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Inherent Contempt Enforcement Rule: Panel Discussion and Lunch

  • 2226 Rayburn House Office Building (map)

Panel Discussion and Lunch with:

Morton Rosenberg

Stanley M. Brand

Elizabeth Hempowicz

Moderated by:

Dr. William J. Murphy

Friday, October 19, 2018

12 noon – 1:30pm

2226 Rayburn House Office Building

The executive branch has challenged congressional oversight, investigative, and subpoena enforcement authority ever more boldly over the past few decades. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has pursued a deliberate strategy of preventing Congress from using its historically most effective inherent and criminal contempt enforcement procedures through litigation, internal legal opinions, and departmental policies. Executive agencies have refined multiple tactics for delaying, undermining, and outright denying congressional inquiry. The situation has deteriorated so significantly, that more than one observer has remarked that congressional subpoenas to the executive branch have become meaningless. Congress has become more frustrated in the face of these challenges and is seeking solutions to restore its investigative effectiveness.

Good Government Now Senior Fellow Morton Rosenberg has proposed reinvigorating congressional subpoena enforcement power by establishing a revised version of the historical inherent contempt procedure through an amendment to the rules of the House. Rosenberg’s proposal would establish an inherent contempt process whereby the House could conduct trials of, convict, and sanction executive branch officials who obstruct legislative inquiry or defy subpoenas. His procedure would rely on fines rather than the sanctions of arrest and detention traditionally employed in inherent contempt proceedings. Despite its effectiveness at compelling compliance with congressional information demands, inherent contempt fell into disuse after 1934 because the required floor trials were time consuming, habeas corpus lawsuits challenging detentions caused further delays, and arresting contemnors was perceived unseemly.

Rosenberg’s modified inherent contempt method solves these problems with three changes to the traditional procedure including use of select committees, summary trials, and limiting punishment to fines. The proposal addresses the inconvenience of lengthy floor trials by moving time consuming preparatory and investigative work off the House floor and assigning it to a select committee. Subsequent floor proceedings are then limited to a summary trial that can be completed quickly. The disadvantages of habeas corpus delays and unseemliness are solved by eliminating arrest and detention from the process and limiting sanctions to fines.

A panel of distinguished congressional oversight experts will debate Rosenberg’s proposed “Inherent Contempt Procedure Rule” in a luncheon discussion sponsored by Good Government Now on Friday, October 19, 2018 from 12 noon-1:30pm in Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2226, 45 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20515.

Contact: Contact Alison Romano at aromano@stantongroupllc.com with any questions.