Federal efforts to regulate standards on educational achievements have been met by intransigence; local governments feel that government imposition represents an undue infringement on their _____.

This is a GRE verbal question. The answer on the blank is "autonomy". But, I am wondering why "legislation" does not work on this blank.

  • Can you tell us why you think legislation would be OK?
    – user3169
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 23:53

4 Answers 4


Legislation is law (also known as statutes or code) enacted by the legislative branch of a government (also known as legislators).

Autonomy is a civil right to self-determination (that is, to make decisions for yourself about what you will do.)

Infringement is undue limitation or interference.

You can infringe on civil rights.

You can't infringe on legislation. Federal laws or court rulings that limit or interfere with local legislation don't infringe on the legislation, but they may infringe on the legislators' civil rights to make laws for themselves.


on their autonomy.

Local governments are the place where education standards are set. They want to feel free (have autonomy) to decide standards.

In fact, these are usually at the state level but local governments have a big role to play as (public) education is all locally funded in the US.

Local and state governments in fact have autonomy to decide educational issues and do not like their rights to do so to be infringed upon.


Legislation is an enacted piece of law that can be viewed as an infringement or restriction upon individual freedom.

Autonomy is the freedom of an individual to make their own decisions and policies derived from the Greek auto, meaning self, and the Greek nomo meaning law.

It doesn't make sense to infringe upon an infringement. This would lead to a double-negative of sorts, which is generally considered poor form in English grammar.

  • 2
    I'm not sure I agree with this reasoning. Some legislation can be crafted in an effort to guarantee or maintain individual freedoms, such as fair housing or anti-discrimination laws.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 9:17

I would say it's not so much a matter of the word legislation "not working" in the blank, but more a matter of autonomy being a much better fit.

This happens a lot with GRE verbal questions. They don't merely asking which of the two (or more) words can fit in the blank grammatically, but they also expecting some degree of reading comprehension, so that the best word is chosen.

As a simpler example, imagine a sentence like:

It was summertime, the time when Paul liked to look at the _______ leaves.


Paul was in New York City, looking at the long line of _______ taxis.

We can put any color we want in those blanks, and the sentences would still be grammatical. But if it's summertime, we expect most leaves to be green, and if we are in New York, we expect most of the taxicabs to be yellow. Green and yellow are better answers than pink and red – even though nothing prevents a taxi company from painting their cabs red.

With that in mind, let's say that a local school district has recently passed some new legislation, but a new federal mandate will wreak havoc on the new city law. In that case, I suppose a lawyer arguing in court on behalf of city might say:

The city government feels that new federal impositions represents an undue infringement on their legislation.

That makes sense, but I had to contrive an example to make it work. The following sentence, on the other hand, makes sense on its own and doesn't need a hypothetical example as a backdrop:

The city government feels that new federal impositions represent an undue infringement on their autonomy.

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