Many of us remember Senator Harry Reid going off on the floor of the Senate and stating 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hadn’t paid any taxes in ten years without as much as a yellow sticky of evidence to back it up. To this day, Reid has no regrets, in fact he’s proud of the fact his lie may have helped cost Romney the election.
According to the Constitution, a congressman and/or senator can say ANYTHING they want about ANYONE on the floor and can’t be held in any way liable in any body outside of that building.
The Senators and Representatives shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
— United States Constitution (Article I, Section 6, Clause 1)
While some academics consider this clause “practically obsolete”, it clearly gives cover for today’s dishonest partisan.
Congressmen and senators were originally paid $6 per day, protecting a politician’s personal business and/or assets was a necessity. But in the age of professional politicians who now make around $725 per day, aside from their ballooned portfolios that vastly outperform their salaries, knowing their personal finances are shielded from the ramifications of slander or libel has brought out the worse in our elected.
Harry Reid put his foot in his mouth before regarding Rush Limbaugh and the gleefully repeated “phony soldiers” lie prompted by Media Matters. Reid was proven wrong, didn’t have to apologize and never has because he knows there is no redress in any venue.
In Eastland v. United States Servicemen’s Fund (1975), the Supreme Court acknowledged that the clause may shield Members from civil or criminal liability “even though their conduct, if performed in other than legislative contexts, would in itself be unconstitutional or otherwise contrary to criminal or civil statutes.”
— James L. Buckley, Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
We’ll see how many more times federal politicians can slander private citizens, candidates or not, because this won’t be the last time.