Time For Inherent Contempt

It’s called Inherent Contempt, a law on the books and upheld by the Supreme Court, although unused for many decades. A person cited for ignoring a subpoena is arrested by Sergeant-at-Arms, brought to the floor of the House or Senate, held to answer charges by the presiding officer, and then subjected to whatever punishment the chamber chooses, including jail or fines. No need to involve the courts.


Author: craigcrawford

Trail Mix Host

37 thoughts on “Time For Inherent Contempt”

  1. FYI

    from Criminal Contempt of Congress Explained : Rutgers-Camden Campus News yesterday

    In the ongoing congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol, Stephen Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, has been indicted on a criminal contempt of Congress charge for refusing to testify before the congressional committee. Two others from Trump’s administration who also have resisted testifying may be charged. What does it mean to be charged with criminal contempt of Congress, which is a misdemeanor under federal law? Anthony Grasso, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University–Camden whose research focuses on inequality and the development of American law, with a particular focus on criminal justice, explains and puts it in perspective.
    What does it mean to be charged with criminal contempt of Congress?
    What we are seeing for Stephen Bannon, and possibly Jeffrey Clark and Mark Meadows, is a citation for criminal contempt of Congress. The “criminal” qualifier is the distinctive part; this is a charge through criminal law. Congress has this power through a statute passed in 1857. The law authorizes a congressional committee to recommend contempt charges to the full chamber, and then the full chamber votes on whether to issue the contempt citation. If a majority votes to do so, the chamber refers the contempt citation to the Justice Department to initiate a criminal prosecution. This can result in a sentence of one to 12 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000 if convicted. This is punitive and is designed to punish recalcitrant witnesses and deter resistance from other targets of a congressional inquiry.
    Are there other forms of contempt of Congress charges, and could they apply here?
    Yes. There are two others. One is civil contempt, in which a committee in the Senate brings a lawsuit to get a court to enforce a subpoena. Only the Senate has civil contempt power, having last used it in 2016. Another is Congress’ “inherent contempt” power. This power is not in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court has ruled that both chambers of Congress can have the chamber’s Sergeant at Arms bring someone to the chamber to be tried for contempt and face detainment at the Capitol. This is neither a civil nor criminal charge; inherent contempt is political, and it has been unused since 1935. Some, however, suggest that Congress should revive its “inherent contempt” powers in Bannon’s case. Through this route, the House would arrest Bannon and other recalcitrant witnesses, try them in the chamber and detain them at the Capitol if convicted.
    People who support this think it would be quick and decisive, but I believe it is unlikely to be revived. Inherent contempt would require the House to run the entire process—arrest, trial and detainment—themselves. Rather than bear full political risk of handling all of that, I imagine Congress will continue to prefer offloading the burden of prosecution onto the Justice Department through criminal contempt.

  2. and a shorter def from 2 years ago in findlaw:

    Inherent Contempt Power of Congress

    The third, and least exercised, option is referred to as the inherent contempt power of Congress. This isn’t found in statutory or constitutional language but rather is inferred by the courts as a function of Congress’s legislative powers. The last time this was exercised was in the 1930s, but this was seen more as a way to coerce compliance than as a means of punishment.

    The offender, after being cited for contempt of Congress, is tried on the floor of the chamber of Congress invoking the power. If a majority affirms the contempt charge, they may instruct the Sergeant at Arms to arrest the offender and detain them until they comply with the subpoena or until the end of the session. Given the extraordinary nature of congressional detention and its lack of constitutional clarity, it’s often seen as a last-ditch — and unlikely– effort.


  3. https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/08/politics/mark-meadows-lawsuit/index.html

    “Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is suing the House select committee investigating January 6 and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking a federal court to block enforcement of the subpoena the committee issued him as well as the subpoena it issued to Verizon for his phone records…”

    So, MM wouldn’t be allowed to file suit/it would be thrown out, based on Inherent Contempt? Clearly, Meadows is scrambling and has something to hide.

  4. Lock him up.
    Also, rescue Boebert’s kids from their vicious mother before they hurt someone with those guns, then lock her up. What a sick twist she is.

  5. ’tis the season – ya know that time of peace and good will to men and setting fires to christmas trees


    Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Friends at Fox News who are reeling from the loss of their “holiday tree” after a suspected arson last night. Down in Washington, Congress is once again threatening to destroy the world economy by playing games with America’s nonsensical debt ceiling.

  6. Boebert snuck in under the wire from a far-flung province, inflicted upon the good Coloradans as they looked on, too late, in horror.

  7. She’s like an 11th grade mean girl trying, with her greene sister, to organize their following dipwads into taking over the cafeteria.

    I’m thinking…..they are being given an awful lot of rope……It’s so easy to become tangled up with too much rope.

  8. I know my comments here have little to do with Congressional contempt, but Craig’s opening comment brought out the “law enforcement side” of my thoughts.  I find humor in my own thoughts about this Sgt-at-Arms arresting stuff that dates back to the 1700’s, and apparently, is still on the books. 
    So how does this work?  Does the Sgt.-At-Arms (SAA) have handcuffs and a jail cell?  Funny that in Senate Rule #I, this Sgt is referred to as a “he,” and I think “he” is a she.  This Sgt. has a staff of almost 1,000 people; is the Senate that unruly, or just the House?  
    I see that the SAA for the House is a “he.”  He and She have on Army looking uniforms with lots of ribbons; strange, huh?  Are all those ribbons attendance awards?  As a result of being forced into military service, I have just one attendance award.  If I ever get a SAA job my official photo will look funny with only one ribbon.  These two SAA’s have almost 60!   
    Is there a SAA police force running around arresting the unruly; I suppose they must be pretty busy?  Are they (SAA) the Capitol Police Dept.?  This whole SAA business began during the 17-1800’s to round up drunken, or otherwise absent, Congress-peeps.  So, again, exactly who is going to arrest those unruly subpoena ignorers?
    I suppose I should get a civics book on all this but I still have many fish to catch, and drawers to repair.
    Finally, I thought those SAA’s just announced “…hear-hear, the President is here.”

  9. I wasn’t aware that only the Senate has civil contempt powers – not sure why that would b.  Regardless, I like the idea of inherent contempt – I’m not sure about one thing, though.  Can the Sargent at Arms enlist the assistance of the US Marshalls to round up the contemnor and drag them to the well of the House to be tried, or does the SAA have jurisdiction to arrest someone outside the Capital comlex?
    This topic does go hand in glove with some of the articles and comments over at WaPo. All the BS in the comments at WaPo about things not happening at light speed with the prosecution of Bannon, Clark and Meadows for contempt of congress sounds as if Dems believe there is some kind of Legislative Branch Star Chamber to use – well there isn’t. Congress referred charges to Garland after (a) Bannon, (b) Clark and now (c) Meadows failed to respond to Congress’ subpoenas.  Garland hands the referral to a DoJ attorney to process through regular channels (think Grand Jury here) and from the grand jury the criminal complaint is sworn.  The prosecution of recalcitrant dick heads is a process that takes some time to work through.  Or Biden could do what Fat Donnie would have done – tell the AG to end run the process.  I don’t see that happening – it’s expedient but it’s not consistent with the 5th and 6th Amendments.  I seem to recall a great deal of complaining from Democrats (me, for instance) that Fat Donnie was abusing the system by using “his” AG as his personal prosecutor to do his dirty work.  Do I want to see those 3 dealt with quickly?  Yes.  Do I want the Biden admin to do so in contravention of the Constitution?  No.  Inherent contempt, if it can be pulled off, might address the complaints about the time lagging in the House.

  10. Pilar…  I LOVE your comment!
    shades of when this place actually had a sense of humor….

  11. patd, everything has something to do with everything else, and in this case, I’d bet the two have a LOT to do with each other.  This should be fun.  Dumbass thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room – every room – and doesn’t worry about saying the stupid shit he says on a regular basis.  Ooh, ooh, and he said innocent people do not plead the 5th – that’s what mobsters do.  Cue the clip, please.

  12. And here’s the quote according to Snopes:

    This is a genuine quote from Trump. 

    Trump made this remark during a September campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa during the 2016 presidential election campaign. At the time, Trump was attacking his political opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after some of her staff members took the Fifth Amendment while being questioned by the House Select Committee during their investigation into the 2012 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi. 

    Trump said: “So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment. Like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”

    Popcorn, please.

  13. here’s something from 2019:

    The Long Arm of the U.S. Capitol Police – First Branch Forecast

    The U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) isn’t your standard police department: tasked with keeping Congress safe while maintaining an open environment, USCP is more of a police-force-security-agency hybrid. The agency enjoys wide jurisdiction, but how wide exactly? We contacted the department in June to find out. 

    We requested a map of USCP’s jurisdiction and the agreement with DC police governing how the departments address jurisdictional overlap. USCP’s public information office declined to substantively respond to our request and several follow up inquiries. 

    Fortunately, it turns out a map of USCP’s extended jurisdiction is available on the USCP website, buried inside the traffic code document (page A85). Here it is:

    USCP Boundary of Extended Jurisdiction

    DC’s police department, a.k.a. the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), helpfully pointed us to a document that clarifies how MPD and USCP navigate overlapping jurisdiction. The MPD General Order on Capitol Police Relationships says that USCP is responsible for policing United States Capitol buildings and grounds — which are defined in the document — while MPD is responsible for policing areas that are not considered Capitol buildings and grounds. USCP is also responsible for properties under the control of the Architect of the Capitol, with some exceptions.

    USCP Traffic Code
    Map of Architect of the Capitol Properties, Source: Page A86 of the Traffic Code

    USCP has jurisdiction of the US Capitol and grounds in most situations; however, if there’s an incident such as a homicide case or a fatal traffic accident, the MPD is expected to take the lead and work in conjunction with USCP. Otherwise MPD can only respond to complaints or serve warrants in Capitol buildings or on Capitol grounds with the permission of the Capitol Police Board.

    USCP is authorized to enforce both US law and DC law under the 1992 United States Capitol Police Jurisdiction Act (P.L. 102-397). 


  14. and wiki had this blurb:

    . While performing protective functions, the Capitol Police have jurisdiction throughout the entire United States.

    don’t say nuttin’about subpoena runners

  15. Jan 7th!


    “James has requested to take his testimony on Jan. 7 at her New York office as part of a civil investigation into whether Trump’s company committed financial fraud in the valuations of properties to different entities…”


    Jan 6th It’s tea-spilling time!


  16. https://www.salon.com/2021/11/17/congressman-may-lose-license-after-pushing-bogus-treatments/

    “The ongoing scandal also shines a light on Republican radicalization when it comes to spreading medical misinformation — Harris, as a part of a Congressional group called the “Doctor’s Caucus,” spent the spring of 2021 advocating for Americans to get vaccinated, even appearing in a video alongside his GOP colleagues pleading with constituents to seek out the shot. “

    “But as the summer progressed and Republican attacks on vaccination efforts and a number of other COVID-19 mitigation efforts ramped up, Harris did an abrupt about-face, fighting Maryland officials over vaccine mandates on university campuses and questioning the efficacy of masks. “

  17. https://www.aspenideas.org/podcasts/how-can-we-build-wealth-for-everyone

    “…while billionaire fortunes returned to pre-pandemic highs in just nine months, a recovery for the world’s poorest people could take over a decade. In the United States, wealthier people have kept their jobs and decreased their expenses as they transitioned to working from home, while others have either gone to work on the frontlines or lost their jobs altogether. What caused this widening gap and can it be reversed?

  18. Craig:  I too was thinking the US Marshal could make the arrests, but then what?  The arrestee will have a first appearance before a US Magistrate who will want to see an arrest warrant (along with an indictment or criminal complaint) that is always issued stating the statute violation.  There is none, now what?  I can just hear the conversation between the US Magistrate and the US Attorney.  US Magistrate: “Look here sonny, I don’t know where you went to law school, but when you arrest someone there must be a statutory violation of the criminal code, now what is it?”  
    Maybe Congress will have to get the subpoenaed person to use the “honor code” and come in for some voluntary punishment.  So then Congress sentences the “honorable” person to a prison term and that requires a written order of a United States District Court Judge.  Back to square one, what law was violated?
    This whole contempt thing came about during the 1700’s when Congress must have had a dungeon somewhere to throw these scoundrels until they came to their senses.  This ain’t 1790 and there is no dungeon.

  19. https://www.texastribune.org/2021/12/09/dan-crenshaw-texas-grifters-backlash/

    “U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, is facing an uproar from some in his party after warning about “grifters” and liars among fellow conservatives, including in the House Freedom Caucus.“

    “No, I do not support [Crenshaw],” Berry tweeted Tuesday. “I am embarrassed I helped him win.”

    Yeah, it was about something specific, but it’s still nice to see them starting to eat their own…even if it’s just a nibble.

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