Saturday, November 27, 2004

Lawmakers, not Legislators

Some of the rules of usage that I've adopted reflect my political views. I make no apology for that, as I'd rather see political disputes resolved by good rhetoric than by brute force. But I don't always choose my language on a partisan basis. Consider this rule of usage: Ascribe statutes not to "legislators" or "Congress" but to "lawmakers."

I've adopted "lawmakers" for reasons of policy rather than politics. I reason that, at least so far as U.S. federal and state government goes, legislatures are almost never the sole source of statutes. Instead, the head of the executive branch—the president of the U.S. or the governor of the state—must also typically sign an act for it to become law.

Most legislators do no more than vote for a bill, so it hardly seems unfair to include the executive among a statute's makers. In the rare instance where the legislature acts without the executive's assistance, as when Congress passes a law over the president's veto, we can easily say as much. Moreover, we probably should note the extraordinary origins of such a statute.

In most cases, however, we can and should credit a statute's origin to "lawmakers" rather than merely to the legislative branch. Why leave the executive branch out? It deserves at least as much of the praise or blame for a statute as the legislative branch does.


Chris said...

And what about the justices within the judicial branch. Don't they play just as important a role as the other two branches in determining which sections are enforced (as well as the manner and times in which they are enforced?) So, with this as consideration one might say the entire apparatus of the state serves as the principal organ of fiat law (or "lawmakers" as you prefer to say.)

Glen Whitman said...

I agree with your point, Tom. But it would also be nice if we could reserve the word "law" for the brand of law created by judges -- that is, common law. In fact, I think the term law originally referred only to common law, though I may be mistaken about this. In any case, the kind of law made by legislators, chief executives, and bureaucrats differs from common law in important ways and deserves a different name. Rather than saying "lawmakers," I'd like to say "statutemakers" or "commandmakers." But I realize that's a harder sell than lawmakers.

Tom W. Bell said...

Chris, I'd not describe judges as law*makers* because I like to think (note the wistful tone!) that they do not make the law but rather find it.

Glen, you know my rallying call: "REVOLUTION (at the margin)!" So while I'm sympathetic to the logic of your suggestion, I think I'll stick to just trying to nudge our language bit by bit.