Two Republicans announced a lawsuit Monday challenging fines slapped on them for violating the House’s new security screening rules, saying someone has to stand up to what they see as an increasingly imperial way that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has run the chamber.
Reps. Louie Gohmert and Andrew Clyde said that if the courts don’t step in and rule Mrs. Pelosi out of line, there’s no end to the mischief a House speaker can do.
In this case, they say, Republicans have missed being able to cast their votes on the floor because they’ve been delayed by the magnetometers, or “mags,” that now guard entrances to the chamber. The effect, they say, is Mrs. Pelosi has silenced their constituents’ voice on those occasions — and it’s been aimed at Republicans.
“It actually sets up a system where they can literally keep Republicans from voting. Now they could keep Democrats from voting, but they never do that,” Mr. Gohmert, a Texas Republican in his ninth term, told The Washington Times, adding that “the courts have got to step in.”
“We report to our districts. We do not report to the speaker of the House,” said Mr. Clyde, a first-term Georgia congressman.
The lawsuit, which Mr. Clyde had telegraphed earlier this spring, says the fines and the mandatory screening are unconstitutional, violating both the 27th Amendment, which prohibits a lawmaker’s pay from being changed during Congress, and Article I, which prohibits a lawmaker’s arrest while traveling to official business.
They’re working with Ken Cuccinelli, the former attorney general of Virginia who was most recently the acting deputy secretary at Homeland Security, on the case.
Visitors to the House chamber have always gone through extra screening, but lawmakers did not. That changed after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol: Alarmed by her Republican colleagues, Mrs. Pelosi, declared the “enemy is within” and said more needed security checks were needed.
The mags went up, then in early February the House adopted a rule to impose a $5,000 fine for flouting the screening. A second offense earns an additional $10,000 fine.
Mr. Gohmert said there’s no basis for Mrs. Pelosi’s decision. He said at a meeting with Republicans, the head of the U.S. Capitol Police assured them no intelligence suggests any lawmaker is a threat to any other.
Mr. Clyde said he intentionally sidestepped the mags with the goal of creating standing so he could sue. He’s been slapped with two fines for two separate instances.
“This is a purposeful thing, and we’re going to defend our Constitution so that no other member has to ever go through this again,” he said.
Mr. Gohmert said that on the occasion he was fined, he did go through screening, then left the chamber through what’s known as the Speaker’s Lobby to use the restroom and reentered through the lobby, which doesn’t have a screening station. He said Mrs. Pelosi has been seen entering through the Speaker’s Lobby, too — presumably without screening.
Republicans say there’s also an instance of Mrs. Pelosi breezing through a mag and setting it off, but not stopping.
The sergeant-at-arms, who reports to Mrs. Pelosi, has said police didn’t flag any violation by the speaker, so he didn’t act.
Mr. Gohmert and Mr. Clyde said there are plenty of other occasions where Democrats have set off the mags only to be waived through, while Republicans have been stopped. They said they have colleagues ready to serve as witnesses to those events.
Mr. Clyde said he saw a Democratic congresswoman go through a mag, set off the alert and then be waived through with the officer saying he figured it was her shoes.
Mr. Clyde already has requested video and other documents of mag incidents be preserved for possible legal discovery in the lawsuit.
Only one Democrat, Rep. James E. Clyburn, a senior party leader, has been slapped with a fine. The House ethics committee voted to overturn his fine — and at the same time also overturned the fine of one senior Republican. Mr. Gohmert called that “a prisoner exchange” that he said doesn’t undercut their claims of disparate treatment.
The lawsuit was filed just before midnight Sunday in the federal court in Washington.
The defendants are the House sergeant-at-arms, who oversees the police and the mags, and the chief administrative officer, who is charged with docking the fines from lawmakers’ pay — though the lawmakers make clear they believe Mrs. Pelosi is the orchestrator and a chief target of their complaints.
Tim Blodgett, the deputy sergeant-at-arms, said they were not authorized to comment on the lawsuit.
Legal experts told The Times earlier this year that Republicans’ case, while not frivolous, should be considered a long shot.
They said the House has always claimed the power to punish its members, including using fines, and courts have been reluctant to referee the situation.
The wrinkle is that fines appear to have been assessed only as restitution in cases where a lawmaker misused government funds, not as punishment or as a threat to shape behavior or voting, which is what Mr. Gohmert and Mr. Clyde said is happening here.
Mr. Gohmert said he had observed specific instances where a lawmaker was denied his chance to vote because of a security check that delayed entrance to the chamber.
“I was watching, the vote was still active, he sticks his card in, he hits the button to vote, and they had already stopped the vote between the time he put his card in and when he pushed the button to vote,” he said.
Mr. Clyde said had that happen to him, too: “I missed the vote by literal seconds. If it wouldn’t have been for the magnetometers, I would have been able to vote.”
While it’s not a part of the lawsuit, Mr. Gohmert said there’s also something disturbing about having to empty his pockets to an officer who is, after all, an agent of Mrs. Pelosi.
The Constitution does allow punishment for disorderly conduct the disrupts the proceedings of Congress. And indeed there are laws against that, as the Jan. 6 Capitol trespassers are finding out.
But Mr. Clyde said there’s nothing disorderly about lawmakers entering the chamber to vote,
Mr. Gohmert said that’s actually what Democrats were guilty of in 2016 when they led a sit-in on the House floor, forcing the chamber into recess. The chamber was under GOP control at the time.
No charges were filed, though the House — still under a Republican majority, with Speaker Paul D. Ryan at the helm — did adopt a new rule at the start of 2017 imposing $500 fines on members for disruptive conduct. Mr. Gohmert said nobody was ever fined under that rule.