The attacks on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 have emphasized the need for voters to be vigilant in electing only politicians with the highest integrity. Our Founders designed the Constitution to help ensure that political candidates were men of integrity, and declared that such politicians should only remain in office if they display good behavior. Members of Congress from both the United States Senate and House of Representatives have been promoting lies and inciting voters to act illegally. Our individual ability to hold our representatives in Congress to be ethical is limited.
When the Founders were drafting the Constitution, they were primarily concerned with forming a government that would last. They were wrong when they formed US Constitution Art. I, sec. 6, class 1, known as the Speech or Debate clause, (1) granting immunity to members of Congress for their conduct during session. The United States Supreme Court has held that Congress is immune from civil suits and some crimes. Although the Founders did not grant Congress immunity for disorderly conduct, felony, or treason, the US Supreme Court has severely limited the ability of prosecutors to bring criminal charges against members of Congress. This protection from civil and criminal penalties causes members of Congress to act inappropriately. On our own, we have few legal recourses to persuade our representatives to comply with ethical and legal standards.
The Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to make rules and discipline other members, but Congress is rarely seen or heard of expelling a member of Congress for misconduct. Party loyalties and other considerations create an atmosphere in which ethical standards are not met or enforced. As a result of limited check and balance systems for members of congress, they become less ethical each year. If state political parties became more organized, they would have the ability to unite to persuade congressmen to abide by the law and ethical standards.
Political parties in all states should encourage their members to formally join the state political party, which will unite large blocs of voters who can wield the power of a lobbyist. Each member’s contact information can be used to send a monthly message to their party trying to send uniform messages to their representative about what she wants them to support. A message to your State Senator or Representative that reads: “We have 2,000,000 voters willing to vote for a politician who will enforce ethical standards by impeaching US Senator _____ for inciting violence..” A large, united political party that actively seeks the ethical standards of our politicians will get results. People generally don’t like to be bothered too much, so it will only work if the party’s messages are limited to once a month, 12 a year.
On July 3, 1980, Congress enacted the “Code of Ethics for Government Service.” (2) It has ten ethical standards such as putting country before political party and other admirable requirements. However, a United States attorney issued a legal opinion in court, holding that this law could not be applied in a civil or criminal context. That lawyer eviscerated those ethical standards that have no way of being enforced. I think I read that this US Attorney who wrote that legal opinion was unanimously nominated as a judge by Congress. Congress also rarely upholds the law or ethical standards for members of the executive who commit perjury or adequately ensures that the Court upholds the Constitution. The blame for the attacks on the US Capitol falls on the American people because we are not actively engaged enough to make good changes in our government. The digital age with lightning-fast communications and press releases from political parties seeking party organization and unification gives us the ability to stand together to ensure our government no longer embarrasses us and our nation.
(1) Todd Garvey, (December 1, 2017), “Understanding the Speech or Debate Clause,” Congressional Research Service (CRS). Federation of American Scientists (FAS). R45043. [p. 6]. Publicly available at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45043.pdf
(2) LII Staff, (1980), “Annex to Part 73 – Code of Ethics for Public Function” LII/Institute of Legal Information. Cornell Law School. Publicly available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/34/appendix-to_part_73