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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Perhaps the neo-conservatives ARE constitutional 

From the U.S. Constitution, Article 1 Section 6 (emphasis mine):

...They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place....

Wikipedia says the following:

Members of both Houses have certain privileges, based on those enjoyed by the members of the British Parliament (see parliamentary privilege). Members attending, going to or returning from either House are privileged from arrest, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. Their speeches may not be questioned in any place outside Congress; thus, one may not sue a Senator or Representative for slander occurring during Congressional debate.

Here's some background on parliamentary privilege (emphasis mine):

Parliamentary privilege, also known as absolute privilege, is a legal mechanism employed within the legislative bodies of countries whose constitutions are based on the Westminster system....

In the United Kingdom, it allows members of the House of Lords and House of Commons to speak freely before those houses without fear of legal action on the grounds of libel. It also means while a member is within the grounds of the Palace of Westminster he/she cannot be arrested on civil matters; there is no immunity from arrest on criminal grounds....

The rights and privileges of members are overseen by the powerful Committee on Standards and Privileges. If a member of the house is in breach of the rules then he/she can be suspended or even expelled from the House. Such past breaches have included giving false evidence before a committee of the House and the taking of bribes by members....

Parliamentary privilege is controversial because of its potential for abuse; a member can use privilege to make damaging allegations that would ordinarily be discouraged by defamation laws, without first determining whether those allegations have a strong foundation....

Bear this in mind as we see the bipartisan reaction to the William Jefferson case (again, emphasis mine):

Leaders of both parties on Capitol Hill accused the FBI on Tuesday of overstepping constitutional boundaries designed to protect Congress when it raided a Democratic lawmaker's office over the weekend.

The Justice Department's bribery investigation of Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson...has turned up $90,000 in his freezer and won guilty pleas from two associates, but Republicans and Democrats alike said investigators went too far when they ignored long-standing precedent and executed a search warrant on his office on Capitol Hill.

"I clearly have serious concerns about what happened and whether people at the Justice Department have looked at the Constitution lately," said House Majority Leader John Boehner.

"I've got to believe that at the end of the day it's going to end up across the street at the Supreme Court," the Ohio Republican added.

The House's No. 2 Democrat, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer...said it was another example of the Bush administration's disregard for limits on its power.

"No member is above the law, but the institution has a right to protect itself against the executive department going into our offices," Hoyer said....

Jefferson's colleagues did not criticize the FBI when it raided his homes in New Orleans and Washington last August....

But many said the raid on his Capitol Hill office violated the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist expressed concern about the search and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott said his Rules Committee was looking into the situation....

Jefferson, who has maintained his innocence, is one of several lawmakers facing criminal probes by the Justice Department in at least three corruption scandals.

Former California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is serving more than eight years in prison for accepting $2.4 million in bribes, and four former congressional staffers have pleaded guilty to corruption charges in separate cases.

One of those staffers said Jefferson demanded bribes to help Kentucky-based iGate Inc. sell Internet equipment to West African countries, an account backed up by iGate's president in a guilty plea earlier this month....

Gonzales said the Justice Department authorized the raid because Jefferson did not voluntarily hand over requested evidence.

"We have before been able ... (in other investigations) to reach an agreement to receive the evidence that we need to prosecute wrongdoing through a subpoena," Gonzales told a news conference. "And for a variety of reasons, that could not occur here."

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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