And Now For Something Completely Different

This is not a post about Monty Python (sorry), but a couple of thoughts on the word “amendment.” Over at The Originalism Blog, Professor Michael Ramsey discusses a debate regarding the meaning of the Origination Clause of the Constitution, which provides “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” A new constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) contends that the statute was enacted in violation of this provision because although the bill had a House Bill number, it actually originated in the Senate. As explained in this Volokh Conspiracy post by Professor Randy Barnett, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid simply took a House bill, struck out all of the text, and replaced it with a Senate-written bill. A new lawsuit now argues that this “strike and replace” procedure does not satisfy the requirements of the Origination Clause.

Professor Jack Balkin points out that using “strike and replace” or a “shell bill” as a means of formally satisfying the requirements of the Origination Clause has been done on a number of occasions in modern history, including the 1986 Tax Reform Act. He acknowledges that the “original expected application” of the Origination Clause probably did not include using the amendment process to substitute a completely different piece of legislation (after all, the Clause would seem to serve little purpose if this is allowed), but argues that it is literally consistent with the requirements of the Clause.

To which Professor Ramsey responds:

Professor Balkin further argues that strike-and-replace is “formally consistent with Article I, section 7, because the Senate has added an amendment to a tax bill that began in the House.”  I’m not sure that is right.  It depends on the meaning of the word “amendment.”  Is the deletion of one whole bill and the substitution of an entirely new bill properly defined (in ordinary use) as an “amendment”?  The dictionary I have closest to hand says that an “amendment” is “a correction or an alteration … [a] formal revision of, addition to, or change…”  In modern speech, I would think that the word “amendment” might contrast with “substitution” or “replacement.” (Of course, for original meaning what really matters is the 1787-88 definition, if it is different).

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