Don’t Be Silly: Lawmakers “Rarely” Read Legislation and Oftentimes Don’t Understand It…But That’s Okay

Brian Christopher Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A frequent and cumbersome complaint about lawmakers is that they do not read legislation as it travels through the legislative process. In the United States, complaints about the lack of textual reading of legislation reached a fever pitch during debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), as legislators were often portrayed as having a lack of specialized, or even general, knowledge on the lengthy measure. Many respected news outlets waded into the issue: Washington Post (“Read Before You Vote, Congressman”); U.S. News and World Report (“Health Reform Demands That Lawmakers Read the Bills”); and even Wired (“Read the Bill, Group Tells Congress”). The Wired story featured the Sunlight Foundation, which started a campaign called “Read the Bill,” complete with its own website listing rushed bills and other case studies regarding lengthy legislation. Yet, the view that not reading legislation is problematic seems to be based on the mistaken belief that lawmakers are interested in and engaged with every bill that passes in front of their desk or is voted on in the chamber. To be frank, this assertion is silly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-21
Number of pages15
JournalPenn State Law Review: Penn Statim
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2013


  • Bills
  • Acts
  • US Congress
  • Westminster Parliament
  • Legislation
  • Reading legislation
  • Legislative processes
  • Understanding Legislation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Don’t Be Silly: Lawmakers “Rarely” Read Legislation and Oftentimes Don’t Understand It…But That’s Okay'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this