The attacks on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 have emphasized a need for voters to become vigilant to only elect politicians with the highest integrity. Our Founders designed the Constitution to help ensure political candidates were men of integrity and they stated that those politicians should only remain in office if they exhibited good behavior. Congress members of both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives have been fomenting lies and instigating voters to act in an unlawful manner. Our individual ability to require our congressional representatives to remain ethical is limited.
When the Founders were designing the Constitution they were primarily concerned with forming a government that would last. They made a mistake when they formed U.S. Const. Art. I, Sec. 6, Cl. 1, known as the Speech or Debate clause, (1) giving Congress members immunity for their conduct while in session. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that Congress is immune from civil lawsuits and some crimes. Although the Founders did not give Congress immunity to commit the crimes of breach of the peace, felony or treason, the U.S. Supreme Court has severely limited a prosecutors ability to file criminal charges against congress members. This protection from civil and criminal penalties causes congress members to act inappropriately. Standing alone we have little legal recourse to persuade our representatives to abide by ethical and legal standards.
The Constitution gives each house of Congress the power to make rules and discipline other members but you rarely see or hear of congress expelling a congress member for misconduct. Party loyalties and other considerations create an atmosphere where ethical standards are not met or enforced. As a result of limited check and balance systems for congress members, they become less ethical every year. If State political parties became more organized they would have the ability to unite together to persuade congress persons to uphold the law and ethical standards.
Political parties in every State need to encourage their members to formally join the State political party which will unite large blocks of voters that can have the power of a lobbyist. Contact information of every member can be used to send a monthly message to their party trying to make uniform messages to their representative of what you want them to support. A message to your State Senator or Representative stating, “We have 2,000,000 voters willing to vote for a politician that will enforce ethical standards by impeaching U.S. Senator _____ for inciting violence.” A large and united political party actively seeking ethical standards of our politicians will get results. People generally do not like to be disturbed too much so it will only work if party 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 made a legal opinion within a court, holding that this law could not be enforced in a civil or criminal context. That lawyer eviscerated those ethical standards that have no way of being enforced. I believe I read that this U.S. Attorney who wrote that legal opinion was unanimously nominated as a judge by congress. Congress also rarely uphold the law or ethical standards for members of the Executive who commit perjury nor do they adequately ensure the Court upholds the Constitution. The blame for the attacks on the U.S. Capitol rest on the American people because we do not actively participate enough to make good changes to our government. The digital age with lightning fast communications and political party press releases seeking party organization and unification gives us the ability to stand united to ensure our government does not embarrass us and our nation any further.
(1) Todd Garvey, (Dec. 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), “Appendix to Part 73 – Code of Ethics for Government Service” LII/Legal Information Institute. Cornell Law School. Publicly available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/34/appendix-to_part_73