Open main menu

The right to petition government for redress of grievances is the right to make a complaint to, or seek the assistance of, one's government, without fear of punishment or reprisals, ensured by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791). Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union ensures the right to petition to the European Parliament.[1] The right can be traced back to the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany,[2] the Bill of Rights 1689, the Petition of Right (1628), and Magna Carta (1215).


United StatesEdit

The prohibition of abridgment of the "right to petition" originally referred only to the Congress and the US federal courts. The incorporation doctrine later expanded the protection of the right to its current scope, over all state and federal courts and legislatures, and the executive branches of the state[3] and federal governments.

The right to petition includes, under its umbrella, the petition. For example, in January 2006, the US Senate considered S. 2180,[4] an omnibus "ethics reform" bill. This bill contained a provision (Section 204)[5] to establish federal regulation, for the first time, of certain efforts to encourage "grassroots lobbying". The bill said that "'grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same".

This provision was opposed by a broad array of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association.[citation needed] On January 18, 2007, the US Senate voted 55-43 to strike Section 221 from the bill.[citation needed]

There are ongoing conflicts between organizations that wish to impose greater restrictions on citizen's attempts to influence or "lobby" policymakers.[6] and the right of individuals, groups, and corporations (via corporate personhood[citation needed]), to lobby[3] the government.

Another controversial bill, the Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 984, would require over 8,000 Executive Branch officials to report into a public database nearly any "significant contact" from any "private party", a term that the bill defines to include almost all persons other than government officials. The bill defines "significant contact" to be any "oral or written communication (including electronic communication) . . . in which the private party seeks to influence official action by any officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States." This covers all forms of communication, one way or two ways, including letters, faxes, e-mails, phone messages, and petitions. The bill is supported by some organizations as an expansion of "government in the sunshine", but other groups oppose it as an infringing on the right to petition by making it impossible for citizens to communicate their views on controversial issues to government officials without those communications becoming a matter of public record.[7][8][9]


Ancient and Imperial Chinese dynasties recognised the right to petition for all subjects. Commoners could petition the Emperor to remove local officials.[10] The Huabiao, a ceremonial column common in traditional Chinese architecture, is believed to have originated from signboards set up by ancient rulers to offer an avenue for the public to write petitions.[11][12]

In modern China the use of local petitioning bureaus remains common, however, those who remain dissatisfied still travel to the capital as a last resort to appeal to the central government.[13] The National Public Complaints and Proposals Administration (Chinese: 国家信访局) and local bureaus of letters and calls receive suggestions and grievances. The officers then channel the issues to respective departments and monitor the progress of settlement, which they feedback to the filing parties.[14] If unsatisfied, they can move up the hierarchy to bring complaints to the next higher level.[15][16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000), Article 44
  2. ^ Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, Article 17
  3. ^ a b "The Right to Petition". Illinois First Amendment Center. Archived from the original on April 11, 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2006".
  5. ^ "Section 204".[full citation needed]
  6. ^ Newton, Adam. "Petition - Right to sue". First Amendment Center. Archived from the original on March 24, 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  7. ^ Memorandum Archived 2007-04-01 at the Wayback Machine: "Congressman Waxman advances grave new threat to citizens’ ‘right to petition’ government officials," by Douglas Johnson and Susan Muskett, J.D., National Right to Life Committee, February 20, 2007.
  8. ^ Letter from Richard D. Hertling Archived 2007-06-14 at the Wayback Machine, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, to the Honorable Henry Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, March 8, 2007.
  9. ^ Letter from Robert I. Cusick Archived 2007-06-27 at the Wayback Machine, Director, Office of Government Ethics, to the Honorable Henry A. Waxman, Chairman, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, February 14,valentines day, 2007.
  10. ^ Brook, Timothy (1999). The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. University of California Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-0-520-22154-3..
  11. ^ Culture of Beijing: Huabiao
  12. ^ 《淮南子·主术训注》说:“书其善否于华表木也。” 《大戴礼·保傅》云:“忠谏者,谓之诽谤。”《吕氏春秋·自知》:“ 尧有欲諫之鼓,舜有诽谤之木,汤有司过之士,武王有戒慎之鞀,犹恐不能自知。”《史记·孝文本纪》:“古之治天下,朝有进善之旌,诽谤之木,所以通治者而来谏者。”
  13. ^ James Reynolds (9 April 2009). "Petitions in China". BBC. Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  14. ^ "Chinese official web site:国家信访局". Retrieved 2009-04-08.
  15. ^ HRW's "Alleyway" citing Li Li, "Life in a Struggle," Beijing Review, May 4, 2005,
  16. ^ HRW's "Alleyway" citing Jonathan K. Ocko, "I'll take it all the way to Beijing: Capital appeals in the Qing," Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 47.2 (May 1988), p.294