First elected to the House in 1987, she rose to become the first chairwoman of the House Rules Committee in 2007. The Rules Committee is responsible for drafting special rule resolutions that govern the debate for major pieces of legislation. Since these resolutions determine how long a bill may be debated, whether amendments are permitted, and whether the House waives its formal rules for an individual bill, the chairwoman of the Rules Committee has substantial influence over the legislation that comes before the House. Representative Slaughter led the committee during the 110th and 111th Congresses. During that time, Congress enacted consequential legislation like the Affordable Care Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the 2009 fiscal stimulus), for which the Rules Committee reported special rules. Following the Democrats’ loss of the House in the 2010 elections, Representative Slaughter served as the Ranking Member of the Rules Committee until her death.
In addition to serving on the Rules Committee, Representative Slaughter was known for her advocacy on behalf of the arts. She was the Co-Chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, which advocates for funding the National Endowment for the Arts and similar initiatives. According to her website, Representative Slaughter secured over $1 million in funding for arts initiatives for her district. She also served as the Democratic Co-Chair of the Congressional Art Competition for the 103rd Congress (1993 and 1994). (The Congressional Institute sponsors the annual Congressional Art Competition.)
In addition to her work on behalf of the arts, Representative Slaughter specialized in health-related legislation. For instance, she introduced the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which was overwhelmingly adopted with almost no dissent in the House and unanimously in the Senate. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology from the University of Kentucky, followed by a Master’s degree in Public Health.
A native of Kentucky, she moved to New York following graduate school. Prior to serving in Congress, Representative Slaughter was a member of the New York State Assembly (1982-1986) and the Monroe County Legislature (1976-1979).
To mark Representative Slaughter’s death, Speaker Paul Ryan has ordered the flag lowered to half-staff. According to law, when a sitting Member dies, the flag is lowered on the day of death and the following day; however, this honor is often extended until the day of the funeral. (For more on how Congress mourns one of its own, visit “What Happens When a Member of Congress Dies?”)
Congressional leaders also made tributes in memory of Representative Slaughter. Speaker Ryan said:
Louise was a giant in the people’s House, the first woman ever to chair the Rules Committee. That said, Louise did not need a gavel to make a dent in history. She was unrelenting in fighting for her ideas and the people back home in Western New York. But really, the thing that I keep coming back to is how she was tough, but unfailingly gracious. She was simply great.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said:
In her lifetime of public service and unwavering commitment to working families, Congresswoman Slaughter embodied the very best of the American spirit and ideals. With her passing, the Congressional community has lost a beloved leader and a cherished friend.
Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the Chairman of the House Rules Committee, said:
This morning our Rules Committee family received heartbreaking news about the passing of our dear friend and colleague, the Ranking Member of our Committee, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter from Rochester, New York. As the first female Chairwoman of our Committee she was a force to be reckoned with who always brought her spunk, fire, and dynamic leadership to every meeting. Louise was a fearless leader, deeply committed to her constituents, and a dear friend.
Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who will likely succeed Representative Slaughter as the Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, said:
Today we are heartbroken by the passing of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. Louise was a leading progressive voice in Congress for more than 30 years and will be remembered for her incredible record of service.
Mark Strand is the President of the Congressional Institute and Timothy Lang is a research director. The Sausage Factory blog is a Congressional Institute project dedicated to explaining parliamentary procedure, Congressional politics, and other issues pertaining to the Legislative Branch.