Friday, July 20, 2007

Contempt for the Contemptible

The Washington Post reports that the administration has made a bold new claim of executive authority. Under the conservative legal doctrine of the unitary executive, the administration is announcing that the Justice Department will not pursue cases of contempt of congress. This raises two possible responses by the Democrats: challenge the decision in court, and let the cases wind their way through the judiciary; or go back to the long-dormant practice of enforcing inherent contempt. Congress has the right to use the Capitol Police to jail people who refuse to testify, and it has used this power in the past -- most recently in the 1930s.

Apparently Conyers has already raised the possibility in a letter to the administration.

This issue has been floating around the liberal blogs for about a month now, but it hasn't broken through to the mainstream media yet. My guess is that with today's news it will soon.

UPDATE: And on cue, the Washington Post publishes a piece about inherent contempt today. Ironically, when the day is done, the administration's attempts to broaden executive power will have the opposite effect; as with NIxon, a new layer of statute and precedent will be established to tilt the balance away from the President and towards Congress.

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