by Countable | 6.12.19
The House Oversight Committee voted 24-15 along mostly party-lines on Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for failing to provide documents related to the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. All of the committee’s Democrats were joined by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) in voting to hold Barr & Ross in contempt.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Trump administration’s citizenship question later this month, but Democrats believe the documents are necessary to determine why the question was added to the Census. The Trump administration asserted executive privilege over the documents earlier Wednesday, after a Dept. of Justice (DOJ) request that the committee postpone the “unnecessary and premature contempt vote” to allow the document production negotiations to continue was ignored by the committee.
Contempt is used by the House and Senate to respond to actions viewed as obstructing the legislative and oversight process by forcing compliance, punishing the subject of contempt (aka the contemnor), or removing the obstruction. Congressional contempt power can be exercised in three ways according to the Congressional Research Service:
There are several obstacles to congressional subpoena enforcement against executive branch officials through the use of criminal contempt or civil enforcement. In terms of criminal contempt, based on past practice the DOJ doesn’t prosecute contempt if executive privilege is invoked. That was the case for several contempt citations involving executive branch officials approved by the House and sent to the DOJ in recent decades:
Additionally, while it’s possible to enforce a congressional subpoena through civil action it can take significant time to obtain a final, enforceable ruling due to the appeals process.
The resolution could be considered on the House floor in the near future if the Trump administration continues to assert executive privilege over the documents and Democratic leaders choose to bring it to the floor.
A resolution to hold Barr in contempt for failing to provide Congress with the unredacted Mueller report that was advanced by the Judiciary Committee was considered for a possible floor vote this week. However, Democratic leadership took it off the agenda after the DOJ agreed to provide lawmakers with greater access to the report.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Bill Chizek)
Written by Countable