How We’re Changing the Way We Respond to Petitions

President Barack Obama signs S. 517, Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act

President Barack Obama signs S. 517, Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, in the Oval Office, Aug. 1, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The Right to Petition is a Constitutional Right

In its final clause, the First Amendment of the Constitution protects the right of the American people “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It’s right up there along religion, speech, press, and assembly.

Yet while it guarantees the right to petition, the First Amendment doesn’t explain how to petition or what the government owes in response. Over the years, many people have petitioned the government by sending written letters to the White House and Congress, asking for assistance and expressing grievances on a variety of issues. For example, in 1897, Native Hawaiians who petitioned Congress were successful in temporarily blocking the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands. And in 1874, suffragette Susan B. Anthony petitioned Congress to remit a fine imposed on her after she was arrested for casting a vote in the 1872 election in Rochester, New York.

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