Scholarship Highlight: The NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission and Its “Invisible Legislators”

The Legislative Affairs Commission (LAC; 法制工作委员会) under the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) is such a unique institution that one can hardly find an equivalent in another country’s legislature. Consisting mostly of unelected and unidentified members, the LAC works in secrecy, making all decisions behind closed doors. In fact, there is not even a website detailing its functions and organizational structure. The LAC’s employees outnumber NPCSC members, and unlike the latter cohort, they all work full-time and include more legal experts than the staff of any other NPC body (Lu 2013). Their decisions play significant roles throughout the legislative process, from the agenda-setting stage to deliberations—and even after laws are enacted. One Chinese scholar thus aptly dubs the LAC staff “invisible legislators” (隐形立法者) (Lu 2013, p. 74). Some even worry that they may have usurped the powers of elected NPCSC members, thus becoming de facto legislators (Chu 2017).

Here in the third installment of Scholarship Highlight, we provide an overview of the LAC—an essential yet peculiar institution under the NPCSC—and its roles in the legislative process.

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Recording & Review: An Introduction to Constitutional Review with Chinese Characteristics

On October 18, 2017, halfway through his mind-numbing three-hour report to the Communist Party’s 19th National Congress, President Xi Jinping called for “advancing the work of constitutional review” (推进合宪性审查工作). We then noted, and Chinese media later confirmed, that it was the first time such expression appeared in Party documents. While the expression might be novel, the concept of constitutional review is not—it has been an inherent part of “recording and review” (备案审查; “R&R”) since at least 1982. For purposes of our discussion,[1] R&R is a process whereby various governmental entities with lawmaking powers record the legislation they enact with the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), and the NPCSC then, through several established mechanisms, review such legislation for potential violations of the Constitution and national laws and take appropriate actions. The primary goal is to ensure the uniformity in the hierarchical legal system.

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