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July 07, 2007

Contempt of Congress

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Via Steve "guest blogger for the stars" Benen. It makes no sense to have the executive branch enforce contempt of Congress charges against ... current or former employees of the executive branch. That said, the thought of empowering the Capitol Police to arrest those in contempt seems ... unpleasant. Is there another alternative?

July 7, 2007 | Permalink


Umm, yes. It's been really well blogged upon at this point. It's just that Democrats are too pathetic to pull the relatively minor trigger of Inherent Contempt. But the Justice Department has no say in that, and congress can lock people up for contempt all by it's lonesome.

Posted by: soullite | Jul 7, 2007 9:04:06 PM

Yeah, the Capitol Police does sound kind of funny, but the image of the House or Senate Sergeant at Arms being turned away at the WH gates is pretty powerul. Maybe they should be given a uniform like the Beefeaters in the UK (hehe).

I've pondered this issue (and other things that need rearranging). Last night I viewed on AMC (again, for the umpteenth time) the movie 'US Marshalls' - an awesome , but smart and kick-ass flick. Tommy Lee Jones at the WH Gate would be a sight to behold.

The US Marshall Service (from their website) seems to be subject to the will of Congress:

The offices of U.S. Marshals and Deputy Marshal were created by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, the same legislation that established the Federal judicial system. The Marshals were given extensive authority to support the federal courts within their judicial districts and to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress, or the president.

There may be some question whether the Congress and President can issue counter-orders to the Marshalls, but a small change in the the forthcoming DoD appropriations law (which Bush will be hard pressed to veto) could clarify that Congress is supreme in enforcing the Congressional power of inherent contempt - hint, hint.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 7, 2007 9:18:46 PM

Unpleasant? Unpleasant?!? Isn't it time that we move beyond our collective squeamishness of something being unpleasant? I'd argue that our collective life under Bush is damned unpleasant. Bloody unpleasant. Grotesquely unpleasant. How much more unpleasant are we willing to allow it to become before we decide it's too unpleasant?

Posted by: mk | Jul 7, 2007 9:28:21 PM

Is the any reason Congress can't just levy fines-- say, $5-10K for every day that a subpoena's ignored, for the bit players anyway-- instead of arresting people for contempt? At the very least, that would tie up a bit of the wingnut welfare system, and it'd be even more fun if the funds were earmarked for some cause that is either abhorrent to the right (say, proper sex ed) or that is a rebuke for their policies (PTSD treatment for veterans). They'd happily go for a dramatic standoff with law enforcement if Congress keeps this up, since they usually win image battles, but they whine like spoiled toddlers when hit in their pocketbooks.

Posted by: latts | Jul 8, 2007 12:07:55 AM

power of the purse, shut off salaries to all political appointees until the testimony occurs.

Posted by: CalDem | Jul 8, 2007 1:22:59 AM

Umm, there is this little thing called Impeachment...

Snark aside, Congress could grow a pair, declare that contempt of Congress is a High Crime and remove the Executive from office. That is how the founders envisioned Congress enforcing its powers.

Posted by: Steve | Jul 8, 2007 3:51:09 AM

I think that taking Miers and the other on einto custody and locking them up for contempt is actually the kinder alternative to a series of crushing fines which would either be very onerous for them or paid off instantly a la libby fine by much wealthier corporate shills.

I'm not joking about "much kinder." Neither woman is being asked to incriminate herself but simply to testify truthfully about actions taken with their knowledge and in their presence by higher ups. If I were them I'd be *pissed off* at being made part of this unwinnable tug of war *by the president* covering his own ass. Frankly, I'd be insisting on testifying or relieved to have the matter taken out of my hands by a higher authority (prison).

And lets face it, they are in contempt of congress right now. I don't see any reason to seek for gentler alternatives. They should testify, they should be forced to testify, and the only question is how briskly it can be done.


Posted by: aimai | Jul 8, 2007 7:05:46 AM

I don't get it. Under inherent contempt, the Sergeant at Arms of the US congressional body enforces the act. They are empowered to arrest a person under inherent contempt charges no matter where the are, so long as they don't flee the country. Theres no reason to go through impeachment, or to cut of salaries (these people are often independently wealthy).
What's more, even if pardoned, a second refusal to comply would be a new act of contempt, allowing them to be jailed repeatedly, regardless of a judges individual orders or a presidential pardon. This power is intended for situations like this, theres no reason not to use it except for personal cowardice and the Democratic fear of confrontation.

Posted by: soullite | Jul 8, 2007 7:49:38 AM

Yeah, the Sergeant at Arms, supported if necessary by the US Marshalls.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Jul 8, 2007 8:15:47 AM

Yeah, inherent contempt seems to make much more sense, especially given how Congress and the Executive are meant to be adversarial.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Jul 8, 2007 1:11:31 PM

I'll note that the GOP pretty much got over their aversion to unpleasant behavior long ago.

Posted by: rk | Jul 8, 2007 3:18:38 PM

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