Plain Language Prospects in American Public Law: Insiders Weigh In

Brian Christopher Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


While many international lawmaking jurisdictions have incorporated plain language principles for statutory drafting, the United States remains reluctant, and subsequently has no official policy on employing such principles for the drafting of federal legislation. Though Executive Orders and congressional statutes regarding plain writing have recently been enacted, these have been aimed at Executive Agency regulations and communications, not statutes. This article explores the current prospects of plain language implementation for U.S. statutory law, relying primarily on interviews from Congressional insiders, including lawmakers, staffers and legal/political journalists. Responses demonstrated that plain language standards for statutory law in the U.S. do not seem likely to be implemented anytime soon. However, interviewees also noted the significant contribution that the health care debate of 2009 was having on the legislative process, including an increased focus on statutory text by both lawmakers and citizens. Discussion of plain language principles was certainly present on Capitol Hill during the health care debate. If such standards are ever implemented, interviewee responses suggest that this debate could be recognized as a pivotal moment in regard to the general access and understandability of such text that the public faces when interacting with legislation. Additionally, this article discusses both the premise and challenges of plain language being considered a democratic right, and ultimately recommends that a legislative commission study the prospect of plain language in US statutory drafting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-28
Number of pages14
JournalModern American
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Legislation
  • Public law
  • Plain language
  • Plain writing
  • Statutes
  • Statutory drafting
  • US Congress
  • Westminster Parliamnent
  • Scottish Parliament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law
  • Sociology and Political Science


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