Thursday, February 14, 2008

House Votes to Hold Miers and Bolten In Contempt, and Grants Itself Power to Pursue the Subpoenas

The issue over subpoenas to former White House aides Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten related to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys that the President asserted they could simply ignore under a claim of Executive Privilege has come to a head in the House of Representatives.  Following a Republican walk-out from the chamber, the Democrats voted in favor of contempt citations for the two, which now authorizes the Attorney General to bring the case to a grand jury.  Because the White House and Attorney General Mukasey have already indicated that the cases will not be pursued, the House adopted a second resolution (available below) authorizing the Judiciary Committee to file a declaratory judgment action to seek a determination of the enforceability of the subpoenas.  The Resolution states:

[T]he Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary is authorized to initiate or intervene in judicial proceedings in any Federal court of competent jurisdiction, on behalf of the Committee on the Judiciary, to seek declaratory judgments affirming the duty of any individual to comply with any subpoena that is a subject of House Resolution 979 issued to such individual by the Committee as part of its investigation into the firing of certain United States Attorneys and related matters, and to seek appropriate ancillary relief, including injunctive relief.

This is an interesting way to redress the problem of the Executive Branch ignoring the contempt citations, but I'm not sure how it will play in the courts.  Can Congress authorize its own suit to review a subpoena when there is a federal statute on the issue of contempt (2 U.S.C. Sec. 192)?  I suspect the Department of Justice will argue that the only means to have the subpoena reviewed is through the contempt procedure, which is how a failure to respond to a grand jury subpoena is normally handled.  While this will bring the issue to a head, I will look to those with greater expertise in constitutional law and the power of the federal courts to shed some light on this one.  (ph)

Download house_resolution_980_feb_14_2008.pdf

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