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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Can Congress arrest Bush? Yep! (UPDATED)

There is some talk about Congress invoking the concept of "inherent contempt" in the cases of Harriet Miers and the RNC emails. From Wikipedia:
Under this process, the procedure for holding a person in contempt involves only the chamber concerned. Following a contempt citation, the person cited for contempt is arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms for the House or Senate, brought to the floor of the chamber, held to answer charges by the presiding officer, and then subject to punishment that the House may dictate (usually imprisonment for punishment reasons, imprisonment for coercive effect, or release from the contempt citation.)
The last time this occurred was in 1934, when the Senate brought inherent contempt charges against a former U.S. Postmaster. The upshot? The President filed a Habeas Corpus claim on the Postmaster's behalf, but the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had acted legally.

I doubt that the present Supreme Court would be so objective. Nevertheless, it would be cute to see this President rely on Habeas Corpus.

In the 1934 case, the Vice President presided over a trial in the Senate. I wonder what would happen if the Senate invoked inherent contempt against a Vice President?

Fortunately, the House may act independently of the Senate. Which means that the Sergeant-at-Arms for the House of Representatives could, conceivably, arrest the President of the United States during the State of the Union address to face charges of inherent contempt. On what grounds, you ask? These grounds.

The current Sergeant-at-Arms for the House is a man named Wilson Livingood, a name that no novelist would dare to make up. He is a Secret Service veteran. What would his former colleagues do if Livingood were asked to arrest Bush?

Of course, the President's lawyers would file a Habeas Corpus claim, the Supremes would immediately decide in Bush's favor (though on God-knows-what grounds), and Dubya would be free to wreak more mischief. Still, the experiment would be justifiable. Don't you just love any scenario in which Bush relies on Habeas Corpus?

UPDATE: A commenter at Democratic Underground, where part of this story was reposted, insisted that the man cited for inherent contempt in 1934, William MacCacken, was never Postmaster General. That's true.

In my (poor) defense, I can only say that a lot of other sources -- including Senator Boxer -- made the same mistake.

MacCracken was the first head of the Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce, and his job, in large part, was to institute a safe and reliable nationwide system of air mail delivery. The former Postmaster General who got into trouble in 1934 was Walter Folger Brown, who was accused of showing favoritism to certain airlines which received fat air mail contracts. (Those airlines favored by Brown went on to become the well-known giants of the industry: TWA, United, and Eastern.) MacCracken was asked to produce documents relevant to the Senate's investigation of Brown. He didn't. The Senate charged MacCracken with inherent contempt and he did ten days in the slammer.

I apologize for the error in history, although I don't think it impacts the larger case made here.
Comments:
WOW!
I feel like I am watching the school production of "Know Your Constitution".
This brought back a memory for me. When Clinton was running for President the first time around, my son was in first grade and in order to engage the students in the election process, his teacher asked the class to pick a class president. My son decided to run along with another girl. They were supposed to make posters and ask for votes from the class, so I stayed up with my son and helped him make posters. The next day when I picked him up from school, he was so mad, he had tears in his eyes. of coarse, I figured out that he had lost and said the usual things like, it doesn't matter that you lost....you tried your best....you won't always win...etc.
He looked at me and said, I don't mind that I lost, I mind why I lost. Apparently the girl(I can't remember her name, but my son will never forget her name)had brought cupcakes along with posters to class and given everyone that voted for her a cupcake. My son with tears in his eyes asked me if that was "fair". I knew the girl's mom, she was on the PTA and volunteered at school and had gone to class that day to "help out". The teacher must have known that the cupcakes weren't a good idea, but decided not to rock the boat.
This is a mere example of how our kids are indoctrinated and taught to tow the line.
I saw anger in my son's eyes many times over the years. I tried my best to explain, to sooth, to protect and to educate. I worried about his soul and integrity while I agonized as a mother about his well being and future.
Maybe this country is due for a showdown as painful as it may be.
 
Events in US history have a least a few times had the potential for leading to constitutional crises, but usually the parties involved step gingerly when the situation comes up, and the crisis is somehow worked out peacefully--for example, in the Watergate scandal. In the case of the Civil War, however, nobody backed down, and half a million people died.

It's crystal clear that Bush and Cheney have no intention of backing down. Bush prides himself on his steadfastness, and Cheney is as mad as a hatter. Meanwhile, Leahy and Waxman are aware that for the sake of the Constitution they cannot back down. They have the people on their side, but Bush is supported by the most powerful corporate interests.

While I agree with you, Joseph, that the Supreme Court would rule in Bush's favor in almost any scenario, that might not end the standoff. And I am pretty sure that if the SC rules against Bush, he will refuse to accept their decision. Either way, the big question will be, which side does the military back?

Meanwhile Bush's clueless policies have got Turkey poised to invade northern Iraq, Pakistan about to burst into civil war, and shells falling in the Green Zone, while at home the mortgage bond market is imploding. And people wonder why I am a pessimist.
 
In answer to Unirealist's question regarding which side would the military back, I think the answer is clear reading between the lines of our news media articles recently.

Bush has had to reshuffle his military commanders like crazy the past couple years. Many of them have openly come out with statements which are opposite to those made by the White House, such as the advisability of the troop "surge." The new commander of the military forces in the Middle East -- Fallon, previously in command of the Pacific forces -- was recently quoted in a news article as saying he would not let three carriers be in the Middle East waters at once and threaten war with Iran. He reportedly said he was determined to "put the crazies back in the box."

One fact I take heart in is I don't think Bush and Cheney have the military on their side; I suspect that our military commanders are just a hair's breadth from outright open mutiny today. They are extremely upset about how the "commander in chief" has callously and recklessly used them and spent them, and are not about to take any more of it from them.
 
ewastud, that's a perceptive take on it, and I hope you're correct. There is, of course, the chance that the military will split more than one way, or that some general will go wiggy, a la Alexander Haig. And don't forget that we are not so far away from the kind of situation France was in just before Napoleon took the reins of power. But, as you and I have both observed before, the military may be are only hope at this point.

beeta, that's a heartbreaker, that story. Your son must be a grown man by now, have you talked to him again about what happened then? If he hasn't brought it up, maybe you should. Speaking as a son...
 
uni,
He is a young man now. And yes we talked about it then and over the years. He always had problems taking it on the chin quietly. When he was young, it was hard to explain the way of the world to him. As he got older, he became an avid reader and a very analytical thinker and figured a lot of things out for himself. We have long and deep conversations about people and politics and books, specially books. We call each other when we discover a new book or an new author. I have learned much from him. I have had a few chuckles too like when he was in his teens and discovered the "Eagles" and later discovered the "60's" and told me he wished he was around in the 60's so he could be part of something big, to which I said, you will be, I promise. Little did I know how true my answer would be.
 
It goes without saying that a House of Representatives so derelict in its duty that only 2% of its members stand by their sworn oath to "protect and defend the Constitution" is hardly going to use its power to arrest and imprison criminals on the White House staff.

I believe it is time for those of us who actually believe in the Constitution, the separation of powers, and our freedoms to inform the members of Congress of both parties that if they do not abide by their sworn oath and impeach Cheney and Bush, they will not get our vote in the next election.

There must be at least one articulate, honest person in every Congressional District who believes in Constitutional government. Let's elect that person to replace the worthless, dishonest wimps we have in there now. (Assuming we are permitted an election in 2008).
 
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