Understanding the law can be hard, and no one proves that more than Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). During his last foray onto the national stage, Culberson confused a room full of high school students with a Billy Madison-like ramble about how marriage equality is self-evidently wrong. And also is fundamental. And also would require the government to provide “civil rights protection to any other type of private sexual behavior.” And also may or may not have something to do with interstate commerce.
Culberson’s latest foray into the law is no less muddled, but could be far more dangerous than one embarrassing rant. Last week, Culberson introduced the “Tenth Amendment Enforcement Act,” which appears to be nothing more than a license for state lawmakers to harass the federal government with frivolous litigation:
(1) In addition to any other remedy which may exist, in order to protect the State’s sovereign authority to determine for itself the appropriate means to preserve and protect the safety, security, and property of the citizens of the State, the chief executive or a member of the legislature of a State may, in a civil action in that chief executive’s or member’s official capacity, obtain declaratory or injunctive relief–
(A) to remedy any action taken by a Federal authority that attempts to interfere with the State’s sovereign authority…
(2) The plaintiff commencing a civil action under this subsection is immune from civil liability resulting from the plaintiff’s participation in that civil action, including liability for any attorney fees, costs, and sanctions that may be awarded in connection with the civil action.
The first part of this bill authorizes every single member of a state’s legislature to decide on their own when the think the federal government is “attempt[ing] to interfere with the State’s sovereign authority,” and to file a lawsuit dragging federal officials into court. The second provision of the bill contains Culberson’s new license to harass.
Federal civil procedure rules enable a court to sanction parties that file endless streams of frivolous lawsuits, at least when they file those cases on their own instead of through an attorney. Culberson’s bill, however, completely immunizes state lawmakers from any kind of sanctions for bringing lawsuits intended solely to harass the United States into submission. This means that any state lawmaker anywhere in the country could unleash hundreds of Cuccinelli-like witch hunts against the United States — forcing the American taxpayer to foot the bill — and the courts would be powerless to stop the harassment.
Worse, while the federal courts strain under the weight of a growing vacancy crisis, Culberson’s bill would divert precious judicial resources away from people seeking justice — and away from businesses hobbled by the specter of looming litigation — in order to handle the wave of harassment suits. In other words, it’s clear Culberson hasn’t thought this bill through any more than he did his incoherent rant taking at least four different positions on marriage equality.