In the U.S., the right to petition gets explicitly stated in the first amendment of the Constitution, according to findlaw.com. The right to petition means the ability of citizens to address their concerns to their government without retribution. Although most people associate the right to protest and freedom of speech with the First Amendment, the right to petition is often essential for exercising other First Amendment rights.
The right to petition traces its roots to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, according to findlaw.com. The Magna Carta established some basic rights for the English people and limited the king’s power. One of these was the right of the lord chancellor in Parliament to petition some of the king’s decrees. By 1689, the English Bill of Rights allowed all English citizens to petition the king.
The right to petition essentially means public participation in the functioning of government, according to the First Amendment Center. Petitioning the government can mean anything from testifying in front a government panel or complaining to a school board. This makes governments accountable for its actions and allows the average person a greater influence.
Use in the U.S.
The exercise of the right to petition gained prominence during the abolition movement of the 1830s, when thousands of citizens sent letters to Congress asking that it set slaves free in Washington, D.C. In 1932, veterans of World War I camped out in Washington, claiming it as a right to petition, to express their displeasure with a lack of bonuses promised years earlier.
In the modern world, right to petition usually refers to any non-violent redress of government, according to the First Amendment Center. Legally, people perform actions like letter writing campaigns, lobbying and signature collecting under the right to petition, even if it uses other rights, such as the right to protest.
People who express their right to petition are sometimes met with a “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), according to the First Amendment Center. Using the right to petition clause as a defense usually defeats a SLAPP case. However, according to the FAC, most people who bring SLAPP cases do expect to win, but hope to intimidate opposition with the mere presence of a lawsuit.