How the House Deals with Cocaine Possession

As reported by Roll Call and various other outlets, Representative Trey Radel is to appear in D.C. Superior Court tomorrow to face charges of misdemeanor possession of cocaine. No one seems very clear on how this matter will be treated in the House so I think it is worth pointing out that House rules require the Ethics Committee to take action here.

House Resolution 5, which adopted rules for the 113th Congress, provides in Section 4(e) that “[t]he text of House Resolution 451, One Hundred Tenth Congress, shall apply in the One Hundred Thirteenth Congress in the same manner as such provision applied in the One Hundred Tenth Congress.” House Resolution 451, in turn, requires that:

          [W]henever a Member of the House of Representatives . . . is indicted or otherwise formally charged with criminal conduct in a court of the United States or any State, the Committee on [Ethics] shall, not later than 30 days after the date of such indictment or charge-

 (1)        empanel an investigative subcommittee to review the allegations; or

(2)        if the Committee does not empanel an investigative subcommittee to review the allegations, submit a report to the House describing its reasons for not empaneling such an investigative subcommittee, together with the actions, if any, the Committee has taken in response to the allegations.

As noted in the House Ethics Manual, Resolution 451 thus requires some action by the Ethics Committee whenever a Member is charged with criminal conduct, and “does not distinguish between felony and misdemeanor criminal charges.”


More on Fast and Furious

As mentioned last month, a federal district court has denied Attorney General Holder’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit, brought by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in which the committee seeks to enforce a subpoena for Justice Department documents related to the “Fast and Furious” investigation. The motion to dismiss advanced a number of grounds for declining jurisdiction, but they all more or less came down to a claim that the court should not intervene in a political dispute between the executive and legislative branches.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson decisively rejected these arguments in her opinion (summarized in more detail below). The court not only found the Justice Department’s arguments to be contrary to longstanding precedent, but inconsistent with the executive branch’s own prior practice. As the court pointed out, the executive branch has “itself invoked the jurisdiction of the courts when it sought to enjoin compliance with a Congressional subpoena” (during the AT&T case in the 1970s) and when it sought “a declaration concerning the validity of a claim of executive privilege asserted in response to a House request” (during the Gorsuch case in the 1980s). Quoting Judge Bates in the Miers litigation, Judge Jackson commented that “[t]he Court does not understand why separation of powers principles are more offended when the Article I branch sues the Article II branch than when the Article II branch sues the Article I branch.”

Reading Jackson’s original decision, it is evident that she did not think this is a particularly close case or difficult legal question. That impression is confirmed by her order yesterday with respect to the Attorney General’s request to certify the decision for interlocutory appeal. Granting such a request requires finding a “substantial ground for difference of opinion” with respect to the question of law, and the court found that the Attorney General had failed to provide any authority or other ground for such a difference of opinion. Accordingly, it declined to certify the question for appeal.

For those who are interested, a summary of the earlier opinion follows.

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