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65 Journal of Legal Education 96 (2015)


Although a rapidly growing number of law schools require students to take a course on legislation, many of these courses teach very little about how laws are actually enacted. This essay, written for a special issue of the Journal of Legal Education, argues that study of the legislative process helps students interpret and apply statutory language.

The essay surveys existing text books and supplemental resources that could be easily integrated into a Leg-Reg or Legislation class to explain modern Congressional procedure. The focus is the multiple distinct paths that bills may take through a legislative body and the written records of this process that lawyers may later consult, rather than the arcane parliamentary procedures that govern Congress. It also describes two experiential learning assignments—an exercise in which students debate and then draft a bill; and a legislative history research assignment—that I use to deepen student learning.

A working knowledge of the legislative process permits students to better deploy and critique arguments based on legislative history or canons of interpretation premised on assumptions about legislative process. Although a few class hours cannot teach students how Congress, state, or local legislative bodies “really” work, they can provide an effective foundation for the statutory research students will do throughout law school and as practicing lawyers.