Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School professor Patrice Fulcher was asked by Representative Elijah E. Cummings’ office, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to comment on the contempt proceedings against Lois Lerner. Cummings released opinions from 25 legal experts across the country and the political spectrum concluding that Committee Chairman Darrell Issa compromised any House contempt action against former IRS official Lois Lerner when he rushed to adjourn the Committee’s hearing on March 5, 2014.
In Professor Fulcher’s comment, she said:
“American citizens expect, and the Constitution demands, that U.S. Congressional Committees adhere to procedural constraints when conducting hearings. Yet the proper required measures designed to provide due process of law were not followed during the May 22nd House Oversight Committee Hearing concerning Ms. Lerner. In Quinn v. United States, the Supreme Court clearly outlined practical safeguards to be followed to lay the foundation for contempt of Congress proceedings once a witness invokes the Fifth Amendment. 349 U.S. 155 (1955). To establish criminal intent, the committee has to demand the witness answer and upon refusal, expressly overrule her claim of privilege. This procedure assures that an accused is not forced to ‘guess whether or not the committee has accepted [her] objection’, but is provided with a choice between compliance and prosecution. Id. It is undeniable that the record shows that the committee did not expressly overrule Ms. Lerner’s claim of privilege, but rather once Ms. Lerner invoked her 5th Amendment right, the Chairman subsequently excused her. The Chairman did not order her to answer or present her with the clear option to respond or suffer contempt charges. Therefore, launching a contempt prosecution against Ms. Lerner appears futile and superfluous due to the Committee’s disregard for long standing traditions of procedure.”
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