The constitution and congressional committees: 1971–2000

Keith E. Whittington, Neal Devins, Hutch Hicken

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Scopus citations


The United States Congress delegates a significant portion of its legislative work to its committees. Even though the power and independence of committees has varied over time, the observation of a young Woodrow Wilson in the late nineteenth century remains largely true today: “The House sits, not for serious discussion, but to sanction the conclusions of its Committees as rapidly as possible. It legislates in its committee-rooms; … so that it is not far from the truth to say that Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.” Congress both “deliberates and legislates” in committee. Congressional committees are nonetheless largely uncharted territory for constitutional scholars. The new scholarly interest in extrajudicial constitutional interpretation largely ignores the congressional committee system generally and its routine work. When it focuses on the legislature at all, this scholarship limits its sights to floor debates or committee activities of extraordinary interest, such as the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. But, if committees are the primary sites in which Congress both deliberates and legislates, an adequate picture of congressional efforts to interpret and implement the Constitution will have to take into account the normal work of the committees. Committee hearings provide a useful window into congressional deliberation. Hearings do not provide direct access to the investigation and negotiation that ultimately produces legislative action. But as staged events for public consumption, hearings do provide useful information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Least Examined Branch
Subtitle of host publicationThe Role of Legislatures in the Constitutional State
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780511511035
ISBN (Print)9780521859547
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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