Monday, March 31, 2008

Congressperson's Office Covered By "Speech & Debate Clause"

The Supreme Court refused to re-examine a D.C. Circuit court opinion regarding an issue that arose following a search of Louisiana Representative William Jefferson's office. The D.C. Circuit had ruled that the search was improper as it violated the U.S. Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause.  The Court of Appeals held that "[t]he search of Congressman Jefferson’s office must have resulted in the disclosure of legislative materials to agents of the Executive. Indeed, the application accompanying the warrant contemplated it." (see decision)  In letting stand the D.C. Circuit Court opinion, despite a government appeal (see here and here), the Supreme Court was not willing to wrestle with the contours of what is included within the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause. 

The DOJ is not pleased with this decision (see here).  But in many ways this is an important decision.  Although the government may feel it will make their investigations/prosecutions more difficult, it is a crucial position in light of the political happenings seen not too long ago in DOJ hiring and firing.  In order for there to be a proper balancing of power, it is critical that the executive branch cannot be invading the turf of the legislature.   The Supreme Court's decision not to re-examine the lower court ruling does not open the door as a license to do criminal business in legislative offices.  Rather it lifts the possibility of political retaliation in our government.


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