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Ten Bills That Really Mattered

• PATRIOT Act (2001). Depending on who one listens to, this law, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, could have either a major positive impact on law enforcement or a major negative impact on civil liberties. The law is too new to know who’s right — and, equally important, the act could be whittled back when it comes up for reauthorization this year.

And how were these laws seen at the time of their passage? In all, there is a modest, but not universal, correlation between the intensity of contemporary media coverage and an act’s eventual significance.

Frank Baumgartner of Pennsylvania State University and Bryan Jones and John Wilkerson of the University of Washington measured the amount of coverage afforded by Congressional Quarterly. Several of the measures on Roll Call’s list — including each of the top three — rank among CQ’s most-written-about bills since 1955. But most on our list do not.

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