US Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that he intends to draft legislation that would shield congressional documents and materials from being seized in searches similar to the FBI raid on the congressional office of Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) earlier this month. Speaking during the committee’s Tuesday oversight hearing on the constitutional questions raised by the raid, Sensenbrenner also said that although the constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause will not protect members of Congress from prosecution stemming from activities outside of legitimate legislative acts, the clause prevents the executive branch from seizing documents created in the course of the legitimate legislative process.
With this move Sensenbrenner has assumed a mantle of arrogance so repugnant and antithetical to the Constitution that he needs to be removed from office by the voters of his district. He has gone beyond merely being “out-of-touch” and moved headlong into being drunk with power by assuming privileges in direct conflict with the Constitution he swore to uphold. There is nothing in the Constitution that shields Congressmen under investigation for corruption from having their offices searched with evidence being seized once a legal warrant has been served — including official papers. The Speech or Debate Clause does not provide Congressmen such an exemption and it is ridiculous to assert that it does. He is claiming a “legislative privilege” as broad in scope and prone to thwarting any investigation of criminal wrongdoing by Congressmen as what former President Nixon attempted during the Watergate scandal. If Sensenbrenner believes documents not outlined in the FBI’s warrant were improperly taken than there are avenues to resolve that, but Congress has no authority or role in exempting documents from being seized under a legally-obtained warrant.
The Rayburn House Office Building belongs to the People and the People’s investigators, the FBI, followed the Constitution in properly obtaining a warrant through the courts to search them and seize the evidence found therein. Not even the personal belongings of individual members of Congress within those offices are exempt from being properly seized once a warrant has been served — the same as it is for each and every one of us. What Sensenbrenner and many Congressmen are so cavalierly asserting is a ‘right’ not enjoyed by every other American citizen and this is an attempt by them to place themselves above the law. This move is nothing but pure hubris and a direct threat to the rule of law and the Constitution. Sensenbrenner and all of his allies in this regardless of party need to be turned out of office this November by the voters in order to preserve that bedrock American principle that no one, including members of Congress, is above the law. Members of Congress are not titled peerage nor do they have the privileges of royalty, but instead are servants of the People and it is time that the People exercise their displeasure by reminding them of this fact because it would seem many Congressmen have forgotten.
For leaders fatuously claiming to be defending their ‘rights’ as an equal branch of Government, I do not recall Speaker Hastert, Minority Leader Pelosi, or Chairman Sensenbrenner barring an FBI SWAT team from entering their sacred inner sanctum the other day when a threat was perceived. Curious…
Hat tip: QandO