Statement on Vote on May 10, 2022 to Allow House Staff to Unionize

“Today’s vote to allow House staff to unionize portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff and is a high point in efforts to restore Congress’s strength as a robust institution capable of working on behalf of the American people,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director, Demand Progress.

“In the wake of a series of revelations about mistreatment of congressional staff and in the aftermath of decades of neglect, House political and non-political staff will finally be able to organize and negotiate for better working conditions without fear of retaliation.

We applaud all the congressional staffers and particularly the Congressional Workers Union for their ceaseless advocacy in support of improving staff working conditions; we commend Representative Andy Levin for his championing of the congressional unionization resolution, co-sponsored by a wide array of Members of Congress; Representative Zoe Lofgren for conducting thorough oversight through the Committee on House Administration; and Speaker Pelosi and senior leadership for bringing the measure to the House floor.

In combination with adjusting office funding levels by 21%, providing significant investments in Congress’s oversight capabilities, ensuring that no staffer earns below a living wage, and strengthening workplace protections, this House of Representatives has done more to strengthen the Legislative Branch than any Congress in the last 30 years.”

Statement on House Unionization Vote + Establishment of Minimum Wage

“Today is a proud moment in congressional history and portends a significant advance in the working conditions for congressional staff,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director of Demand Progress, a non-governmental organization focused on strengthening our democracy that has led a broad coalition to advocate for the right of congressional staff to unionize and pushed for higher staff pay.

Continue reading “Statement on House Unionization Vote + Establishment of Minimum Wage”

New Office of Legal Counsel Transparency Bill Would End Secret Law by OLC Opinion

Official sign depicting entrance to Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel
Sign outside the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel

Senator Duckworth, along with Senator Leahy, just introduced the Demanding Oversight and Justification Over Legal Conclusions Transparency Act (DOJ OLC Transparency Act), a bill to require the Department of Justice to publicly disclose all Office of Legal Counsel opinions, with appropriate exceptions for classified material.

Demand Progress has long advocated for such transparency, and applauds the efforts of  Senators Duckworth and Leahy to introduce legislation that would protect a foundational principle in our democracy: the right of Congress and the public to know how the laws of the land have been implemented by the executive branch. 

“The Office of Legal Counsel has shaped lasting U.S. policy under a dangerous shroud of secrecy that has shielded legal opinions that are controversial, even dubious or shoddy, from both congressional oversight and legal interpretation. Had this bill been law in 2002, it’s highly unlikely the U.S. would have engaged in human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib, as the legal justification provided by the OLC’s so-called ‘Torture Memos’ would not have withstood public scrutiny,” said Demand Progress Legal Director Ginger Quintero-McCall. “The DOJ OLC Transparency Act would put an end to secret law via OLC opinion by empowering Congress to protect its own oversight capabilities, incentivizing OLC attorneys to produce high quality legal analysis, and ensuring that every member of the public understands what laws the country is actually operating under. We commend the legislation introduced by Senator Duckworth and Senator Leahy, and call on every member of Congress who cares about government accountability to support this important legislation.”

OLC’s “core function,” according to its own memoranda, is to provide “controlling advice to Executive Branch officials on questions of law that are centrally important to the functioning of the Federal Government.” This legal advice “may effectively be the final word on the controlling law,” yet it is routinely withheld from both Congress and the public. 

Neither Congress nor the public is aware of the number of OLC opinions currently in effect, much less their legal conclusions. The OLC is typically able to thwart disclosure through FOIA requests, claiming its relationship to the Attorney General is essentially by attorney-client privilege. It took lawsuits that took advantage of a 2016 amendment to the Freedom of Information Act to compel the OLC to at least release opinions that are more than 25 years old.

Along with its House companion legislation led by Reps. Cartwright and Quigley, this Sunshine Week introduction of the DOJ OLC Transparency Act starts us on that path. 

https://s3.amazonaws.com/demandprogress/letters/2022-03-16_Orgs_Supporting_OLC_Transparency.pdf

Put Senate Bills and Amendments Online Before Votes

First Page of Letter encouraging the Senate to publish floor amendments online

The public does not have real time access to bills and amendments as they are considered on the Senate floor. This week, Demand Progress, Lincoln Network, and a coalition of 41 other organizations and 15 experts sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting the Senate publish bills and amendments online while they are still under consideration.

Continue reading “Put Senate Bills and Amendments Online Before Votes”

Video: Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony

Demand Progress hosted a webinar on Friday, April 30 to hear from presenters who otherwise would have testified in person before the appropriations subcommittees on improving government transparency and accountability.

This webinar was moderated by Taylor J. Swift, policy advisor for Demand Progress. The timestamps for each presenter are included below.

Continue reading “Video: Demand Progress Webinar on FY 2022 Appropriations Public Witness Testimony”

An Open Congress Cannot Be Fenced Off

Demand Progress, the Lincoln Network, and a coalition of organizations wrote to legislators this week to express our concern and strong opposition to the proposed permanent fencing surrounding the U.S. Capitol.

On January 6th, insurrectionists successfully breached security and stormed the U.S. Capitol with lawmakers, employees, essential workers, and journalists inside. In the aftermath of this attack, Congress began evaluating what needs to be done to ensure this type of attack never happens again. While it is clear security at the Capitol must be reformed, solutions must not come at the expense of open government; the Capitol must remain open to the public.

Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman released a statement recommending the U.S. Capitol complex be fitted with permanent fencing. To enclose the Capitol campus with permanent security fencing would be a grave error. While there may be times where temporary fencing is necessary, to erect permanent barriers between Congress would be a blow to open democracy.

The safety and security of our legislators and the people who make their work possible is paramount; however it was not an absence of funding or fencing that allowed for the January 6th insurrection. Rather, the success of the attack was a result of mismanagement and poor communication by the entities tasked with keeping the Capitol safe. 

The Capitol stands as a symbol of fair and open democracy — closing the Capitol to the public and militarizing Capitol Hill is a sign of weakness and contrary to our democratic ideals as a nation.

The letter can be found here and is also available below:

Continue reading “An Open Congress Cannot Be Fenced Off”

Increase Congress’s Funding by 10% Says Bipartisan Coalition of Good Government Organizations

For decades, Congress has undercut its ability to meet its Constitution obligations by providing itself inadequate resources to meet its legislative, constitutional, and oversight responsibilities. Discretionary Executive branch resources, and power, on the other hand, have grown at more than double the rate of the Legislative branch. In addition, Congress has been driven to rely on lobbyists for expertise because it lacks the in-house expertise.

Today a coalition of nearly 70 individuals, good government advocates, and businesses have sent a message for appropriators: it’s time to reinvest in Congress. The letter was organized by Demand Progress and the Lincoln Network.

Less than 1% of all discretionary federal funds go to Congress and its support agencies, and while non-defense discretionary spending has increased 55% over the last 25 years, the Legislative branch budget has grown just 30% in that same period. And the vast majority of those funds have gone for non-legislative purposes, such as the Capitol Police and the Architect of the Capitol.

Continue reading “Increase Congress’s Funding by 10% Says Bipartisan Coalition of Good Government Organizations”

The Constitution Annotated in 2020

For the first time since 2009, I don’t have to write a blogpost or letter calling on the Library of Congress to make its legal treatise, the Constitution Annotated, available online in a usable format. Last year, the Library finally published that document online as HTML. For those unfamiliar, the Constitution Annotated is a legal treatise, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, that explains the U.S. Constitution as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court. Continue reading “The Constitution Annotated in 2020”

Testimony before a Simulated Virtual Hearing on Remote Voting in Congress

A coalition of organizations, including a number of former Members of Congress, held a simulated virtual hearing on April 16, 2020, to illustrate how the House of Representatives or Senate could use technology to hold a remote hearing. The following is my prepared remarks concerning the constitutional and rules questions that might arise concerning such a proceeding.

 * * * * *

Chairman Baird, Co-Chairman Inglis, distinguished former members of Congress, it is my honor to speak with you today.

It has now been 33 days since the House of Representatives held its last hearing, and 31 days since the House’s last roll call vote on the floor. The legislative branch’s absence has created a power vacuum that the executive branch is readily exploiting. Congress must get back to work. The question is how. Continue reading “Testimony before a Simulated Virtual Hearing on Remote Voting in Congress”

The OLC SUNLIGHT Act brings much needed transparency to DOJ legal opinions

The OLC SUNLIGHT Act — which would bring desperately needed transparency and accountability to the often secret opinions of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel — was introduced today.

How often are those opinions secret? No one knows, because there’s no publicly or congressionally-available list of all the opinions. The opinions that have become publicly available reveal that they often have undermined federal legislation and reinterpreted the Constitution in ways favorable to the executive branch and harmful to the framers’ system of checks and balances. This is intolerable.

The OLC Sunlight Act does two things —

  1. It requires a publicly available list of all OLC opinions, including when they are issued and a summary of the legal question presented.
  2. It requires OLC to publish all its final opinions online, with allowances for text to be withheld when it is properly classified, contains materials that impact privacy, and in other limited circumstances.

The original cosponsors are Reps. Matt Cartwright, (PA) Mike Quigley (IL), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Blumenauer (OR), Cardenas (CA), Carson (IN), Clay (MO), Davis (CA), Gomez (CA), Johnson, Jr. (GA), Hill (CA), Holmes Norton (DC), Phillips (MN), Raskin (MD), Tlaib (MI), and Vargas (CA). A bipartisan coalition of 17 organizations from across the political spectrum, including us, issued a letter endorsing the legislation.

Congress has long struggled to provide public and congressional transparency to OLC opinions. We are a nation of laws, not a nation of secret laws. In our system of government, Congress makes the law, not the president, and the president must faithfully execute the law.

We applaud the cosponsors for introducing the legislation. Public access to OLC opinions has long enjoyed bipartisan support, and we urge all Members of Congress to take up the fight for the rule of law.