Legislative colloquies are intended to clarify the meaning of ambiguous words or provisions in legislation and provide guidance to the administration and courts on how laws should be interpreted and implemented. They can also be used to formalize pledges for members to take certain actions, such as to hold a hearing in exchange for withdrawing an amendment.
Colloquies can be between two or more members; they can be ad-hoc or scripted, oral or written; and conducted on the House or Senate floor or during committee mark-up.
- Any two members can conduct a colloquy, but its impact will be far greater if one of them is the chair of the relevant committee or the sponsor of the legislation.
- Prepare the colloquy ahead of time, on paper, to make sure that both sides are clear on who will say what, and which issues will be clarified.
- Engage the committee chair or bill sponsor in the colloquy to maximize impact. Simply having a discussion between two members on the same side of an issue (or the same side of the aisle) will have far less legal and political impact than a colloquy that reflects a compromise or agreement between opposing sides.
- Share and distribute the colloquy widely – to the administration, the Congressional Research Service, committee members, the media and the public – to maximize its impact.
- Raising the Profile. Patrick Leahy and Ben Cardin, concerned by extrajudicial killings and torture during counternarcotics operations in the Philippines and Indonesia in 2016, conducted a floor colloquy to draw attention to the issue.
- Clarifying Legislative Intent. In 2015, Rep. David Cicilline introduced a bill, R. 2368, modeled on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S. 284), which would have imposed sanctions on those who commitgross human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Unable to move his bill, in May 2016 Cicilline entered into a colloquy with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce during markup of the Global Magnitsky Act. In the colloquy, Chairman Royce clarified that “the internationally recognized human rights referenced in the Global Magnitsky Act apply to all people, including those who identify as LGBT” and pledged a hearing on threats to fundamental human rights worldwide. The hearing was held in July 2016, and one of the witnesses represented a leading LGBT human rights organization.