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In 1971, the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations began publishing this series of reports on legal proceedings of importance to the Congress as a constitutionally established institution. The reports have contained descriptions of such proceedings, the texts of court decisions, and related documents.
During the 95th Congress, the Select Committee on Congressional Operations published these reports in conjunction with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Since 1971, 23 regular and special reports have been published in this series.
The Select Committee was not reconstituted in the 96th Congress. The Committee on House Administration conducted a study of the functions of the Select Committee and recommended to the Speaker that this reporting responsibility be assigned to the Committee on the Judiciary. The Speaker concurred.
This particular report is the second to be published by the Committee on the Judiciary. The first report was prepared by the Select Committee and was ready for publication prior to the expiration of the Select Committee's authority.
Due to the change in Committee assignment and personnel this report will reflect only those matters current to September 1, 1979. It is the intention of the House Committee on the Judiciary to adhere to a biannual publishing date henceforth. Twice a year on a regular basis, the Committee will publish and issue an updated report on all court proceedings and actions of vital interest to the Congress.
Many of the cases included in this report focus upon crucial, complex, and fundamental questions concerning the scope of Congressional power and the boundaries of permissible legislative activity. It is my hope that these reports will provide a valuable tool to which Members and non-Members alike may turn for guidance or information in their efforts to more fully understand the powers and limitations of Congress and its Members within the American system of government.
PETER W. RODINO, Jr., Chairman,
Committee on the Judiciary.
EXPLANATORY NOTE These case summaries represent an attempt to highlight the most significant principles of law enumerated in each case. They are not intended to be exhaustive of all issues raised or decided during the litigation. In instances where the significant issues have not yet been adjudicated we have merely stated the most prominent issues raised.
I. CONSTITUTIONAL IMMUNITY OF MEMBERS OF CONGRESS UNDER THE
SPEECH OR DEBATE CLAUSE
The Speech or Debate Clause—“for any Speech or Debate in either House, (U.S. Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other place.” Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution of the United States. Hutchinson v. Proxmire 443 U.S. 111 (1979)
The Speech or Debate Clause of the United States Constitution does not protect Members of Congress from liability for defamatory statements contained in their press releases and newsletters. Rusack v. Harsha 470 F. Supp. 285 (M.D. Pa. 1978)
(1) Under the Speech or Debate Clause, defamatory statements contained in a letter from a Member of Congress to an executive agency official will not give rise to a cause of action for defamation if the letter was designed to elicit information needed for the performance of legislative duties. (2) A Member has a constitutionally protected right to inform federal officials of possible violations of federal law. Davis v. Passman 442 U.S. 228 (1979)
A cause of action and damages remedy can be implied under the Constitution whenever the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment is violated. Accordingly, unless it is subsequently determined by the courts that the employment practices of Members of Congress constitute legislative acts and therefore may not be questioned under the Speech or Debate Clause, a former congressional staff member who was allegedly fired because of her sex, may bring a suit for damages in federal court against the Member of Congress who employed her.