We the People (petitioning system)

We the People
Link We the People
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Home website whitehouse.gov

We the People is a section of the whitehouse.gov website, launched September 22, 2011,[1] for petitioning the current administration's policy experts. Petitions that meet a certain threshold of signatures are most of the time reviewed by officials in the Administration and official responses are then issued, but not always, as outlined in the Criticism section.[1] Criminal justice proceedings in the United States are not subject to White House website petitions. In fact, no real processes of the federal government are subject to these White House website petitions; they are a public relations device for the present administration which permits citizens to express themselves. On August 23, 2012, the White House Director of Digital Strategy Macon Phillips released the source code for the platform.[2] The source code is available on GitHub, and lists both public domain status as a work of the U.S. federal government and licensing under the GPL v2.[3]


Users who wish to file or sign a petition are required to register a free whitehouse.gov account.


A petition must reach 150 signatures within 30 days to be searchable on whitehouse.gov and must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days to receive an official response.[4] The original threshold was set at 5,000 signatures on September 1, 2011,[5] was raised to 25,000 on October 3, 2011,[6] and raised again to 100,000 as of January 15, 2013.[7] However, the White House will typically not comment when a petition concerns any investigation which may be ongoing.[8]

Notable petitions

Death Star

In November 2012, a petition was created urging the government to create a death star as an economic stimulus and job creation measure gained more than 25,000 signatures, enough to qualify for an official response. The official (tongue-in-cheek) response released in January 2013[9] noted that the cost of building a real Death Star has been estimated at $852 quadrillion and at current rates of steel production, would not be ready for more than 833,000 years.[10] The response also noted that "the Administration does not support blowing up planets" and questions funding a weapon "with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship" as reasons for denying the petition.[9][11][12]

Newtown shooting

Following the spree-shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, a petition for new gun-control measures achieved 100,000 signatures within 24 hours.[8]

Cell phone unlocking bill

In February 2013, a petition started by OpenSignal co-founder and digital rights activist Sina Khanifar reached the 100,000-signature threshold required for a response from the White House.[13] Two weeks later, the Obama administration issued a response urging the FCC and Congress to take and legalize cell phone unlocking. A year later, Congress passed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, the first piece of legislation driven by an online petition.[14] The bill was signed into law by President Obama on August 1, 2014.

Prosecute 47 senators under the Logan Act

In March 2015, as the United States and the P5+1 group were negotiating with Iran on an agreement to restrain Iran's nuclear program, 47 Republican Senators sent an open letter to the leaders of Iran strongly suggesting that a future president or Congress could nullify any such agreement. This action was widely construed as deliberate interference with the negotiations, and possibly a violation of the Logan Act.[15] In response, several similar petitions were posted on March 9, 2015. One petition, entitled "File charges against the 47 U.S. Senators in violation of the Logan Act in attempting to undermine a nuclear agreement", passed the 100,000-signature threshold within one day. The petition had reached the number 1 spot, garnering more than 320,000 signatures by April 8, 2015, more than three times the number of signatures required to qualify for a response from the White House. For a variety of reasons, however, pundits, news analysts and legal scholars are largely skeptical that the petition will receive a favorable response leading to the requested prosecutions.[15][16][17][18][19][20]


Concerns about the efficacy of We the People have been raised since before the first White House responses were published.[21]

On August 13, 2013, the Washington Post website published an article about 30 petitions that had been left unanswered for an average of 240 days despite each having met the signature goals.[22] The article refers to the website whpetitions.info for taking "its own tally and highlights petitions that have received enough signatures but have not received responses."

As of 16 October 2016, 323 White House petitions have met their signature thresholds. The White House has responded to 321 of them (99%) with an average response time of 117 days. Average waiting time so far for 2 unanswered petitions: 23 days, according to whpetitions.info The total number of petitions created and percent that have reached an actionable level beyond a response are unable to be determined at this time.

Criticism has been directed at the choice of administration official to answer the petitions regarding the legalization of marijuana. Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was chosen to craft the administration's response.[23] The criticism stems from the Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998, which states that the Director must oppose all attempts to legalize the use of illicit drugs in any form.[24][25]

Other discussions of We The People have focused on its technical glitches,[26] democratic rationale,[27] and political dilemmas.[28] There is criticism about the willingness of the administration to answer petitions that meet the threshold for response, when several qualifying petitions have been unanswered for months or years.[29] In addition, the digital divide means that poor communities will have difficulty participating equally in We The People.[30]


  1. 1 2 , White House blog press release regarding the new "We the People" petitioning platform
  2. Phillips, Macon. "We the Coders: Open-Sourcing We the People, the White House's Online Petitions System". The White House Blog. Retrieved August 28, 2012.
  3. "We the People GitHub repository". GitHub. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
  4. We the People terms of participation page, whitehouse.gov
  5. Phillips, Macon (September 1, 2011). "We the People: Announcing White House Petitions & How They Work". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  6. Phillips, Macon (October 3, 2011). "A good problem to have: Raising the signature threshold for White House petitions". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  7. Phillips, Macon (January 15, 2013). "Why We're Raising the Signature Threshold for We the People". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  8. 1 2 Eilperin, Juliet (June 10, 2013). "White House petition to pardon Edward Snowden gathers steam", The Washington Post
  9. 1 2 Shawcross, Paul (January 11, 2013). "This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For". Wired (magazine). Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  10. "White House Rejects Death Star Petition: Doomsday Devices US Could Build Instead". International Business Times. January 15, 2013. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  11. "It's a trap! Petition to build Death Star will spark White House response".
  12. "US shoots down Death Star superlaser petition". BBC News. January 12, 2013.
  13. "Here's How Cell Phone Unlocking Became Legal". The White House. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  14. "Answering the Public's Call". The White House. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  15. 1 2 "Were 47 Republican senators who wrote to Iran guilty of a crime?", Ben Jacobs, The Guardian, March 13, 2015
  16. ABC News.com, / "Iran Letter: 165,000+ Sign Petition to Prosecute GOP Senators for Treason", Katelyn Marmon, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  17. The Gateway Pundit, "White House Petition to Charge ‘Treasonous’ Senators for Iran Letter Breaks 100,000 Signers in One Day", Kristinn Taylor, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  18. Bloomberg.com, "Can 231,445 People Who Want Tom Cotton Tried for Treason Be Wrong?", David Weigel, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  19. Huffington Post, "The Logan Act and the Treason Meme: Click Bait for Liberals", Monica Bauer, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  20. NPR.com, "Why The GOP Iran Letter Is Spurring Debate Over An 18th Century Law", Miles Parks, Retrieved March 12, 2015
  21. Forbes.com, "What The People Want: Abolishment of the TSA and Marijuana Legalization", Kashmir Hill
  22. WashingtonPost.com, "Here are the 30 questions the White House doesn’t seem to want to answer", Andrea Peterson
  23. whitehouse.gov, We The People petition response, What We Have to Say About Legalizing Marijuana, Gil Kerlikowske
  24. Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998, Title VII Sec. 704(b)(12)
  25. redbook.gao.gov, Application of Anti-Lobbying Laws to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Open Letter to State Level Prosecutors, B-301022, March 10, 2004, Anthony H. Gamboa
  26. Huffington Post, The Case of the Missing White House Petition, October 31, 2011, J.H. Snider
  27. Huffington Post, What Is the Democratic Function of the White House's We The People Petition Website?, October 20, 2011, J.H. Snider
  28. Huffington Post, The White House's New We the People Petition Website, October 11, 2011, J.H. Snider
  29. Josh Feldman (April 2, 2014). "New White House Petition Demands the White House Actually Answer White House Petitions". MediaIte.
  30. New Statesman, Britain's Other Islanders Petition the White House, April 3, 2012, Sean Carey

External links

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