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What is the Constitution Annotated?

This is a guest post by Meghan C. Totten, a paralegal specialist and legal editor in the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service.

For over a hundred years, the Constitution Annotated—officially The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation—has served as Congress’s Constitution of record. A Senate document, the Constitution Annotated surveys and illuminates how the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted every provision of the Constitution throughout the nation’s history.

Because the Constitution shapes congressional oversight and legislative actions, Congress has ensured its availability to members of Congress from the Republic’s earliest days. Beginning in 1795, “for the more general promulgation of the laws of the United States” (ch. 50, 1 Stat. 443 (1795)) Congress required “a complete edition of the laws of the United States, comprising the constitution” and other laws of the land, to be collected and printed. On March 3, 1797, Congress passed legislation (ch. 27, 1 Stat. 517) to print a personal copy of the above-mentioned collection for each member. By the 1830s, these copies were indexed so that members could quickly locate relevant provisions. Lists of Supreme Court decisions interpreting constitutional provisions were featured in copies of the Constitution that Congress provided to members in 1896. By the turn of the century, the length of these lists of decisions led to another innovation—a Constitution annotated (50 Cong. Rec. 197 (1913)) with explanations of Supreme Court decisions that interpreted constitutional provisions. This annotated version proved popular not only with Congress but also with the general public. Responding to public demand, Congress provided for the publication of additional copies of the annotated Constitution so they could be distributed to federal courts, depository libraries, and sold to the public. This version of the document has evolved into today’s hard-bound Constitution Annotated, which is published every 10 years with a supplement insert issued every two years containing cumulative updates. The next hard-bound edition, which has grown to almost three thousand pages, is scheduled to be published in 2022.

In 1970, Congress charged the Librarian of Congress with maintaining the Constitution Annotated, and the Librarian, in turn, has delegated this responsibility to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Consistent with CRS’s mission, the Constitution Annotated (or CONAN) provides Congress and the general public with authoritative, objective, and nonpartisan information on the Constitution.

The Library has also sought to promote public access to CONAN by making it freely available online since 2000. For many years, the Constitution Annotated’s online version was in a PDF format, making it challenging to locate information. Consequently, with the 100th anniversary of the Constitution Annotated, the Library decided to improve the online version of the Constitution Annotated by reimagining and reformatting this document for the digital era. The result of that effort is the new online Constitution Annotated—at constitution.congress.gov—which the Library launched on Constitution Day, September 17, 2019.

Since its launch, the online Constitution Annotated has had millions of visits and page views. It delivers information on the Constitution and how it has been interpreted faster and in a more accessible format. The online Constitution Annotated streamlines navigation, and is searchable, browsable, and more dynamic than ever. The new website modernizes the way content is delivered and also enhances the material through valuable bonus content, such as links to CRS written products and other Library of Congress resources on the Constitution.

 

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