Gingrich Is Right; Congress Can Contest Constitutional Interpretation with the Judiciary

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 28, 2011 | Go to article overview

Gingrich Is Right; Congress Can Contest Constitutional Interpretation with the Judiciary


Byline: Steven W. Fitschen, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

If you're a political junkie, you've got to love a presidential candidate who lights the fire Newt Gingrich has lit. Or at least you have to love the fire. Impeach judges? Subpoena them? Arrest them?

Zany, zany, zany Newt. Or is that correct, correct, correct Newt?

The case can be made that judges can be impeached for rendering unconstitutional opinions. But it probably can't be made persuasively in an op-ed piece. I won't try. But I'll take on the other two.

They can be subpoenaed, and, because they can be subpoenaed, they can be arrested if they refuse to comply. Yes, I know that former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said, The only basis by which Congress can subpoena people is to consider legislation. And, yes, I know that Andrew McCarthy, in a National Review Online article headlined There Is No Power and No Reason to Subpoena Federal Judges, claimed this action would violate separation-of-powers principles.

Let me try to take this out of the realm of opinion, into the realm of fact.

First, the only fair reading of Mr. Gingrich's comments is that he advocates subpoenaing judges as part of an impeachment investigation. If so, this surely can be done.

As background, Hind's Precedents - the historical go-to guide, cited 20 times by the Congressional Research Service in Impeachment: An Overview of Constitutional Provisions, Procedure, and Practice, its publication prepared just last year in the midst of the investigation of Judge G. Thomas Porteous - cites many examples of Congress issuing subpoenas, summonses and, yes, arrest warrants after someone has been impeached, but before the trial begins.

The evidence regarding the use of subpoenas before impeachment is slimmer but still proves Mr. Gingrich is correct. First, according to the current version of Jefferson's Manual, which the Congressional Research Service describes as containing the basic procedures to be followed by the House of Representatives and which is posted on the House Rules Committee's website, the House has specific practices in place for issuing the kind of subpoenas Mr. Gingrich is suggesting: Where a resolution of investigation positively proposes impeachment or suggests that end, it has been admitted as of privilege, such as a resolution reported by the Committee on the Judiciary authorizing an impeachment inquiry by that committee and investing the committee with special investigative authorities to facilitate the inquiry. A committee to which has been referred privileged resolutions for the impeachment of an officer may call up as privileged resolutions incidental to consideration of the impeachment question, including conferral of subpoena authority and funding of the investigation from the contingent fund.

Furthermore, there is at least one prominent example of Congress issuing subpoenas to the potential defendant during a pre-impeachment investigation: The House did so during its investigation of Richard Nixon. When Nixon refused to comply - even though the subpoena was only for documents, not his own testimony - the House Judiciary Committee considered that impeachable and included that offense in its drafted-but-never-used articles of impeachment.

Thus, it is a fact that Congress can issue subpoenas pursuant to an impeachment investigation, not just pursuant to its legislative agenda. …

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Gingrich Is Right; Congress Can Contest Constitutional Interpretation with the Judiciary
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