How Do Laws Get Passed? A Reading Guide

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It seems like everyday, the new presidential administration does or says something that leaves people wondering, "Is that even legal?" If you find yourself confused about the current state of America's politics, wondering what's happening in our government, or questioning what can be done to stop it, there's an easy place to start: with books to help you understand how laws get passed and overturned in the United States. If you can understand the way legislation works in our country, then you can begin to understand how you can affect change.

The United States is a democratic republic, which means our citizens are controlled by a constitution that guides all of our laws and judicial practices, a constitution that was originally drafted in 1787. It also means that, to the average American, lawmaking and legislative action is like a foreign language only spoken by the suits in Washington, D.C., and the mouthpieces in the media.

For many of us, lawmaking presents in our lives as it unfolds on cable news, and we can do little but look on, confused and alarmed. The truth is, though, as a free and liberated democracy, we the people are supposed to be taking part in the lawmaking process, and the best way to do that is to get educated and get involved.

If you're interested in understanding the basic functions of our lawmaking process and figuring out how you can get involved, try reading these five books about how laws are made (and unmade) in American government.

'The Bill: How Legislation Really Becomes Law: A Case Study of the National Service Bill' by Steven Waldman

Lawmaking can be complicated, but one way of understanding it is to look at a specific example. That's what Steven Waldman does in The Bill, a case study filled with all the juicy details and Washington drama that went along with turning Bill Clinton's National Service Bill into a law. Clear, concise, and exciting, this book is great for anyone trying to understand the ins and outs of effective legislation in modern politics.

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'Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't' by Robert G. Kaiser

In Act of Congress, author Robert G. Kaiser tracks the dramatic progress of the financial reform bill, the Dodd-Frank Act, of 2008, and in turn tells the story of how an effective piece of legislation can change American law forever. An enlightening and accessible read about American politics, modern legislation, and today's government, The Bill will be able to answer all of your questions about how laws become laws (and why those that don't, don't.)

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'Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizens to Make Constitutional Law' by David Cole

An inspiring handbook for anyone looking to learn how to turn political action into constitutional law, Engines of Liberty use real, modern-day laws as examples of the effectiveness of citizen activism. For anyone wondering, "is what I'm doing really going to make a difference?" this is your answer.

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'Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women's Lives at Work' by Gillian Thomas

Another case study of sorts, Gillian Thomas's Because of Sex examines one law, ten cases, and the five decades of constant judicial fights that transformed the American workplace for women across the country. A wonderfully researched and vividly written account of the women, the lawyers, and the court system that revolutionized what it means to be female and employed.

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'Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About American Law' by Jay M. Feinman

In the fourth and most updated edition, Jay M. Feinman's Law 101 has, as the title implies, "everything you need to know about the American legal system" and more. Including a thorough introduction to law theory and a comprehensive rundown of legal terminology, this handy guidebook features the most important legal issues of our modern day, including same sex marriage, the definition of insanity, and the power of the state versus the federal government. If you want to learn all about laws, this is a great place to start.

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