Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Juicing The Mitchell: Congressional Name Calling Guidelines

House Rules Committee chairwoman Louise Slaughter reminds everyone what names the President can be called:
Under clause 1(a)(1) of Rule XI, the rules of the House are the rules of its committees as far as applicable. Consequently, Members should comport themselves with the rules of decorum and debate in the House and in Committees specifically with regard to references to the President of the United States as stated in Section 370 of the House Rules and Manual.

As stated in Cannon’s Precedents, on January 27, 1909, the House adopted a report in response to improper references in debate to the President. That report read in part as follows:

“It is... the duty of the House to require its Members in speech or debate to preserve that proper restraint which will permit the House to conduct its business in an orderly manner and without unnecessarily and unduly exciting animosity among its Members or antagonism from those other branches of the Government with which the House is correlated.”

As a guide for debate, it is permissible in debate to challenge the President on matters of policy. The difference is one between political criticism and personally offensive criticism. For example, a Member may assert in debate that an incumbent President is not worthy of re-election, but in doing so should not allude to personal misconduct. By extension, a Member may assert in debate that the House should conduct an inquiry, or that a President should not remain in office.

Under section 370 of the House Rules and Manual it has been held that a Member could:

  • refer to the government as “something hated, something oppressive.”
  • refer to the President as “using legislative or judicial pork.”
  • refer to a Presidential message as a “disgrace to the country.”
  • refer to unnamed officials as “our half-baked nitwits handling foreign affairs.”

Likewise, it has been held that a member could not:

  • call the President a “liar.”
  • call the President a “hypocrite.”
  • describe the President’s veto of a bill as “cowardly.”
  • charge that the President has been “intellectually dishonest.”
  • refer to the President as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
  • refer to alleged “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.”

However, the Senate rules on decorum and debate do not prohibit personal references to the President. Senate Rule XIX governing decorum and debate is applied only to fellow Senators and “does not extend to the President, the Vice President, or Administration officials and a Senator cannot be called to order under rule XIX for comments or remarks about them...” (Senate Procedure, p. 741). The Senate rules also provide that Jefferson’s Manual is not part of the Senate rules (Ibid, p.754).

By contrast, the rules of the House specifically provide that Jefferson’s Manual does govern the proceedings of the House where applicable (Clause 1 of Rule XXVIII). Section 370 of Jefferson’s Manual states that the rule in Parliament prohibiting Members from “speak{ing} irreverently or seditiously against the King” has been interpreted to prohibit personal references against the President. In addition, Speakers of the House have consistently reiterated, and the House has voted, to support the proposition that it is not in order in debate to engage in personalities toward the President. The Chair enforces this rule of decorum on his own initiative.

Hat Tip to Jason Oberle, who immediately recognized the Juicing the Mitchell potential, as well as this blogger.

Note that in 1909, Congress passed the 16th Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. Summarized by Wikipedia:
The Sixteenth Amendment (Amendment XVI) to the United States Constitution allows the Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on Census results. This amendment overruled Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. (1895), which limited the Congress's authority to levy an income tax.
Coincidence?

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