Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The power of the Senate

According to an inq7.net report,
"THE HEAD of the Presidential Commission on Good Government was arrested Tuesday on orders of the Senate for repeatedly snubbing summons for a hearing, according to reports culled by INQ7.net.

PCGG Chairman Camilo Sabio was picked up in his office by the Senate’s security personnel at 10:45 a.m. and brought to the upper House for detention, Inquirer reporter Alcuin Papa told INQ7.net."
This is an act that the Senate should have done a while ago. That is insisting on their right to question members of the executive in aid of legislation. Their going to the Supreme court to declare EO 464 as unconstitutional was a passive reponse that gave all the initiative to the Executive.

This time around, it is the Senate that has the initiative and the Executive that has to petition the Supreme Court for habeas corpus.


domingoarong said...

I am quoting below the U.S. Supreme Court decision in WATKINS v. UNITED STATES, 354 U.S. 178 (1957) regarding "congressional attainder." (See also GROPPI v. LESLIE, 404 U.S. 496, 1972.)

"MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court ...

"Since World War II, the Congress has practically abandoned its original practice of utilizing the coercive sanction of contempt proceedings at the bar of the House. The sanction there imposed is imprisonment by the House until the recalcitrant witness agrees to testify or disclose the matters sought, provided that the incarceration does [354 U.S. 178, 207] not extend beyond adjournment. The Congress has instead invoked the aid of the federal judicial system in protecting itself against contumacious conduct. It has become customary to refer these matters to the United States Attorneys for prosecution under criminal law.

"The appropriate statute is found in 2 U.S.C. 192. It provides:[See also 193 and 194]

"Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months. 45 [354 U.S. 178, 208]"

"In fulfillment of their obligation under this statute, the courts must accord to the defendants every right which is guaranteed to defendants in all other criminal cases ..."

GROPPI v. LESLIE (1972), reiterates the WATKINS view:

"Legislatures are not constituted to conduct full-scale trials or quasi-judicial proceedings and we should not demand that they do so although they possess inherent power to protect their own processes and existence by way of contempt proceedings. The Congress of the United States, for example, no longer undertakes to exercise its contempt powers in all cases but elects to delegate that function to federal courts (52 Stat 942, 2 U.S.C. Secs 192-194)."

The U.S. law cited (52 Stat. 942) was enacted in 1857 yet. Irving Brant (The Bill of Rights, Its Origin and Meaning, at p. 433) has this to say: "One of the greatest recommendations of this bill, said [Senator] Bayard, was that it transferred the power of punishment for contempt from Congress to a court of justice after judicial inquiry. 'I am aware,' said he, 'that legislative bodies have transcended their powers--that under the influence of passion and political excitement they have very often invaded the rights of individuals, and may have invaded the rights of co-ordinate branches of government.' if our institutions were to last, there could be no greater safeguard than to transfer that indefinite power of punishment to the courts of justice."

In any case, the "coercive sanction of contempt proceedings at the bar of the House" mentioned above--now deemed "abandoned" by the U.S. Congress--is what Section 18 (on "Contempt") of the "Senate Rules of Procedure Governing Inquiries in Aid of Legislation" similarly provides, the same provision the Senate invoked to detain indefinitely, and "attaint," fall guy Gonzalez.

To thwart any attempt in the future to transform congressional inquiry "in aid of legislation" into "congressional attainder," our own Congress should be respectfully petitioned to adopt the solution offered above in 2 U.S.C. 192 (identical to Sec. 150 Revised Penal Code), and let the separate, co-equal Court try, decide and punish after a "judicial" inquiry has been concluded.

This way, "[t]he rights of persons appearing in or affected by such [legislative] inquiries" the Constitution commands Congress "to be respected" are upheld (particularly the privilege against self-incrimination).

Thank you.

Domingo T. Arong

Roy C. Choco, FCD said...

Dear Sir Domingo,

I think we had this conversation before. I agree with you that the Senate is often times boorish and arrogant in treating their invited witnesses.

The issue here however is whether any government official should be free to ignore the Senate's invitation to appear before it and testify. The constitution gives the Senate the power to compel people to testify before it. The Supreme Court in its EO 464 ruling certainly ruled that the Senate has this power except for limited executive priveleges.

With the executive trying to whittle away this power, I will applaud any move by Senate that asserts this right.