The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We frequently receive questions and comments from patrons who want to exercise their First Amendment right by making their position known on a piece of legislation. When patrons ask us what they can do to be heard regarding a piece of legislation, we will often suggest that they contact their senators and representatives directly. Because this process can seem somewhat overwhelming at first glance, we wanted to provide this quick and easy guide regarding how to determine who your members of Congress are and how to contact those members.
I. Locate Your Members of Congress
As explained on WhiteHouse.gov:
Established by Article I of the Constitution, the Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the United States Congress….The House of Representatives is made up of 435 elected members, divided among the 50 states in proportion to their total population. In addition, there are 6 non-voting members, representing the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and four other territories of the United States….The Senate is composed of 100 Senators, 2 for each state. Until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were chosen by state legislatures, not by popular vote. Since then, they have been elected to six-year terms by the people of each state. Senator’s terms are staggered so that about one-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years.
As such, you will likely have three members representing you in Congress: two senators and one representative.
We will first address how to find your senators, as they are easiest to find by state. To locate your senator using Congress.gov, simply visit the Congress.gov homepage, scroll to the bottom of the screen, and under “Current Members of Congress,” choose your state from the drop-down menu. Next, on the left-hand side of the screen, click “Chamber” and “Senate.” If you click on a member’s name in the results list, you will be taken to their Member page, which contains information about what legislation the member has sponsored or cosponsored, service dates, party affiliation, a picture (when available), and a link to remarks made in the Congressional Record, among other things. You can also use this process to locate a non-voting member of Congress (also known as a “delegate,” or, in the case of Puerto Rico, a “resident commissioner”). Simply select the district or territory of interest from the drop-down menu underneath “Current Members of Congress,” and select the member’s name from the results page to open their member page. In addition, you can visit the Senate’s “Our States” page, click on the state of interest, and you will be taken to a page that links you to the official pages of the two senators from that state. The Senate also has a “Contact Information” page that lists all the senators of the current Congress alphabetically, and can be sorted by state.
To find your representative, you will first have to determine what congressional district you live in. To do this, visit the House of Representatives’ “Find Your Representative” page, type your zip code in the search box, and click the “Find your Rep by Zip” button. If more than one congressional district is contained in your zip code, you can look to the map on the results page to see where the borders of each congressional district are located. Once you select a congressional district, you will see the name of the representative from that congressional district, as well as a link to their official website. If you want more information about the representative, you can also search for their member page on Congress.gov by selecting “Members” from the pull-down menu at the top of every Congress.gov screen, typing the representative’s name into the search box, and clicking enter.
You can also obtain detailed contact information for members of Congress by using the Congressional Directory, which is prepared by the Joint Committee on Printing and published by the Government Publishing Office.
II. Petitioning for Redress of Grievances
Once you find the official websites of the pertinent members of Congress, you will note that there is often a “Contact” link found at the top of the homepage. Each contact page will likely have mailing, phone, and fax information for the member’s D.C. and local state offices. In addition, most members of Congress provide a web form, which allows constituents to type out their messages to the member, and leave their own contact information so that the member (or someone from the member’s staff) can get in touch with the constituent to discuss the issue.
For constituents wanting a little more guidance regarding how to frame their feedback to members of Congress, they might consider looking to one of the several books available on the topic, such as:
- The Citizen’s Guide to Lobbying Congress, by Donald DeKieffer
- A Citizen’s Guide to Politics in America, by Barry Rubin
As we have mentioned in some of our other Beginner’s Guides, you can find these, and other similar resources in a library near you by using the WorldCat catalog. When you select a resource from your search results list in WorldCat, scroll down to the “Find a copy in my library” section, enter your zip code (or city and country, for those not in the United States), and WorldCat will list the closest libraries to you that own that resource. You can then click on the library’s name to be taken to the resource’s entry in that library’s catalog.
We hope this guide has been helpful. If you have any legal research questions, please contact us through Ask A Librarian.