- India diplomat who touts women’s rights busted for $3 wage to nanny
- MSNBC host Ed Schultz paid $252K by unions in 2012-2013
- Korean War memorial ordered to take down Christian cross
- Billy Graham near death, ‘close to going home to be with the Lord’
- SeaTac, Wash.: City’s new $15 minimum wage heads to court
- Obama mulls support for Islamists in Syria, with conditions
- Obama ‘birther’ theories float, as Hawaii health director killed in crash
- U.S. drone faulted for killing 14 ‘innocent civilians’ at Yemen wedding
- GOP hopes taking shutdown off the table with budget deal will pay dividends
- Chinese Death Star: The moon cited as the perfect launch pad for ballistic missiles
House could arrest Holder with inherent contempt power
Despite voting to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, there’s little House Republicans can do in the short term to compel him to turn over documents — unless it wanted to revisit a long-dormant power and arrest him.
The thought is shocking, and conjures up a Hollywood-ready standoff scene between House police and the FBI agents who protect the attorney general. It’s a dramatic and unlikely possibility not least because Congress doesn’t even have a jail any longer. But in theory it could happen.
Republicans say it’s not even under consideration, with House Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman flatly ruling it out.
But the process, known as inherent contempt, is well-established by precedent, has been confirmed by multiple Supreme Court rulings, and is available to any Congress willing to force such a confrontation.
“The House is scared to death to use the inherent contempt power,” said Mort Rosenberg, a fellow at the Constitution Project and author of “When Congress Comes Calling.” “They’re scared to death because the courts have said … the way the contempt power is used is unseemly. It’s not that it’s unconstitutional, because it’s been upheld by four Supreme Court decisions, but unseemly to have somebody go arrest the attorney general.”
That’s why it’s been more than 75 years since either chamber has used the option though it used to be somewhat common.
The House on Thursday voted 255-67 to hold Mr. Holder in criminal contempt, and 258-95 to pursue a case against him in the courts.
But those votes do little to break the impasse over his refusal to turn over documents the House is seeking in an investigation into Fast and Furious, a botched gun-walking operation. The House issued subpoenas for the documents last year but President Obama last week asserted executive privilege in withholding them.
A court case will take time, meaning there’s little immediate effect of the two contempt votes.
Indeed, the lack of any penalty for Mr. Holder’s failure to cooperate was cited by one Democrat as his reason for voting against Thursday’s contempt motion.
“While I strongly believe that the Department of Justice should fully cooperate with Congress to ensure transparency in the Fast and Furious operation, this motion lacks an enforcement mechanism to make it anything more than politically motivated,” said Rep. Heath Shuler, North Carolina Democrat.
That’s why Mr. Rosenberg, a former analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said Congress should consider using its own police powers and should try to impose a fine rather than physically arrest someone.
Short of that, there are few options left to Republicans, said Louis Fisher, another former CRS analyst who specialized in separation of powers issues.
“They had hoped that by acting today they would get Holder to make some concessions. That didn’t happen. Now I think it’s pretty awkward,” he said.
He said the best chances for an end to the stalemate now rely on the political process which is one reason why Republicans said they were seeking answers for the family of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, who was killed in a shootout where two of the guns from Fast and Furious were found.
Mr. Fisher, a scholar in residence at the Constitution Project who has written a forthcoming article in the National Law Journal criticizing Mr. Obama’s legal reasoning for asserting executive privilege, said a key break could come if more Democrats joined Republicans in pushing for disclosure.
Inherent contempt is not unknown to members of Congress.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi raised the issue last week, noting that when she was House speaker and Congress was fighting with the Bush administration over testimony related to the firing of U.S. attorneys she could have had Karl Rove arrested.
“I’m not kidding. There’s a prison here in the Capitol. If we had spotted him in the Capitol, we could have arrested him,” she said.
Back in 2007 and 2008, there was substantial interest in Congress‘ arrest powers, with CNN even doing a segment in 2008 trying to figure out where Mr. Rove could have been jailed if the House chose to go that route.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
- Federal deficit shrinks 20 percent in fiscal 2014
- Wind farms: Interior Department sacrifices eagle protection for alternative energy
- Activists urge Obama to go rogue, sidestep Congress
- Bipartisan House votes against 'patent trolls' who file lawsuits against innovators
- Bipartisan House votes to stop patent 'trolls'
Latest Blog Entries
By Mangosuthu Buthelezi
Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
- U.S. Navy-China showdown: Chinese try to halt U.S. cruiser in international waters
- House budget bargain faces Senate filibuster; Republicans line up to oppose
- PRUDEN: The last living witnesses; they wore the yellow star and remember the Nazi terror
- Obama's Afghanistan experts stumped on U.S. death toll, war costs during hearing
- NAPOLITANO: A conspiracy so vast
- Billy Graham near death, close to going home to be with the Lord
- Obama birther theories float, as Hawaii health director killed in crash
- KEENE: James Clapper should resign for lying to Congress
- Kim Jong-un consolidating power or losing grip on North Korea's military
- STEVENS: Resisting the seduction of housing speculation
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Implement these actionable tips, how-to’s and best practices in 10 minutes or less to leverage online communications and technology for brand, business and career development.
Consummate traveler Todd DeFeo explores the unique stories that make destinations worth going to.
Covering the world of soccer, including the World Cup, Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the English Premier League and other interesting sporting events.
Born in 1930 in rural Missouri, Charles Vandegriffe, Sr., brings his time and place to the Communities.
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow