House Targets Judicial 'Errors' with a New Strategy; Votes to Stop Enforcement of Rulings on Pledge, Posting

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 29, 2003 | Go to article overview
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House Targets Judicial 'Errors' with a New Strategy; Votes to Stop Enforcement of Rulings on Pledge, Posting


Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The House took a rare swipe at two federal appeals court decisions last week, voting to stop enforcement of rulings that public schools may not recite the Pledge of Allegiance and that a courthouse may not post the Ten Commandments.

The U.S. Marshals Service would not be allowed to enforce those two decisions, under amendments that were passed as part of the House's spending bill for the Commerce, Justice and State departments.

"When the legislative branch, that is the Congress, believes the judicial branch to be in error, the Congress may refuse to fund actions to enforce the court's judgment by the executive branch agency that would execute those judgments," said Rep. John Hostettler, Indiana Republican, who sponsored the amendments.

It's the newest strategy for House Republicans, who have shown an increasing willingness to try to reel in what they see as judicial activism run amok.

Last week, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, along with Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, announced a new working group to "once and for all reassert responsibility and authority of Congress, and remind the judiciary of who they are, as outlined in the Constitution," Mr. DeLay said.

The Hostettler amendments weren't part of the new group's efforts, but Mr. Chabot said it was the type of thing they want to encourage.

"We aim to provide some checks and balances to the judiciary, who we feel are abusing their positions," he said. "We think if we expose judicial abuses to some sunshine, that will result in fewer abuses."

The first Hostettler amendment, which passed 307-119, prohibits enforcement of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last summer on the Pledge. The second amendment, adopted 260-161, prohibits enforcement of the 11th Circuit's fall ruling that the Alabama Supreme Court's chief justice may not post the Ten Commandments at the state courthouse.

Mr. Hostettler is trying to find a senator to push for the provisions in the corresponding Senate bill. Mr. DeLay said House Republicans will push for the provisions in a final House-Senate compromise.

Congress has threatened to curb courts' jurisdiction to hear some cases in the past, and often expresses displeasure with a decision by the president or an executive agency by defunding an action. But going after a court decision by defunding its enforcement is a new approach, said Barry Friedman, a law professor at New York University.

"It's plainly an attack on what the courts have done, and should the Senate go along and the president, it would be judged as an attack on the courts," he said.

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