Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Speech or Debate or Calumny or Innuendo Clause

United States Senators and Representatives have ironclad immunity for anything they say in the course of their actions when serving as such. They can't be held to account for slander, for example.

...for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

On some level that is a good idea. It frees them from worry that they are going too far in speaking their minds, so presumably they will not hold back when something needs saying. That should help them to pursue the nation's business without fear or favor.

The Kavanaugh hearings have turned over that rock to show what scurries about underneath. Groundless allegations and innuendos have been flung at the nominee, or whispered in corners, to the keen interest of a news and social media audience that may not recognize the groundlessness. Kavanaugh's only remedy, if it can be called as much as that, is to be a terrific Supreme Court justice. For I do not think the smears will work to prevent his confirmation, but they will prejudice the public against him.

The most recent of these attacks is bizarre when you recount it. A senator says she has a letter from someone--she is not saying who, the sender wants to be anonymous--saying something bad about the nominee--no definite information on what it says--so the senator has forwarded the matter to the FBI. Anonymous accuser, unspecified allegations, but broad hinting that there is something big here. Sweet.

Okay, it was no Spartacus moment, but it was another in a parade of legless allegations that Senators have raised because...because they can, and because it serves the purposes of political grandstanding.

The original intent of the Speech or Debate Clause was to shield our legislators from reprisals for doing their jobs. Its uses, unfortunately, go beyond that to making cheap shots that would not stand if made by anyone else. There is another law that stipulates (without exceptions and exemptions for office holders) "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Perhaps the Senate thinks that court lacks jurisdiction.

Addendum: There are increasingly damaging accounts as to what the letter might say, but no letter and no author.

Additional Addendum: 9/16, The accuser has come forward. I suppose the backlash built up. Even in our far-fallen state of social decay, anonymous and indefinite allegations are still not how we do things in America.

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