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H.R. 347 (112th): Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011

This bill made it a federal crime to trespass on the White House grounds, and it made other minor changes to an existing law.

This bill amended a previously existing law, which can be read here, that was also about establishing a crime of being in restricted areas protected by the Secret Service. This bill's only significant change was adding the White House to the list of restricted places.

What this bill changed

The House committee report for this bill explained:

"[T]here is no Federal law that expressly prohibits unlawful entry to the White House and its grounds or the Vice President's residence and its grounds. The Secret Service must therefore rely upon a provision in the District of Columbia Code, which addresses only minor misdemeanor infractions, when someone attempts to or successfully trespasses upon the grounds of the White House or Vice President's residence."

In other words, trespassing on the White House grounds was not a federal crime until this bill's enactment, and prior to then trespassing was prosecuted as a municipal misdemeanor.

The existing law

The other provisions in this bill regarding restricted grounds temporarily protected by the Secret Service were already a matter of law.

Some say those existing provisions made protests illegal at political events where the Secret Service is protecting a candidate for office. Our understanding is that this is incorrect. The law applies to "cordoned off" areas or where a restriction is posted and where the general public has been cleared from. Additionally, it is unlikely the courts would uphold a restriction on access based on a political viewpoint.

In summary

This bill:

  • Added "the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds" to the list of restricted areas.
  • Removed a section specifying federal jurisdiction of the offense -- we don't know why that is or if it has any practical significance.
  • Made other technical corrections that appear to us to be non-substantive.

Bills titled "Improvement Act" are often minor adjustments to laws to add clarity without changing the underlying intent of the law. Provisions in this bill were first introduced in a bill in 2009.

Other resources

This bill was also covered by Snopes and analyzed by the ACLU, although we don't agree with all aspects of those analyses.

Last updated Mar 14, 2016. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 8, 2012.

Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 [sic] - Amends the federal criminal code to revise the prohibition against entering restricted federal buildings or grounds to impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly enters any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Defines "restricted buildings or grounds" as a posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of: (1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President's official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.