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.