Saturday, November 26, 2005

Shielded by Constitutional Immunity

Forty years ago, my high school civics class covered the constitution, because for some strange reason folks thought it was important for citizens to understand something of how government is supposed to work. Well, it’s still important, but schools aren’t requiring students to learn such demanding stuff any more. This makes it all the more vital that we take the time as adults to learn a few things, or we’re going to be fooled over and over.

Here’s one little example of a simple but important bit of information you need to be able to judge some of the things you hear:

From the Constitution of the United States:

Article One, Section 6

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place. [my italics]

This means that no senator or congressman can be sued for libel or slander, or for any damages someone might feel resulted from anything said by a member of the Senate or Congress, nor can they be forced to appear in court to discuss anything said in sessions of the House or the Senate.

In the long view it is a good thing that Senators and Representatives be immune from suits for libel or slander, or other claims of damage from anything they say in the course of their public debates and speeches in Congress. This privilege was included in the constitution to prevent partisan public action from hindering elected representatives’ open discussion of contentious, obnoxious and even poisonous ideas that arise in sorting through the issues that challenge the nation.

We citizens lacking such privilege need to keep this Congressional immunity uppermost in our minds when trying to make sense of the utter lying crap that spews out of the mouths of senators and congressmen when they speechify and pontificate from their constitutionally protected havens in the Congress of the United States.

They can say any damn thing they like.

It doesn’t have to be true, even remotely. They cannot be sued, prosecuted, served with summonses, or otherwise forced to account for their lies, except by voters with their ballots.

Remember this immunity clause when you hear a Senator or Representative making obnoxious and puffed up claims. Compare what they say before the Lidless Eye of C-Span, with what they say on the chat shows, or when they’re talking in front of a fund-raising dinner, and see how the language changes, depending on whether they’re standing on the protected hallowed grounds of Congress, or on a podium which grants them no such immunity.


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