U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said today the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives is trying to evade a GOP promise in its 1995 "Contract with America" that members of Congress should live under the same laws they enact for others.
The Massachusetts Democrat took issue with a brief filed by the Republican leadership rebutting charges of employment discrimination against U.S. Rep Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex).
While saying he was certain that Johnson, his fellow Democrat, did not discriminate against her former chief of staff and another
employee—both of whom like Johnson are African Americans—Frank disagreed with the argument that Republicans put forward in the congresswoman's defense.
Essentially, said Frank, a brief signed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Majority Whip Roy Blunt contends that the first clause of Section 6 of Article 1 of the Constitution can be extended to protect members of Congress against law suits dealing with personnel who help them on legislative matters.
The clause in question states: "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."
"So," said Frank, "what this means is that any Member of Congress accused of discriminatory actions in his or her employment practices, unlike any other employer in America, need only file a statement saying that the individual in question had legislative duties, and no amount of evidence supporting the claim of discrimination could even be heard.
“Their rationale is that for a Member of Congress to show that an individual was fired or disciplined not because of discriminatory reasons but because he or she had done a bad job, the Member of Congress would have to discuss legislative matters. Thus, the brief the Republicans have filed, transmogrifies the 'Speech and Debate clause' to shield Members of Congress from even having to respond to a charge of discrimination. This is an outrageous effort to undo what the Republican leadership promised it would do in the Contract with America, because the effect is to leave employees of Members of Congress and Congressional committees in the same position they were in in 1994.
In the case pending in federal court against Congresswoman Johnson her former chief of staff said she was fired after she protested another African-American staff member being let go to make way for an Asian-American.