Congressional hearings are "held by standing and special committees of the House and Senate to investigate various issues of concern, and also to elicit views on proposed legislation from interested persons or groups, executive branch personnel, or other legislators" Kent. C. Olson et al., Principles of Legal Research § 6.1(c) (3rd ed. 2020). Many times, witnesses who provide testimony at these hearings are experts or leaders in their fields, though celebrities have also been known to provide testimony. In a 2019 interview on NPR, political reporter and analyst Cokie Roberts said of celebrity witnesses, "Some of them are real experts. Think of Michael J. Fox testifying about Parkinson's, Christopher Reeve on stem cell research. But look. What celebrities bring is attention, and that's why members of Congress ask them to testify. The members use them, whether they're experts or not, to shine a light on some cause they're interested in."
Some of this attention has famously brought results. In 1969, Fred Rogers, creator and host of the popular PBS children's show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, spoke in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications in support of funding for public television. Instead of reading from a prepared statement, Mr. Rogers talked openly about the goals of his show: "My aim in programming is to establish an atmosphere in which children can grow in a healthy way. Each week day on television I welcome and express my acceptance of the viewing child: exactly as he or she might be feeling. . . . Through original songs, clearly defined fantasy and very straightforward age-appropriate dialog, I encourage the discovery that feelings about yourself and others are mentionable as well as manageable." During Mr. Rogers' exchange with Senator John O. Pastore, Sen. Pastore commented, "I am supposed to be a pretty tough guy and this is the first time I have had goose bumps for the last few days." In the end, Sen. Pastore remarked of the show, "It looks like you just earned the $20 million."
More recently, on June 11, 2019, Jon Stewart, the former host of The Daily Show and an advocate for veterans and 9/11 first responders, gave an impassioned speech to the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties for the reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund where he railed against Congress' lack of action saying, "The idea that you can only give them 5 more years of the VCF because you are not quite sure what is going to happen 5 years from now? Well, I can tell you, I am pretty sure what is going to happen 5 years from now: More of these men and women are going to get sick, and they are going to die." The House and Senate voted overwhelming to pass the bill and it became the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act, P.L. 116-34.
Other celebrities have testified on a multitude of causes. Many artists, including writers, musicians, and directors, have testified about copyright. These include Mark Twain (as Samuel Clemens) on establishing an international copyright, Sheryl Crow on the proposed introduction of "sound recordings as work made for hire" to copyright law, and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on protecting the "intellectual and cultural heritage" of film. Music piracy saw a number of musicians testifying before Congress, including rappers Chuck D and LL Cool J, and drummer Lars Ulrich from Metallica.
The sports world also participated in Congressional Hearings. Boxer Muhammad Ali testified in 1999, 2002, and 2004 on reforming the boxing industry. A number of baseball players, including Mark McGwire and Curt Shilling testified on steroid use in Major League Baseball. And former NFL players, including Merril Hoge, Tiki Barber, and Bernie Parrish, testified on football related head injuries.
Medical issues are also a frequent topic of testimony for celebrities, and many celebrities have personal experience with the subject matter at hand. Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as Superman in the 1970s and 80s, suffered a spinal cord injury and has testified for stem cell research to explore their "potential to cure disease and conditions ranging from Parkinson's and MS to diabetes, heart disease, to Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's" and more. After his diagnosis with Parkinson's disease, actor Michael J. Fox has advocated for increased Parkinson's research, including testifying before Congress. Singer, songwriter, and actor Nick Jonas testified about living with Type 1 diabetes, actor and comedian Seth Rogen testified about his family's experience with his mother-in-law's battle with Alzheimer's, and author Danielle Steel, as the mother of a suicide victim, testified about mental health and suicide prevention.
Education is another passionate subject matter for celebrity testimony, including from Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs on grants for information technology education, actress and mathematician Danica McKellar on encouraging more women and minorities in STEM education, and actor and popular host of Reading Rainbow LaVar Burton on funding for education programs on public television. Elmo, the furry, red monster Muppet from Sesame Street, even testified in support of music education programs.
Other celebrities testify on human rights causes, including Oprah Winfrey on child abuse in day care centers, Ashton Kutcher on human trafficking and modern slavery, and comedian Hasan Minhaj on student loans. Some celebrities have very personal experiences with the human rights causes they testify on behalf of: actress Gabrielle Union talked about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault and the importance of the Violence Against Women Act, musician Jewel discussed her experience as a homeless teenager, and actor Mickey Rooney talked about his experience with elder abuse.
Celebrity congressional testimony even covers foreign affairs (George Clooney on the border conflict and humanitarian crisis in Sudan and South Sudan), environmental issues (Ted Danson on plastic pollution in the ocean), and animal welfare (game show host Bob Barker on captive elephants and circuses).
Interested in reading additional celebrity congressional testimony? Jenkins has multiple resources to help you find Congressional hearing testimony, including the member databases HeinOnline and ProQuest Congressional, the library's in house Bloomberg Law and Lexis computers, and on microfiche. Select testimony may also be available for free online from govinfo and the Law Library of Congress. For more details, check out the Committee Hearings page of our Congressional Documents research guide.
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