Un-Legislative History

Wikipedia is often a boon for quick legal research about well-publicized matters.  It’s a great way to find where a statute is codified, or the background of a famous case.  When it comes to legislative history, though, sometimes Wikipedia’s a bust.  For anyone looking for a good example of why one must follow up with proper research into legislative history, please see Wikipedia’s entry on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which passed in July 2010.  As of Nov. 16, 2010, Wikipedia has the following to say about the changes implemented by Title XI of Dodd-Frank:

“The Federal Reserve Act is amended to change the New York Federal Reserve President to a Presidential appointment, with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

In support of this assertion, Wikipedia cites and links to the Enrolled Final Version of HR 4173, available on the LOC’s Thomas page.  Unfortunately, Wikipedia gets it wrong:  The version of the bill that passed Congress removed that language (which had been proposed by the Senate but rejected by the House).  The Senate’s proposal in this regard was snipped on June 17, 2010, weeks before the final bill passed.  Legislative history research–including review of committee meeting transcripts–coupled with news and secondary source coverage bore out the truth.

We always offer cautions when it comes to Wikipedia, and now there’s a handy example to which we can refer.

UPDATE:  Thanks to our helpful reader, Wikipedia has been policed. . .while its lesson remains!

5 thoughts on “Un-Legislative History

  1. For what it’s worth, the mistake you note can be seen in the version at this permalink:


    Wikipedia is easy to edit, for good or ill. The problem here is that the article editor didn’t understand the subtle differences between different legislative-history documents. The article still cites the wrong document in at least 15 other places, so there are likely other substantive errors in there. Someone could clean that up, if they cared about it.

    But one really nice Wikipedia feature is that you can always cite the correct version by using the permalink, even after the page has been edited. More websites need that feature.

    • Thank you! The legislative history and the discovery of the error was rather fun . . .but in the public interest, I’m happy to see it fixed!

  2. So funny, I was just researching Dodd-Frank with a student this morning and we were looking at this very entry!! We were looking for the very first proposed legislative language from the Dept. of Treasury on the Volcker Rule, and came across this Wikipedia entry.

    • Wow! Dodd-Frank is such a pressing topic now, and there’s a lot of poor information floating around in coverage of the legislative revision process for it!

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