Glossary

Please contact us if you have any suggestions on terms that should be added to the glossary.  Thanks for your help!

Act: Legislation that has passed both Houses of Congress and approved by the President, or passed over his veto, thus becoming law. Also used technically for a bill that has been passed by one House of Congress.

Alien: A person residing under a government or in a country other than that of one's birth without having or obtaining the status of citizenship there.

Amendment: A proposal by a Member (in committee or floor session of the respective Chamber) to alter the language or provisions of a bill or act. It is voted on in the same manner as a bill. The Constitution of the United States, as provided in Article 5, may be amended when two thirds of each house of Congress approves a proposed amendment and three fourths of the states thereafter ratify it.

Anti-Federalists: Opponents of the adoption of the federal Constitution. Leading Anti-Federalists included George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Patrick Henry, and George Clinton.

Autonomy: Independence or freedom; the right of self-government.

Bill: Formally introduced legislation. Most legislative proposals are in the form of bills and are designated as H.R. (House of Representatives) or S. (Senate), depending on the House in which they originate, and are numbered consecutively in the order in which they are introduced during each Congress. Public bills deal with general questions and become Public Laws, or Acts, if approved by Congress and signed by the President. Private bills deal with individual matters such as claims against the Federal Government, immigration and naturalization cases, land titles, et cetera, and become private laws if approved and signed.

Bicameral: The quality of having two branches, chambers, or houses, such as Congress which is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Calendar: A list of bills, resolutions, or other matters to be considered before committees or on the floor of either House of Congress.

Checks and Balances: A system of limits imposed on all branches of a government by vesting in each branch the right to amend or void those acts of another that fall within its purview.

Citizen: A native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.

Confirmation: Action by the Senate approving Presidential nominees for the executive branch, regulatory commissions, and certain other positions.

Concurrent Powers: Duties shared by both the national government and state governments, such as collecting taxes, building roads, and making/enforcing laws.

Concurrent Resolution: Legislation that relates to the operations of Congress, including both chambers, or express the collective opinion of both chambers on public policy issues. A concurrent resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated by the letters “H. Con. Res.” followed by a number and concurrent resolutions introduced in the Senate as “S. Con. Res.” followed by a number. For example: H. Con. Res. 64.

Decennial: Occurring every ten years.

Democratic: Characterized by the principle of political or social equality for all.

Dual Federalism: A system of government where the states governed the people directly and the national government concerned itself with issues relating to foreign affairs

Elastic Clause: a statement in the U.S. Constitution granting Congress the power to pass all laws necessary and proper for carrying out the enumerated list of powers (Article I, Section 8 ).

Enrolled Bill: A copy of a bill passed by both houses of Congress, signed by their presiding officers, and sent to the President for signature.

Federal: A union of states under a central government distinct from the individual governments of the separate states

Federalism: A union of states in which sovereignty is divided between a central authority and member state authorities.

Federalists: A group of people who supported the adoption of the Constitution. Leading Federalists included Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

Gerrymandering: Drawing of district lines to maximize the electoral advantage of a political party or faction. The term was first used in 1812, when Elbridge Gerry was Governor of Massachusetts, to characterize the State redistricting plan.

Hearing: A meeting or session of a committee of Congress, usually open to the public, to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or oversee a program.

Immigrant: A person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.

Impeachment: A formal accusation issued by a legislature against a public official charged with crime or other serious misconduct.

Initiative: A procedure by which a specified number of voters may propose a statute, constitutional amendment, or ordinance, and compel a popular vote on its adoption.

Joint Resolution: Legislation considered to have the same effect as a bill. Unlike simple and concurrent resolutions, a joint resolution requires the approval of the President. Also, a joint resolution may be used to propose amendments to the Constitution. A joint resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated by the letters “H.J. Res.” followed by a number and joint resolutions introduced in the Senate as “S.J. Res.” followed by a number. For example: S.J. Res. 2.

Judicial Review: The power of a court to judge the constitutionality of the laws of a government or the acts of a government official.

Legislative Day: A formal meeting of a House of Congress which begins with the call to order and opening of business and ends with adjournment. A legislative day may cover a period of several calendar days, with the House recessing at the end of each calendar day, rather than adjourning.

Line-Item Veto: The power of the executive to disapprove of particular items of a bill without having to disapprove of the entire bill.

National: A citizen or subject of a particular nation who is entitled to its protection.

Naturalization: The official act by which a person is made a national of a country other than his native one.

Pocket Veto: A veto of a bill brought about by an indirect rejection by the president. The president is granted ten days, Sundays excepted, to review a piece of legislation passed by Congress. Should he fail to sign a piece of legislation and Congress has adjourned within those ten days, the bill is automatically killed. The process of indirect rejection is known as a pocket veto.

Primary Election: An election held to decide which candidates will be on the November general election ballot.

Private Law: A private bill passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate in identical form that has been enacted into law. Private laws only affect a private individual or individuals. A Private law is designated by the abbreviation “Pvt. L.” followed by the Congress number (e.g. 104), and the number of the law. For example: Pvt. L. 104-1.

Public Law: A bill or joint resolution (other than for amendments to the Constitution) passed by both Houses of Congress and approved by the President. Bills and joint resolutions vetoed by the President, but overridden by the Congress also become public law.

Ratification: Two uses of this term are: (1) the act of approval of a proposed constitutional amendment by the legislatures of the States; (2) the Senate process of advice and consent to treaties negotiated by the President.

Reapportionment: The process by which seats in the House of Representatives are reassigned among the States to reflect population changes following the decennial census.

Redistricting: The process within the States of redrawing legislative district boundaries to reflect population changes following the decennial census.

Referendum: The submission of a law, proposed or already in effect, to a direct vote of the people.

Report: The printed record of a committee’s actions, including its votes, recommendations, and views on a bill or question of public policy or its findings and conclusions based on oversight inquiry, investigation, or other study.

Republic: A state or nation in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives elected, directly or indirectly, by them and responsible to them.

Resolution: Legislation introduced in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, but unlike bills they may be limited in effect to the Congress or one of its chambers. The three types of resolutions are joint resolutions, simple resolutions and concurrent resolutions.

Roll Call Vote: There are several different ways of voting in Congress, one of which is the roll call vote, where the vote of each member is recorded. Not all bills, in fact, the minority of bills, receive a roll call vote.

Simple Resolution: Legislation that relates to the operations of a single chamber or expresses the collective opinion of that chamber on public policy issues. A simple resolution originating in the House of Representatives is designated by the letters “H. Res.” followed by a number and simple resolutions introduced in the Senate as “S. Res.” followed by a number. For Example: H. Res. 10.

Statutes At Large: The official source for the laws and resolutions passed by Congress. Every law, public and private, ever enacted by the Congress is published in the Statutes at Large in order of the date of its passage. Until 1948, all treaties and international agreements approved by the Senate were also published in the set.

Sovereign: Above or superior to all others; chief; greatest; supreme dominion or power.

Tabling Motion: A motion to stop action on a pending proposal and to lay it aside indefinitely. When the Senate or House agrees to a tabling motion, the measure which has been tabled is effectively defeated.

Veto: The constitutional procedure by which the President refuses to approve a bill or joint resolution and thus prevents its enactment into law. A regular veto occurs when the President returns the legislation to the originating House without approval. It can be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in each House. A pocket veto occurs after Congress has adjourned and is unable to override the President’s action.