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Conyers, Slaughter, Nadler & Cohen: New Republican Rule Is a Modern Day Gag Rule

Dec 30, 2016

Washington, DC – House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), House Committee on Rules Ranking Member Louise Slaughter (D-NY), House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Subcommittee on Intellectual Property Ranking Member, and former chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) today released a joint statement on the proposed Republican Rules package,  which, among other things, would delegate to the Sergeant-at-Arms the  authority to impose fines of up to $2,500 per offense against any Member who uses an electronic device to photograph or record House floor proceedings.  This is an apparent reaction to the Democratic sit-in on the House floor last June over the Republicans’ failure to bring up common sense gun safety legislation in the wake of the Orlando night club shootings.

“House Republican Leadership, as one of its first priorities for the incoming Congress, seeks to impose a modern day and unconstitutional gag rule to restrict the First Amendment rights of Members to protest and engage in other forms of expression on the House floor as well as deny them due process.  This unprecedented rule change, which appears to violate several fundamental constitutional protections, clearly is intended to undermine the rights of Members in the Minority to freely express their views on the House floor, which is a critical means by which Members communicate to the American public.  It is particularly egregious that such a controversial and potentially unlawful change is being implemented in the complete absence of hearings or input from legal experts, let alone the Minority.           

“In effect, this proposed rule change would empower a protocol official to unilaterally impose a fine against a Member who uses an electronic device to photograph or record House floor proceedings without affording the Member any due process.  Even the threat of this fine would have a chilling effect on the right of Members to express their views on the House floor, which is one of the most fundamental protections under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause as well as the First Amendment.  As the U.S. Supreme Court recognized more than 50 years ago in Mills v. Alabama, ‘Whatever differences may exist about interpretations of the First Amendment, there is practically universal agreement that a major purpose of that Amendment was to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs.’           

“In addition, the proposed rule change fails to provide a Member any due process to contest the imposition of the fine before it is automatically deducted from the Member’s salary, the diminution of which is protected by the 27th Amendment.              

“Rather than ensuring greater transparency and promoting full and fair debate, the House Republican Leadership has chosen to do the very opposite by authorizing ‘speech police’ to restrict the First Amendment right of the Minority to express their dissent on the House floor. Surely this could not happen on the floor of the U.S. House, given that we’re sworn to uphold the Constitution.”

114th Congress