Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Judge Forces Bilbray, Hunter, Issa to Disclose Soledad Cross Records

U.S. Judge John Bates in the DC District Court ruled yesterday that Representatives Bilbray, Hunter and Issa must provide some of their official documents to a Jewish Veterans group who filed suit last year. The veterans group is attempting to demonstrate that federal seizure of the land was designed to advance a religious goal.

The New York Sun runs through the decision:

Judge Bates said that by sponsoring a bill to federalize the cross, Messrs. Bilbray, Hunter, and Issa opened themselves up to the demand for records. "These members in particular had every reason to suspect that their words and deeds as the Act's sponsors would be the subject of post-enactment scrutiny; they played a high-profile role in the federal government's acquisition of a large Latin cross that had been the subject of extensive prior litigation, made numerous public statements, and boasted of their role in campaign literature," the judge wrote. "This Court's case-specific ruling allowing discovery from these three Members neither works an injustice to them nor opens a proverbial can of worms for legislators generally." Judge Bates's ruling was something of a split decision. He said the legislators were entitled to withhold records pertaining to "legislative acts" but had to disclose records about attempts they made to convince executive branch officials to seize the land by public domain. The judge also said records of contacts with local officials, citizens' groups, and the press might constitute "political activities" that are not protected from subpoena.

The ruling could reveal interesting insights or may land with a dull thud once the surrendered documents are reviewed. And while this is a case-specific ruling which does not directly carry precedent, it does mean that legislators in the future will not be able to count on the Speech and Debate clause as definite protection.

Cross posted at Calitics

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