My native Georgia has, as part of its Constitution, a Single Subject Mandate that states in Article III, Section V, Paragraph III:
One subject matter expressed. No bill shall pass which refers to more than one subject matter or contains matter different from what is expressed in the title thereof.
Per Wikipedia, this is actually a common thread among the bulk of the State Constitutions in the US – 43 have some form of one, and 41 of those apply it to all legislation. (In Mississippi and Arkansas, it only applies to appropriations legislation.) While the easily Googleable evidence is scant, it seems that only North Carolina, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine do not currently have single subject mandates of any form. (In this downloadable legal paper, the map I used to obtain the prior data is found on page 20.) Further note that also during the course of my research for this article, I learned that “single subject rule” is a term that applies to States that have ballot-initiative processes, and not every State does (Georgia, for example, does not). Thus, the term I now use for the concept I am proposing is “Single Subject Mandate“.
With such widespread use across the nation in legislative bodies at the State level, it is truly astounding that such a Mandate has never been added to the Constitution as an Amendment. Indeed, it seems that the idea was long a passion of a fellow Floridian/Georgian WS “Spider” Webb Jr of Tallahassee. And he had a degree of success in his final years, with this article appearing at the James Madison Institute in 2018 and with House Joint Resolution 25, proposing a Single Subject Amendment to the US Constitution, introduced in 2017 at the beginning of the 115th Congress by US Rep Tom Marino (R-PA-10) and cosponsored in 2018 by US Rep Mark Meadows (R-NC-11). The proposed Amendment stated:
“Each bill, order, resolution, or vote which must be submitted to the President under section 7 of article I of this Constitution shall embrace no more than one subject and that subject shall be clearly and descriptively expressed in the title of the bill, order, resolution or vote.”.
With these historical foundations in place – nearly every State level Mandate has been in place for over a century now – and with the somewhat recent actual action at the Federal level (just two Congresses ago), it is truly now time to press this issue.
The bills Congress passes should be comprehendible to the American people, rather than just lawyers. They should be clear, as concise as possible – and pertain to a single subject. The controversial “REAL ID” Act, for example, was actually passed as a “rider” on an emergency supplemental appropriations bill – on its own, it was so unpopular that it had effectively died in the US Senate. The other major problem, in addition to riders, is the concept of “logrolling“, where numerous (often unrelated) provisions are crafted into a single bill in order to assure passage of the entire Act. Both the Affordable Care Act and this week’s Inflation Reduction Act are infamous examples of this particular practice, and here again there is at least some evidence that this practice, more than member ideology, is the more crucial part of ensuring a particular bill’s passage.
I suggest that one reason Congress historically has such low approval numbers is because of a lack of trust in it as an Institution by the American people generally (though there is a fair amount of evidence that the average American trusts his or her own Congressman significantly more than they trust Congress as a whole). And I suggest that one reason people distrust the institution is because they can’t understand the bills that it generates – in some (potentially large) part due to the fact that the bills do not restrict themselves to a single subject, as so many Americans’ State legislatures are mandated to do.
If Americans are to trust their Congressional representatives – whether there be the current 435 of them or the theoretical maximum of closer to 33,000 of them – the American People need to be able to read and understand for themselves, without any additional assistance, what is actually contained within a given bill. A Single Subject Mandate would go a long way to ensuring this.
It is beyond time to pass a Single Subject Amendment such as that one proposed by Rep Marino and officially add it to the US Constitution, and I call on any US Rep or US Senator who truly cares about the American people understanding what Congress is doing to introduce or cosponsor such an Amendment.