Jefferson Office Search Not Violation of Constitution

Charles Lane gets page 10 of today’s WaPo for an Analysis entitled, “Breach Was More of the Spirit, Not the Letter, of the Constitution,” that basically says what I wrote 48 hours earlier.

The FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson’s congressional office was an aggressive tactic that broke a long-standing political custom. But while it might violate the spirit of the Constitution, it might not violate the letter of the document or subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court, legal analysts say.

The issue could turn on whether a court finds that the items seized from Jefferson’s office were related to such protected legislative activities as writing, researching and voting on bills. Other things could be fair game for the prosecution, analysts said. “An official legislative act is immune, but interference with anything beyond that” is not covered by the constitutional provision that shields Congress from executive and judicial branch interference, said Michael J. Glennon, a former legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who teaches at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

[…]

In a series of cases during the 1960s and ’70s, the court drew a protective line around papers, speeches and activities that are “essential” to legislative acts or the motives behind them, such as floor statements or committee reports. But it declined to protect anything not closely connected to legislative work, such as remarks to the press or constituent newsletters.

Of course, you already knew that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bipartisan Furor Over FBI Raid…

    Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert demanded the return of documents seized by the FBI in a raid…

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    So, if Jefferson had written his legislative notes on greenbacks, he’d be in a stronger position? 😉

  3. cirby says:

    I’m kinda curious about this “spirit of the Constitution” thing.

    …so what part of the “spirit” makes Congresscritters immune to search and seizure, while they don’t even need a warrant to search all of us common folks under many circumstances?

  4. McGehee says:

    �so what part of the �spirit� makes Congresscritters immune to search and seizure, while they don�t even need a warrant to search all of us common folks under many circumstances?

    I think that’s from when some SCOTUS judge emanated into the penumbra. Sort of the constitutional equivalent of a sudden warm current at the public swimming pool.