. After high school, Meredith spent nine years in the U.S. Air Force, before returning to college at Jackson State College in 1960. He was refused admission to the University of Mississippi on account of his race. With the assistance of NAACP lawyers he successfully sued the University and a federal court ordered his admission. In September 1962 when he enrolled at the University of Mississippi, rioting began, resulting in two deaths. He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1963. In 1966, while on a civil rights march near Hernando, Mississippi, he was wounded by gunfire but survived. In 1962, he was an unsuccessful candidate for a congressional seat in New York, running as a Republican.

Miller , Jack

Jack Richard Miller (1916-1994), a Republican of Iowa, served in the U. S. Senate from 1961 to 1973.

Minority Leader

The minority party's chief strategist; attempts to control floor action.

Minority Party

The political party second in number of elected members to the majority party in a two-party system, or a member of any other party which is not in the majority.

Minority Whip

Assistant to the Minority Leader.

Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott

The boycott began in December 1955, when Mrs. Rosa Parks, an African American, refused to obey the segregation ordinance of the city which required blacks to sit in the back of the bus. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., then a 26-year-old black Baptist minister from Atlanta, Georgia, organized the boycott and gained national attention as an emerging leader of the civil rights movement, advocating non-violent direct action in protest of racial segregation and discrimination.

Moore, William L.

William L. Moore, a white mailman from Baltimore, went on a personal civil rights crusade in the spring of 1963. He planned to walk from Chattanooga, Tennessee, into the State of Mississippi carrying two signs, "End Segregation in America" and "Equal Rights for All Men." He was murdered along a lonely stretch of highway in Alabama. His death sparked protest marches in his memory and prompted President Kennedy to call it an "outrageous crime."


Request by a congressman for a parliamentary action e.g., for a certain procedure or the consideration of a measure or vote.

Multiple Referrals

Bills that are complex and cross the jurisdictional lines of several committees are often referred to several committees at the same time. Bills receiving multiple referrals are often unsuccessful in ever getting to the floor of the House or Senate for a vote.

Mundt, Karl

Karl Earl Mundt (1900-1974), a Republican of South Dakota, served in the U. S. Senate from 1948 to 1973.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the oldest and most diverse civil rights organization dedicated to the advancement of African American participation in all aspects of American life. Founded in 1910 with membership of whites and blacks, many of whom had participated in earlier civil rights activities, the NAACP focused on efforts to change the laws through court challenges to racial segregation and discrimination. It was NAACP lawyers whose efforts laid the groundwork for the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case that led to school desegregation. The NAACP also worked to lobby Congress to pass laws ending discrimination. Members of the NAACP were active participants in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, although the organization seldom made the headlines of other more militantly aggressive civil rights organizations of the late 1960s and 1970s.


The process of granting full citizenship to those of foreign birth.

Nixon, Richard M.

Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994), a Republican from California, was the 37th president of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. Earlier he was vice president in the Eisenhower Administration from 1952 to 1960. He lost the presidential election of 1960 to John F. Kennedy in a close contest, but later succeeded in his bid for the presidency. He was forced to resign on August 9, 1974, because of his involvement in the Watergate scandal. In the campaign of 1960, both Kennedy and Nixon avoided the issue of civil rights.


Objectors are members of the House of Representatives appointed to screen legislation considered under expedited floor procedures permitting passage with only minimal debate and no recorded vote. So that such measures are not adopted without some review, the majority and minority leaders appoint six members, three from each party, to serve as "official objectors" responsible for examining measures placed on the Consent Calendar. Another six members serve as objectors for Private Calendar measures. During each new Congress, the official objectors issue criteria that legislation must meet to avoid an objection.

Office of the Legislative Counsel

In both the House and Senate the nonpartisan and nonpolitical Office of Legislative Counsel performs the important professional function of drafting bills for members and advising members on technical and legal matters related to the preparation of a bill. The offices also perform services for committees related to standing committee or conference committee reports on legislation.

Omnibus Bill

An omnibus bill is one that includes many things, often a budget bill, where separate appropriations bills are rolled into one large package to push for a political agenda that might not be as successful if the bill was broken into smaller pieces, each requiring a separate vote. In recent times the most successful and far-reaching omnibus bill was the Budget Reconciliation Act (1981) which launched President Ronald Reagan's sweeping changes of government.

One-Minute Speeches

At the start of each day of session in the House of Representatives, members are normally recognized to address the House for one–minute on any subject they wish. These speeches are not a right accorded members under the Rules of the House of Representatives. Rather, they are a privilege granted under accepted House tradition. In order to give a one-minute speech, a member must first gain recognition by the chair and ten must ask and receive the unanimous consent of the House to address it for one minute.

Open Rule

Decision of the House Rules Committee to permit unlimited debate on a particular bill.

Open Seat

Congressional districts/states in which no incumbent is running for re-election.

Other Body

The term House and Senate members use to refer to each other's chamber.  It is based on the fact that the United States Congress is a bicameral legislature.

Override a Veto

A method, described in the U. S. Constitution, where, by a two-thirds vote in each house, Congress can pass a bill into law over the objections of the president.


Congress is vested with the power not only to make laws but also to ensure that these laws are effectively executed. Thus the obligation to oversee- that is, to supervise and to monitor the bureaucracy- stems from the lawmaking function of Congress. Constitutional provisions reinforce this logic: the basic structure of the executive branch is determined by Congress; important policies concerning executive branch personnel are established in Congress; the money that the executive branch spends is appropriated by Congress; the laws that the bureaucracy applies come from Congress.


High school students who perform messenger and other duties for Members of Congress.  Pages are required to attend daily classes, live in supervised dorms, and work shifts on the floor.


Pairing is a procedure available to members of Congress who wish to indicate their position with respect to a question when though they are not present when the vote is taken. In the House of Representatives, a pair is an agreement between members on opposite sides not to vote on a specified question or during a stipulated time. A member with a "live pair" with another member will first cast his vote on the question, and then withdraw the vote and vote "present" after announcing his agreement with an absent colleague who would have voted on the opposite side of the issue. This is the only type of pair that affects the outcome of a vote. A "definite" or "for and against" pair will appear in the Congressional Record immediately following the vote and will reflect specific instructions as to the preferences left by the contracting members that terminate automatically after the vote. An "indefinite" or "until further notice" pair does not indicate how either member would have voted if present. On constitutional amendments and other questions requiring a two-thirds vote it is customary to pair two affirmative votes with one negative.

Party Caucus

A closed meeting of the members of each party in either house.

Party Committees

The congressional parties organize three major types of party committees: (1) committees to consider policy-related issues including policy formulation, scheduling, and strategy; (2) committees to work out assignment of members to standing committees of the house and to recommend these assignments to the party caucus; and (3) committees to raise campaign money and provide campaign support in order to elect members of their party. In addition, House Democrats maintain a small personnel committee to oversee the appointment and operations of House patronage staff.


A request sent to one or both chambers from an organization or private citizen's group asking for support for particular legislation or consideration of a matter not yet having congressional attention.


A term used for a bill which a standing committee refuses to report out of committee (send to the floor for a vote). A pigeonholed bill is one that the committee has not recommended or has tabled. The use of the term comes from nineteenth century desks which had many small compartments (called pigeonholes) where papers could be stored.


The formal statement of a political party's beliefs and goals. A plan
of action or statement of a national party's goals and views on important domestic and foreign policy issues.

Pocket Veto

The decision of the president to not take action on the signing of a bill near the end of a session of Congress. If Congress adjourns within a ten-day period, the bill is killed without the president's formal veto.

Point of Order

An objection made during floor proceedings to assert that the rules of procedure are being violated.  A point of order halts proceedings while the presiding officer rules on whether or not it is valid.

Policy Committee

Group composed of each party's principal leadership for the purpose of determining the strategy for particular bills.

Political Action Committees (PACs)

Political action committees, or PACs, as they are commonly known, are nonparty political committees that make campaign contributions to candidates for federal offices, particularly candidates for Congress. To qualify as a PAC under current law, a committee must receive contributions from more than fifty individuals and make campaign contributions to at least five candidates for federal office. Some PACs are formed by corporations, labor unions, and trade, membership, and health associations to complement the lobbying activities of their parent organizations, while other PACs are unaffiliated and are formed solely for the purpose of making campaign contributions.

Political Party

An organization of citizens who have similar views on public issues and work for the election of party members to public office.


The conduct of public affairs.

Popular Sovereignty

Political authority held by the people in a democratic government.

Pork Barrel Legislation

"Pork barrel" came into use as a political term in the post-Civil War era.  The term comes from the plantation practice of distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from wooden barrels.  When used to describe a bill, it implies that the legislation is loaded with special projects for members of Congress to distribute to their constituents back home at the cost of the federal taxpayer.

Post Roads

In the early development of the United States, one of the main functions of the federal government was the building of roads and highways that would link the nation together by improving communications and business. Post roads were those built primarily to carry mail.

Power of the Purse

The constitutional power given to Congress to raise and spend money.

President of the Senate

The Senate's presiding officer, who is also the Vice President of the United States but not a member of the Senate. The President of the Senate does not have the right to vote, except in the case of a tie vote.

President Pro Tempore

The President Pro Tempore (for a time) means a temporary presiding officer. In the early days of the nation this officer was chosen by the Senate only if the Vice President of the United States was absent. The Senate elected John Langdon of New Hampshire as the first President Pro Tempore on April 6, 1789, and he served in this capacity for fifteen days. Beginning in 1890, the Senate decided to have the president pro tempore serve continuously until a successor was chosen. In the past half century the office, largely honorary in nature, is usually given to the senior member of the majority party. For a list of Presidents Pro Tempore, click here.

Private Calendar

Calendar for all private bills, such as claims against the government or immigration matters; called the first and third Tuesdays each month.

Proportional Representation

A system in which parties receive seats in a legislative body roughly equal to their share of the votes.

Public Bills

Bills or joint resolutions intended to become public law.

Public Debt

The maximum level of debt which law permits the federal government to incur.  Once the debt limit is reached, Congress must enact a new law raising the permissible ceiling.

Public Law

All bills that complete the lawmaking process described in the Constitution and are signed into law or, if not signed by the president, have gone beyond the time in which the president can veto the measure. This includes bills and joint resolutions, but not concurrent resolutions or simple resolutions of the House and Senate, which do not become public law.


The minimum number of House and Senate members necessary to conduct business on the floor of each chamber. The formula is one-half of the membership, plus one. With the current number of House members set at 435, and with 100 persons in the Senate, a quorum in the House is 218 and in the Senate it is 51. These numbers may very slightly if there are vacancies in the House or Senate that reduce the total membership at any given time.

Racial Discrimination

The act of making distinctions between persons on the basis of their race and to act in a prejudicial manner toward persons of another race.

Ranking Member

The second highest position on a committee on the majority side.  The chairman of the committee holds the top position.

Ranking Minority Member

The highest rank on a committee on the minority side.

"RC" files

The searchable database of the Congressional Record as maintained by the House of Representatives for the use of members and staff.

Reading of Bills

Traditional parliamentary procedure of requiring a bill to be read three times in each house before passage; usually by title only for the first and third readings; at length for the second reading when floor consideration begins.


After each decennial census, the total number of 435 House seats must be divided among the states on the basis of the states' population. If the state has lost population the number of seats may be reduced, while in states that have an increase of population the number of seats may be increased. During this re-allotment process the states may need to re-draw the boundaries of their congressional districts.


A temporary break in a session for a short period of time within the same day.  Recess also refers to longer breaks over several days, such as holiday periods, which are approved by vote.


When the chair grants permission to a member to speak.  Members may not speak without first being recognized.

Recorded Vote

A vote upon which each member's stand is made known, either by roll call or (in the House) by electronic voting.


With rare exceptions, measures introduced in either house of Congress are transmitted to the committee or committees of appropriate jurisdiction in that chamber. This transmission is called referral. The responsibility for determining referral lies with the Speaker of the House and the presiding officer of the Senate.


A committee's findings and recommendations on a bill it has considered.

Republican Form of Government

A republican form of government means a government in which the power to govern is derived from the people themselves and does not come from a king, emperor, or other ruler.

Republican Party

One of the two major political parties in the United States, the Republican Party was founded in the mid 1850s by a group composed of former members of the Whig, Free-Soil, and Know-Nothing parties, along with northern Democrats who were unhappy with their party's acceptance of slavery.  Early Republicans were united in their opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories.  Today Republicans are known as the more conservative of the two major parties in the sense of opposing high taxes, promoting pro-business policies, supporting a strong national defense, and favoring stringent law enforcement measures.


Resolutions are one of the two general types of measures on which the House of Representatives and Senate act. There are three forms of resolutions: simple, concurrent, and joint. Each may originate in either house. Simple resolutions are designated as "H. Res." or "S. Res.," concurrent resolutions as "H. Con. Res." or "S. Con. Res.," and joint resolutions as "H.J. Res." or "S.J. Res."- all followed by an identifying number. In contrast to bills, simple and concurrent resolutions do not become law, even after being approved by one or both houses of Congress. These resolutions usually address questions concerning the internal operations of Congress or express a non-statutory opinion of one or both houses. Like bills, joint resolutions do become law once signed by the president or enacted without his signature or over his veto. Traditionally, constitutional amendments also take the form of joint resolutions but are not submitted for presidential approval.


A provision attached to an important bill, but usually unrelated to it; it hitchhikes or rides through on the strength of the more important bill.

The Great Rotunda

The Great Rotunda of the Capitol is the space inside the Dome of the building. It is a magnificent space that is at the heart and center of the Capitol. It is a place where art and statutes are on display. The room is a circular space 96 feet in circumference. From the floor to the ceiling is a breathtaking 185 feet. The lower 48 feet of the Rotunda is made of Virginia sandstone, and above this level the interior of the dome is of ornate cast iron. Inside the ceiling of the Dome, visible from the floor of the Rotunda, is a magnificent painting by Constantino Brumidi, titled Apotheosis of Washington, completed in 1865. To see what the Rotunda looks like, click here. The Rotunda is filled each day with tourists and members of Congress and their staffs passing through on their way to and from the House and Senate chambers on the wings of the Capitol. It is also a place of solemn ceremony, where the nation pays final tribute to distinguished citizens who have died and who lie in state in the center of the Rotunda. Henry Clay, a former Speaker of the House and one of the great senators of the 19th Century, was the first to lie in state in the Rotunda in 1852. The first president of the United States to lie in state in the Rotunda was Abraham Lincoln in 1865. For more information on the Rotunda, including several images, click here.


A guideline governing House or Senate business; or, in the House, a decision of the Rules Committee about the handling of a particular bill on the floor.

Rules Committee (House)

The House Committee on Rules can claim to be one of the oldest House committees, dating back to a select committee of eleven members on April 2, 1789. Over the past two centuries the committee's role has evolved considerably.  This important committee controls the flow of all bills to the floor of the House and often determines whether the bills, once on the floor, can be amended or not. During the years of the civil rights movement the chairman of the House Rules Committee was a conservative southern Democrat from Virginia, Howard W. Smith, who did everything in his power to block civil rights legislation.

Russell, Richard

Richard Bevard Russell, Jr. (1897-1971), a Democrat of Georgia, served in the U.S. Senate from 1933 to 1971, holding chairmanships on several Senate committees, including Armed Forces and Appropriations. Russell was the leader of the anti-civil rights forces in the U.S. Senate, often called the "southern bloc."


The abbreviation for Senate and designates a measure introduced in the Senate as a bill (e.g. S.910).


Senate Concurrent Resolution.  (See "Concurrent Resolution.")


A set of beliefs, or a story, applied when trying to understand a particular political event.

Select or Special Committee

Created for a temporary purpose such as an investigation, or to deal with a matter not under the jurisdiction of a standing committee.


The Senate is sometimes called the upper house or the upper body of Congress because it is a smaller, more select group with specific powers of state that have their origins in the functions of the supreme council of the ancient Roman Republic and Empire. Other countries such as France and Canada also use the word Senate to describe their upper legislative house. Until 1913 senators were not elected directly by the people but by the state legislators. (See the 17th Amendment). The Senate today has one hundred members, two from each of the 50 states. To read the views of the Framers of the Constitution on the nature of the Senate, see the following essays in the Federalist Papers: Federalist 62, Federalist 63, Federalist 64, and Federalist 65.

For a complete listing of the 85 Federalist essays click here. 
For background on The Federalist click here.

Senate Judiciary Committee

See Judiciary Committee (Senate)

Senate Parliamentarian

The Senate Parliamentarian advises the presiding officer of the Senate on the rules and procedures of the Senate. This officer also makes sure that all Senate actions on bills, treaties, or trials of impeachment formally comply with Senate rules and procedures of the U.S. Constitution. The Senate Parliamentarian also publishes the precedents and practices of the Senate.  The office of Senate Parliamentarian was established in 1937, growing out of an earlier office of Senate Journal Clerk. Only five persons have served as Senate Parliamentarian since 1937. This position requires great experience that is usually achieved only with many years of service in the Senate. The current Senate Parliamentarian is Robert B. Dove, appointed to the position by the Secretary of the Senate in 1995. Dove also served as Senate Parliamentarian from 1981 to 1986.

Senatorial Courtesy

Unwritten rule to the effect that confirmation of executive nominations is subject to the approval of the senior senator from the president's party in the state involved.

Seniority Rule

Unwritten custom that "ranking members,"' or those with the longest record of years in the House or Senate, should receive the most important posts on committees.

Senior Senator/Junior Senator

The seniority relationship between two senators from the same state.  The senior senator has served in the Senate longer than the junior senator.

"Separate but Equal"

In the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896, a case dealing with public transportation, the Supreme Court declared that racial segregation (or separation) was legal so long as the facilities for each race were equal. This doctrine led to many laws that permitted and expanded racial segregation in many aspects of society such as in schools and other public institutions in the United States. In 1954, however, in another landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the court reversed its earlier decision and declared segregation in public schools to be inherently unequal. The Brown decision struck down the concept of "separate but equal" and began the process of eliminating racial segregation from all public places.

Separation of Powers

Division of the powers of government among three branches-- legislative, executive, and judicial.

Sequential Referral

The Speaker of the House may decide to send a bill to one committee for initial action and then jointly to several other committees after the first committee has finished its deliberations. Most often there are time limits imposed on the committee to complete its work in 30 or 60 days before the bill is sent on to other committees. Each committee which reviews a bill under this procedure is usually limited to those portions of the bill that fall within its jurisdiction.


The officer who maintains order in the chamber and provides security for members.

Session of Congress

The assembly of Congress, with two regular sessions each term.

Sine Die Adjournment

The end of a congressional session or of an entire Congress.  Each Congress is made up of two one-year sessions.


Senate Joint Resolution.  (See "Joint Resolution.")

Smith, Howard W.

Howard Worth Smith (1883-1976), a Democrat of Virginia, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for thirty-six years, from 1931 to 1967. He was chairman of the House Rules Committee from 1955 to 1967. A conservative southerner, "Judge Smith," as he was known, was a formidable roadblock to any civil rights legislation. In his home state of Virginia he led the fight to prevent integration of Virginia schools and to deny the power of the federal courts to nullify state laws. Occasionally, to delay legislation he did not approve of, he would retreat to his dairy farm in Fauquier County, earning him the nickname, "the Fox of Fauquier."

"Southern Bloc"

The name given to a group of conservative southern Democratic Senators, and one Republican Senator (John Tower of Texas), who opposed passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The southern bloc was led by Senator Richard Russell of Georgia.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)

The Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) was formed in 1957 and elected the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as its first president. Through King's leadership, this civil rights organization played a key role in organizing non-violent direct action protests to combat racial segregation and racial discrimination in the United States.

Southern Regional Council

The Southern Regional Council (SRC), a moderate interracial organization, was established in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1944 to advance interracial harmony and promote equality of the races in the South. The SRC engaged in voter registration projects, studies of economic and social conditions in the South, and published an influential journal, New South.


The Speaker of the House is an important and unique officer of the federal government. While the Constitution does not define the duties and powers of the Speaker, the framers of the Constitution clearly had in mind a presiding officer for the House, similar to the models they were familiar with in the British Parliament and in their experience with colonial and state legislature. But over the years the role of the Speaker has expanded to become that of majority party leader within the House, the chief administrative officer of the House, and, under the rules of the House, the Speaker has often wielded great power, sometimes rivaling that of the president of the United States. The Presidential Succession Act of 1947 made the Speaker next in line to become president of the United States if both the president and vice president were not able to carry out those duties because of death, resignation, removal from office, or disability. For a list of all persons who have held the office of Speaker, click here.

"Special Orders"

This term has different usage in the House and Senate. In the Senate a Special Order is a request to take up a parliamentary matter at a future time that is outside the regular order of Senate proceedings. It may be a request to speak longer than five minutes at the beginning of a legislative day. This requires the unanimous consent of the Senate. In the House "Special Orders" are a time at the beginning or end of a regular legislative session when members of the House can reserve time to speak for up to an hour on any subject.

Special Order Speech

A speech on the floor of the House or Senate, before or after regular legislative business, for which the time has been reserved in advance, and during which the member may speak on any topic he or she may choose.

Special Resolution

A motion in the Senate to relieve a standing committee from consideration of a bill; if approved by majority vote, the bill is placed on the Senate Calendar.

Special Session

A special session of Congress may be convened after that Congress has already adjourned sine die.  The Constitution gives the President the power to recall Congress for special sessions.  Since the first Congress, twenty-seven special sessions have been held.  The last was called by President Truman in 1948.

Split Referral

A bill in the House may be split up into its component parts and each part is referred to a committee with jurisdiction over the specific part of the bill they receive. In the Senate the practice is to refer a bill to a single committee that has dominant jurisdiction over the main subject of the bill, although the Senate may decide to make multiple referrals of the whole bill to different committees.


Members of Congress express their endorsement of legislation by associating their name with it in a formal act known as sponsorship. The member who introduces the bill, resolution, or amendment is known as the measure's sponsor. Only a member of Congress can sponsor legislation. Therefore, when the term by request appears along with the sponsor's name, it is an indication that the member introduced the measure as a courtesy on behalf of an individual or organization outside the Congress (e.g., the president). However, such sponsorship by request does not necessarily imply endorsement by the sponsor. Members who simultaneously or subsequently affiliate themselves with a proposal upon its introduction are known as cosponsors.


Senate Resolution.  (See "Resolution.")

Standing Committee

Created by the House or Senate rules, a permanent committee that specializes in certain legislative areas and to which all similar bills can be referred.

The State of the Union

The president's State of the Union address before Congress has become one of the annual highlights of American politics, watched on television by millions of persons and followed closely in the press. But this has not always been the case. The Constitution requires only that the president from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union. All presidents from Thomas Jefferson up to Woodrow Wilson sent their annual message to Congress in writing. In 1913 Woodrow Wilson began the modern practice of delivering the message in person before a Joint Session of Congress. With only a few exceptions, all presidents since have delivered the message in person.

Statuary Hall

A large circular room in the Capitol with statues of famous Americans from each state.  Still known for its acoustics, it served as the House chamber from 1819-1857.

Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), commonly pronounced "snick," was formed in 1960 with the backing of Martin Luther King, Jr., and was created as a student branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Council to help coordinate the student sit-in demonstrations in the South. The SNCC, allied with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to spearhead the Freedom Rides in 1961 that integrated southern bus terminals. The dramatic scenes of peaceful black bus riders being physically attacked in the South helped galvanize the nation's focus on racial inequality in America and led to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation. In 1964 SNCC led an ambitious and sweeping program called the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project to protest segregation, with sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter registration. This resulted in many arrests, shootings, and at least fifteen murders, including those of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Later in 1966, SNCC, under the leadership of "Black Power" advocate Stokely Carmichael, became a militant organization which abandoned its efforts to integrate American society and declared non-violence to be ineffectual in bringing about changes.


A division of a committee having specialized jurisdiction.


Order compelling a witness to appear or produce evidence under penalty of contempt for failure to comply. The authority to issue subpoenas -- to require the testimony of witnesses or the production of records, documents, and other materials for congressional inquiries -- is granted by the House and Senate to all their standing committees and subcommittees. Special or select committees must be specifically delegated this authority when they are established (by a resolution of the House or the Senate).

Supermajority Vote

A vote that requires more than a simple majority for passage (e.g. a 2/3 or 3/5 vote).  For example, a 2/3 vote is necessary in both chambers to override a veto, to amend the Constitution, or suspend the rules. 

Supreme Court

The highest federal court in the nation, established in Article III, Section 1 of the U. S. Constitution and by law in the Judiciary Act of 1789. The power of the Supreme Court in a constitutional system of divided or shared powers stems from the role of "judicial review" over the actions of the executive and legislative branches of government and its position of final authority over decisions of state courts and lower federal courts which are appealed to the Supreme Court.

Suspension of the Rules

Suspension of the rules refers to procedures by which the House of Representatives acts expeditiously on matters enjoying widespread support among its members. A bill or resolution considered under suspension of the rules is debated by all members for no more than forty minutes, after which a two-thirds vote is required to pass it. The Speaker may postpone the vote until a later time or the following day. Members cast a single vote suspending the rules and passing the measure. The bill or resolution may not be amended during its consideration, although the member making the motion to pass the measure under suspension of the rules may include amendments to the measure in that motion.

"Swing" senators

The word "swing," when used in politics, means a person who may be persuaded to go either way on a particular issue. The same word is used to describe a "swing" state in an election, where the political strength is fairly evenly divided and the outcome of the election is difficult to predict in advance.

Term of Congress

Two-year period after each congressional election, beginning in January of every odd-numbered year.

Tie Vote

In the case of a tie vote, the issue in question loses.  In the Senate, a tie may be broken by vote of the vice president.

Title of Nobility

The United States was established as a republic, a nation where the power of government is derived from the people and not from a king or emperor. The United States grew out of a war of independence from Great Britain and rule by monarchs. In the early days of the republic it was important to avoid the appearance of fancy titles and any symbol that appeared to imitate the crowned heads of other nations. One of the first debates in Congress was over what to call the president. Vice President John Adams argued that the president should be called His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of the Rights of the Same. But the sentiment of the time, especially in the House of Representatives, was to respect the president but not elevate him above his fellow citizens. Since that first debate in 1789 we have simply referred to the president as Mr. President.

Tower, John

John Goodwin Tower (1925-1991), a Republican of Texas, served in the U.S. Senate from 1961 to 1985. He was the first Republican elected to the Senate from a former Confederate state, in almost a century. Early in his Senate career, he sided with conservative southern Democrats as the sole Republican member of the "southern bloc" that opposed civil rights legislation.


Executive proposals, in the form of resolutions of ratification, which must be submitted to the Senate for approval by two-thirds of the senators present.  Treaties are read three times and debated on the Senate floor, similar to the way in which legislation is handled.  Upon Senate approval, treaties are ratified by the President.

Unanimous Consent

Members of both the House and Senate regularly use unanimous consent to request permission from their colleagues to set aside the normal rules of procedure or to take a procedural action not expressly provided for in the rules. Unanimous consent is used for a wide variety of actions, ranging from adopting legislation, amendments, or motions to more routine matters such as extending debate time.

Unanimous Consent Agreements

Typically a complicated special rule governing procedure on a single legislative matter before the Senate, a unanimous consent agreement is used to limit debate on both the underlying measure and any amendments that may be offered. A unanimous consent agreement states which Senators may control the debate and is designed to avoid nongermane or irrelevant amendments. Almost every important piece of legislation that passes the Senate is governed at some point by a unanimous consent agreement. A typical unanimous consent agreement on a bill contains the following orders: the day and time at which the Senate will proceed with the bill; a list of amendments identified by senators and their subject matter; although usually not the order in which they will be offered; a limitation on what amendments to these amendments will be in order; if any; a requirement that all amendments be germane or relevant to the bill under consideration; a limitation on debate of any debatable motion, appeals, or points of order submitted to the Senate; a proviso giving control over debate to the manager of the bill or the leadership, allowing them to decide which senators will speak and for how long; and a time certain for final action without any further debate of the bill under consideration. Because any senator can object to a unanimous consent agreement, extensive behind-the-scenes negotiations occur before an agreement is formally proposed on the Senate floor.

Union Calendar

"Calendar of the Committee of the Whole House," for all bills relating to revenues, appropriations, or government property.

Urban League

The National Urban League was founded in 1911 as an interracial group which focused on economic ways of ending segregation and improving the lives of African Americans, especially in the cities. Its programs stressed job training, education, better employment opportunities, housing, and health issues. As thousands of rural southern black citizens began to migrate to northern cities for better jobs following World War I and World War II, the Urban League was able to help many with the transition to city life. The Urban League also played an important role in helping to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces after World War II. The League's executive director in the 1960s, Whitney Young, was a planner and leader in the 1963 March on Washington.


Disapproval by the president of a bill or joint resolution.

Vice President of the United States

When the Vice President of the United States is performing his constitutional duty as President of the Senate, the presiding officer of the Senate, he is called Mr. President. In modern times, the Vice President seldom presides over the Senate unless there is going to be a very close vote, where he can vote only if there is a tie. On most days the actual presiding officer of the Senate is a member of the Senate who is also called Mr. President or Madam President, as long as they are presiding. Sometimes this can be confusing to those who are not aware that the vice president serves as President of the Senate. During the State of the Union Address, when the president addresses both houses of Congress, the two persons seated behind the president are the Vice President of the United States and the Speaker of the House. The President of the United States always begins his address by referring to the two persons behind him as Mr. President and Mr. Speaker. In this instance the President of the United States is recognizing the vice president in his capacity as President of the Senate. For a list of Vice Presidents of the United States, click here.

Voice Vote

Method of voting in either house, with members answering "aye" or "no" in chorus and with no tabulation of individual votes. If the decision of the Speaker is questioned on a voice vote and a sufficient number of members rise to object to the voice vote, a recorded vote may be necessary. Voice votes often speed up legislative business on matters that are not controversial.

Wallace, George

George Corley Wallace (1919-98) was governor of Alabama from 1962 to 1966, and again from 1970 to 1978. He also mounted several unsuccessful campaigns for president of the United States in the 1960s and 70s. As governor of Alabama during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement, Wallace was a symbol of the segregationist South, vowing to keep Alabama segregated forever. He gained national notoriety in 1963 when he personally tried to block two black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. In 1972, while campaigning for president in Maryland, he was shot and seriously wounded. After that he was confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. Despite his physical condition, he ran successfully for governor of Alabama in 1974.

Walters, Herbert Sanford

Herbert Sanford Walters, a Democrat of Tennessee, served in the United States Senate from August 20, 1963 to November 3, 1964, temporarily filling the unexpired term of Senator Estes Kefauver, who had died in office.

War Powers Act

The 1973 War Powers Act requires the president to consult with Congress before sending troops abroad.


In both the House and Senate, the Democratic and Republican whips are the elected party leaders responsible for encouraging party discipline. In the House, the majority whip is the third-ranking party leader; behind the majority leader and the Speaker; the minority whip is his or her party's second in command, behind the minority leader. In the Senate, the majority and minority whips function as either assistant Democratic leader or assistant Republican leader.

White "backlash"

A term describing the reaction of white voters who had earlier expressed neutrality toward or support for civil rights legislation but who changed their position and opposed the legislation.

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

An international pacifist organization founded in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1915 to seek an end to World War I. Among the founders were Jane Addams and Emily Greene Balch, both of whom would eventually receive Nobel Peace Prizes for their work. Jane Addams was the organization's first president. Many of the activists in the early years of the WILPF were also instrumental in the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union. The work of the WILPF includes ending racism in the world and promoting civil rights and civil liberties.

Writ of Habeas Corpus
This extremely important legal right prohibits a person from being unlawfully held in custody. It is the very foundation of any free society. Persons who are arrested must be able to appear in court so a judge can determine if there are proper and legal grounds for detention. Habeas corpus means you must have the body, that is, the person must appear in court. The only time habeas corpus was suspended in U. S. history was during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln felt he had to violate the Constitution in order to save the nation. It was one of the most controversial actions of Lincoln's presidency.

Writs of Election

Writs of Election is a term meaning to order a new election to be held.


To permit another member to make a comment or ask a question without losing the floor.



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