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Video: “Can a Revised Inherent Contempt Procedure Strengthen Enforcement of House Subpoenas to the Executive Branch?” Panel Discussion, 10/19/18

“Can a Revised Inherent Contempt Procedure Strengthen Enforcement of House Subpoenas to the Executive Branch?” 

Panel Discussion sponsored by Good Government Now 

Friday, October 19, 2018 from 12-1:30 pm

Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2226 

45 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20515

A distinguished panel of congressional oversight experts including former House General Counsel Stanley M. Brand and Project on Government Oversight Director of Public Policy Elizabeth Hempowicz considered whether an amendment to House rules establishing a revised inherent contempt enforcement procedure proposed by Good Government Now Senior Fellow Morton Rosenberg can reinvigorate congressional subpoena enforcement power in this luncheon panel discussion.

Inherent contempt enforcement is the centuries-old practice of the U.S. Congress and other parliamentary bodies of defending their institutional authority by holding trials to convict and punish individuals who defy subpoenas or otherwise obstruct legislative inquiry. Rosenberg’s proposal would establish a process whereby the U.S. House could unilaterally conduct trials of, convict, and punish executive branch officials for contempt of Congress.

“Our proposal to reinvigorate congressional subpoena enforcement power with a revised version of the traditional inherent contempt procedure is urgently needed to reverse the crisis in declining congressional oversight effectiveness in recent decades,” explained Good Government Now President Bill Murphy. “The executive branch has challenged congressional oversight, investigative, and subpoena enforcement authority ever more boldly during this period. The Department of Justice has pursued a deliberate strategy of preventing Congress from using its historically most effective inherent and criminal contempt enforcement procedures through litigation, internal legal opinions, and departmental policies. The situation has deteriorated so significantly, that more than one observer has remarked that congressional subpoenas to the executive branch have become meaningless. The House should act decisively to correct this unhealthy situation by amending its rules to establish a robust inherent contempt enforcement process for the next Congress.”


Stanley M. Brand – Senior Counsel, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and former U.S. House General Counsel

Elizabeth Hempowicz – Director of Public Policy, Project on Government Oversight

Morton Rosenberg – Senior Fellow, Good Government Now and former Specialist in American Public Law at the Congressional Research Service for thirty-five years.


Dr. William J. Murphy – President, Good Government Now

Statements of Panelists

Statement of Morton Rosenberg for Inherent Contempt Forum. Washington, DC: Good Government Now. October 19, 2018.

Reference List

Inherent Contempt Rule Proposal 

Murphy, William J. and Rosenberg, Morton.  Summary of Proposed Inherent Contempt Rule.  Washington, DC: Good Government Now,  July 2018.

Murphy, William J. and Rosenberg, Morton. Why Congress Can Impose Fines for Contempt.  Good Government Now Briefing Paper.  Washington, DC. August 5, 2018.

Rosenberg, Morton. Statement for Inherent Contempt Forum. Washington, DC: Good Government Now.  October 19, 2018.

Rosenberg, Morton. Understanding and Confronting the Current Executive Challenges to Effective Congressional Investigative Oversight. 2018.

Background Information Sources

Chafetz, Josh. “Contempt of Congress,” Chapter 5 in Congress’s Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers. 1st Edition.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. (Google Books)

Garvey, Todd. Congress’s Contempt Power and the Enforcement of Congressional Subpoenas: Law, History, Practice, and Procedure.  Congressional Research Service Report RL34097, May 12, 2017. (See pp. 1-10 on “Congress’s Power to Investigate” and the “Early History of Contempt,” pp. 10-17 on “Inherent Contempt,” pp. 17-22 on “Statutory Criminal Contempt,” and pp. 34-54 on “Enforcement of a Criminal or Inherent Contempt Resolution Against an Executive Branch Official.”

Rosenberg, Morton. When Congress Comes Calling: A Study on the Principles, Practices, and Pragmatics of Legislative Inquiry. Washington, DC: The Constitution Project,  May 23, 2017. (See Chapter III, A. “Congress’s Power to Investigate, pp. 13-15; and Chapter III, B. “Enforcement of the Investigative Power,” pp. 23-27, especially Section 2 “The Inherent Contempt Power” and Section 3 “Statutory Criminal Contempt.”)

Rosenberg, Morton. Reasserting Congress’ Investigative Authority. R Street Policy Study No. 103. Washington, DC: R Street Institute,  July 2017.

Rosenberg, Morton. Why enacting H.R. 4010, the Congressional Subpoena Compliance and Enforcement Act of 2017, is a big mistake.  Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group. R Street Institute and New America Foundation. Washington, DC. January 9, 2018.


Good Government Now promotes strengthened congressional oversight, investigative, and legislative institutional capacities to re-establish an appropriate constitutional balance between the legislative and executive branches as well as accountability of the executive branch to Congress and the American people.

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