Right to Petition: The Freedom to Speak to the Government

January 1, 2018   •  By IFS Staff   •    •  
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The First Amendment guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” While the right to petition the government is inextricably linked with the right to free political speech, it is nonetheless a crucial part of the Constitution of its own accord. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “both speech and petition are integral to the democratic process, although not necessarily in the same way. The right to petition allows citizens to express their ideas, hopes, and concerns to their government and their elected representatives, whereas the right to speak fosters the public exchange of ideas that is integral to deliberative democracy as well as to the whole realm of ideas and human affairs.”

The right to petition is often referred to pejoratively as lobbying. Under that moniker, states have heavily regulated any activity that looks like petitioning. This includes innocent actions like testifying before a legislative committee, talking to legislators, or organizing to support a policy proposal. Just as with the right to free political speech, it is imperative to defend the right to petition against politicians who want to hamstring the ability of citizens to express their opinions and engage with their representatives.

IFS Staff

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