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Congress Has Power to Enforce Inherent Contempt Fines Unilaterally Using all Available Collection Methods

Representative Ted Lieu testifying is support of H.Res. 1029 The Congressional Inherent Contempt Resolution at the House Committee on Rules Members’ Day Hearing on October 1, 2020.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 8:00am Media Contact: Bill Murphy • • (610) 529-6494 (m)

Washington, DC – The U.S. House possesses the authority to enforce inherent contempt fines unilaterally without the assistance of courts and is entitled to employ the same collection methods available to other creditors advocacy group Good Government Now (GGN) said in a statement today. GGN’s comments came in response to a discussion of enforcement issues at the House Rules Committee Members’ Day Hearing on October 1st addressing proposed rules changes for the 117th Congress.

Rep. Ted Lieu testified at the hearing in support of H.Res. 1029 the “Congressional Inherent Contempt Resolution,” his proposal to establish a modified version of the traditional inherent contempt process whereby the House could conduct trials of, convict, and directly penalize executive branch officials and others who defy congressional subpoenas with heavy personal fines of up to $100,000. In response to questions from committee members who expressed uncertainties about how Congress would enforce such fines, Lieu noted that there would be collections by the House of any fines it imposes similar to how courts collect fines.

GGN President Dr. William J. Murphy said, “We are pleased at the opportunity Rep. Lieu’s testimony provided to clarify that the House possesses the authority and ability to enforce inherent contempt fines. The House clearly possesses constitutional authority to impose fines based on the historic recognition of the equivalence of the legislative and judicial contempt powers, the validity of judicial fines for contempt, and the permissibility of legislative fines in several landmark Supreme Court and appellate court decisions including Anderson v. Dunn, Ex Parte Nugent, McGrain v. Daugherty, and Jurney v. MacCracken among others.”

“Congressional authority to punish contempt with fines also encompasses the power to collect such fines unilaterally without the assistance of courts and using the same methods available to other creditors,” Murphy said.  “House resolutions imposing inherent contempt penalties are the legal and constitutional equivalents of court orders given the analogous nature of the contempt powers of the two branches as affirmed by the Supreme Court.  They therefore provide sufficient legal basis for initiation of collection actions.”

GGN’s statement also emphasized that once it imposes a fine, the House is entitled to use all the same collection methods as other creditors including impounding, levying or seizing assets; filing liens, and garnishing wages among others. It may retain outside collection attorneys or agencies to perform these tasks, create internal staff capabilities to execute them or pursue some combination of both. The exact methods the House employs to collect fines are purely administrative policy and procedural questions for it to decide for itself. Indeed, the best answer to the question of how the House will collect inherent contempt fines is “however it wants.” The Senate, of course, possesses the same enforcement powers as the House.

Bill Murphy is available for interviews and comment at (610) 529-6494 or

More information about Good Government Now’s subpoena enforcement proposals are available on our website at: Inherent Contempt Fines Rule or

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