Washington, DC – Advocacy group Good Government Now (GGN) praised the introduction today of a resolution proposing to establish an inherent contempt fines procedure for the House of Representatives.
The resolution, sponsored by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and five other members of the Judiciary Committee including Reps. Val Demings (D-FL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Joe Neguse (D-CO), David Cicilline (D-RI), and Madeleine Dean (D-PA) would amend House rules to establish an inherent contempt enforcement process whereby the House could conduct trials of, convict, and directly sanction executive branch officials and others who defy congressional subpoenas with heavy personal fines ranging from $25,000 to $100,000.
GGN President Dr. William J. Murphy said, “The inherent contempt fines resolution introduced by Congressman Lieu and his co-sponsors directly and effectively addresses the root cause of declining congressional enforcement authority by restoring a credible threat of significant personal punishment for those who defy congressional subpoenas.”
Murphy also observed, “This proposal is especially timely and necessary given ongoing oversight disputes between Congress and the administration including access to witnesses concerning the pandemic response, resistance of the Treasury Department to disclosing PPP loan recipients, and refusals of the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to appear to discuss the government’s response to the DC protests.”
GGN Senior Fellow Morton Rosenberg noted, “A deliberate, multi-decade campaign by the executive branch to deny Congress the ability to impose meaningful sanctions through its inherent and criminal enforcement authority has resulted in unacceptable obstruction of congressional authority. The deterioration of congressional enforcement over the past fifteen years has achieved crisis levels and the time for repairing it is long past due.”
Rosenberg added, “Given the historical crisis of legislative authority, this proposal is worthy of bipartisan support in the House. In fact, both parties in both chambers should support the establishment of inherent contempt fines procedures.”
Murphy concluded by noting, “We also hope Congress will consider fines in excess of $100,000 if necessary as well as supplementing inherent contempt fines with independent criminal prosecutions of persistently recalcitrant witnesses by congressionally-appointed attorneys in the event the fines are insufficient to motivate their compliance with a subpoena.”
“Congress clearly possesses the authority to impose fines through inherent contempt as well as to appoint attorneys to prosecute criminal contempts,” Murphy added. “These powers are supported by strong Supreme Court and appellate court precedents affirming the equivalence of the legislative and judicial contempt powers as well as the validity of judicial appointments of private counsel to prosecute criminal contempts of court.”
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