The right to petition is the freedom of individuals (and sometimes groups and corporations) to petition their government for a correction or repair of some form of injustice without fear of punishment for the same. Although often overlooked in favor of other more famous freedoms and sometimes taken for granted, many other civil liberties are enforceable against the government only by exercising this basic right, making it a fundamental right in both representative democracies (to protect public participation) and liberal democracies. The "right to petition," per se, is not mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but the related freedom of assembly and right to "take part in the government" are.
While the prohibition of abridgment of the right to petition originally referred only to the federal legislature (the Congress) and courts, the incorporation doctrine later expanded the protection of the right to its current scope, over all state and federal courts and legislatures and the executive branches of the state and federal governments. The right to petition includes under its umbrella the petition. For example, in January 2007, the U.S. Senate considered S. 1, an omnibus "ethics reform" bill. This bill contained a provision (Section 220) to establish federal regulation, for the first time, of certain efforts to encourage "grassroots lobbying." The bill said that "'grassroots lobbying' means the voluntary efforts of members of the general public to communicate their own views on an issue to Federal officials or to encourage other members of the general public to do the same." This provision was opposed by a broad array of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Right to Life Committee, and the National Rifle Association. On January 18, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 55-43 to strike Section 220 from the bill. However, other proposed regulations on "grassroots lobbying" remain under consideration in the 110th Congress.
There are ongoing conflicts between organizations that wish to impose greater restrictions on citizens' attempts to influence of "lobby" policymakers, and groups that argue that such restrictions infringe on the constitutionally protected right to sue the government, and the right of individuals, groups, and corporations (via corporate personhood), to lobby the government.
Another controversial bill, the "Executive Branch Reform Act, H.R. 984, would require over 8,000 Executive Branch officials to report into a public database nearly any "significant contact" from any "private party," a term that the bill defines to include almost all persons other than government officials. The bill defines "significant contact" to be any "oral or written communication (including electronic communication) . . . in which the private party seeks to influence official action by any officer or employee of the executive branch of the United States." This covers all forms of communication, one way or two way, including letters, faxes, e-mails, phone messages, and petitions. The bill is supported by some organizations as an expansion of "government in the sunshine," but other groups oppose it as an infringing on the right to petition by making it impossible for citizens to communicate their views on controversial issues to government officials without those communications becoming a matter of public record.