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GGN Proposes Inherent Contempt Enforcement Rule for U.S. House 

Proposal would put real bite into enforcement of congressional subpoenas of executive branch officials by enabling Congress to conduct trials and directly punish officials who obstruct the legislative process by imposing fines on them ranging from $25,000 to $250,000. 

Capitol Dome US Contempt of Congress ConservativeDr. William J. Murphy – July 5, 2018

Good Government Now (GGN) is recommending that the U.S. House of Representatives address the crisis in the declining effectiveness of congressional oversight of the executive branch by adopting our proposed “Inherent Contempt Enforcement Rule” which would establish an inherent contempt enforcement procedure for the House.

Inherent contempt enforcement is the centuries-old practice of the U.S. Congress and other parliamentary bodies of defending their institutional authority and punishing contempts by holding trials to convict and sanction individuals who obstruct the legislative process.

Our proposed rule, developed by GGN Policy Fellow and congressional oversight expert Mort Rosenberg, would establish an inherent contempt enforcement process whereby the U.S. House could conduct trials of, convict, and directly punish executive branch officials who obstruct legislative inquiry or defy subpoenas.  The procedure we recommend would rely on fines as the principal sanction on contemnors rather than arrest and detention as has been customary historically.

It would employ a Select Committee appointed by the Speaker to perform investigative and preparatory work to reduce the the amount of House floor time consumed by trials.  The process would conclude with a summary trial on the floor of the House with separate votes for conviction or acquittal of contempt and imposition of sanctions in cases where the accused is found guilty.  The minimum fine imposed is $25,000 which would be increased incrementally up to a maximum penalty of $250,000.

GGN’s proposed rule also provides for the reduction of the salary of the executive branch agency head by the amount of any fine imposed by Congress in an inherent contempt conviction of an agency employee.  The proposal also authorizes the House to reduce appropriations for other salaries, offices, or divisions of the agency or other agencies as it may judge appropriate to punish a contempt.

Learn More about GGN’s “Inherent Contempt Enforcement Rule” Proposal

GGN Proposes House Rule on Information Requests and Subpoenas

Proposed rule would tighten administration of information requests and subpoenas  of executive branch officials,  expedite resolution process, and strengthen the ability of U.S. House to use civil enforcement procedure effectively

Smith SST NY AG subpoena_panel

Dr. William J. Murphy – October 1, 2017

Good Government Now (GGN) is proposing an amendment to the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives to improve compliance with congressional information requests and enforcement of subpoenas of executive branch officials in oversight disputes appropriate for civil enforcement. The proposed rule distinguishes cases involving claims of executive privilege from those that do not and channels only the latter, which are better suited for adjudication in favor of Congress, to civil enforcement in federal court.  Like GGN’s inherent contempt procedure rule for the U.S. House, this proposal is designed to reverse the decades-long crisis in declining congressional oversight and subpoena enforcement effectiveness.

The proposed rule, authored by Good Government Now Policy Fellow and former U.S. House senior legal counsel Michael L. Stern, establishes orderly and efficient processes for administration of congressional information requests and subpoenas, resolution of executive branch objections and assertions of privilege, and imposition of sanctions on executive branch recalcitrance that make management of these issues easier for committee chairs and members.

GGN’s rule would strengthen subpoena enforcement by: (1) setting consistent response deadlines, (2) requiring objections and assertions of privilege in writing with privilege logs, (3) establishing an orderly dispute resolution process through early staff negotiations, and (4) achieving final resolutions through committee rulings.   The rule invokes multi-track enforcement for unresolved disputes including: (1) civil enforcement action in federal court, (2) suspension of salaries of recalcitrant executive branch officials, (3) initiation of preliminary impeachment inquiries for such officials, and (4) all other constitutional, statutory, and other remedies.

These provisions would improve the effectiveness of congressional information demands by discouraging delaying tactics and meritless objections by the executive branch, imposing greater political accountability on the executive by requiring all objections and privileges in writing, and using courts to enhance congressional capacity without sacrificing congressional institutional interests.  The proposal would also reduce oversight burdens on chairs and committees as well as the need for ad hoc consultations by establishing regularized processes for administration of congressional information requests and subpoenas.

Learn more about GGN’s proposed “Rule on Information Requests and Subpoenas to the Executive Branch”