Thursday, May 25, 2006

The FBI Raid 

I've been following the issue of the F.B.I.'s raid of Congressman William Jefferson's congressional office last weekend. As Carl Hulse of the New York Times points out today, Speaker Dennis Hastert and minority leader Nancy Pelosi have called for the return of all the material that was taken because, they contend, the act was an unconstitutional breech of the separation of powers doctrine. The Representatives claim that the speech or debate clause of the Constitution prohibits the recent search by the Justice Department.

Being a student of the U.S. Constitution I didn't know what the speech or debate clause was. So I looked it up. From Article 1 Section 6:

They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
The reason that this clause is in the Constitution goes back to the way King George ruled the American colonies. During this period it was not unusual for a representative to be arrested or persecuted for something he said during the carrying out of his duties. The Framers wanted to be prevent a strong executive branch from doing the same.

None of this applies to Mr. Jefferson. As the editors of the Washington Post reveal today the Justice Department has been trying to obtain his records for 8 months under subpoena but Mr. Jefferson has resisted complying. This fact, combined with the revelation that the congressman has been videotaped taking a $100,000 bribe and storing $100 bills in his freezer, moves this case out of the area of constitutional controversy.

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