O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health LawO’Neill Institute for National and Global Health LawLegal Issues in Health Reform

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Martial Law

There is a great deal of nonsense flying around the internet this weekend about the country being ruled by martial law because the House Rules Committee is considering adopting the Senate bill under a special rule that deems the Senate bill adopted rather than adopting it as such. The claim is that this would violate Art. I, sec. 7, which states “But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays and the names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively.” This provision, however, appears in the section of Article I dealing with vetos and veto overrides, and applies specifically to votes on veto overrides. Article I, sec. 5, explicitly states that “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” It further provides that one fifth of those present can demand a record of a yeas and nays vote, but it does not say precisely the issue that the vote must address. Although the special rule procedure that the House is considering may seem arcane, or perhaps stupid (since everyone who votes for the rule will have gone on record as voting for the Senate bill), it is not novel and has been used by the House before. http://www.rules.house.gov/Archives/98-710.pdf. One of the silliest commentaries declares that the framers regarded this provision so important that they capitalized the word “Bill.” Presumably they also thought that negative votes were more important than affirmative, since they capitalized “Nays” but not “yeas.” Judging the intention of the framers from capitalization is a perilous business.

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