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.

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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.

A modernized OTA is a key step in addressing Congress’s S&T capacity gap

by Daniel Schuman and Zach Graves

Last week, bipartisan bicameral legislation was introduced by Reps. Mark Takano (D-CA) and Bill Foster (D-IL), and Sens. Maizie Hirono (D-HI) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), aimed at strengthening Congress’s ability to understand science and technology policy issues. (H.R. 4426, S. 2509) We welcome these developments and are encouraged to see ongoing bipartisan support for enhancing Congress’s science and technology capacity and expertise. Continue reading “A modernized OTA is a key step in addressing Congress’s S&T capacity gap”