One of the right’s loudest crusades has been their effort to undermine the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN). Following the release of a series of videos showing a handful of ACORN employees behaving inappropriately, conservatives in Congress have done everything they can to single out ACORN for being stripped of all federal funding (while engaging in apparent opposition to defunding companies that cover up rape). Many legal experts have warned that these measures may be unconstitutional because lawmakers cannot punish a group or individual without a trial.
Yesterday, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) challenged the constitutionality of one of these anti-ACORN measures being supported by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) during a hearing of the Science and Technology committee. Grayson repeatedly questioned Broun about the constitutionality of “bills of attainder” — which are punishments that single out a group or individual without a court trial. The Georgia Republican was unable to offer a coherent rebuttal:
GRAYSON: I’d like to ask the gentleman from Georgia a few questions, and I’ll yield to him for the purpose of having answers to these questions. Does the gentleman from Georgia know what a bill of Attainder is?
BROUN: A bill of, the answer’s yes, in fact it’s been very explicitly described by the court’s.
GRAYSON: What is it?
BROUN: [long pause. Scrambling through papers.] The courts have applied a two pronged test. Number one, whether specific individuals or entities are affected by the staute, Number two, when the legislation affects a “punishment,” on those individuals, it serves no legitamate regulatory purpose.
GRAYSON: What, um, does the Constitution says about Bills of Attainder?
BROUN: Oh, I suggest that this is not a Bill of Attainder. It’s, um, certainly does focus on a specific entity, but it does not inflict punishment by any means. In fact…
GRAYSON: Will the gentleman from Georgia explain what the Constitution says about Bills of Attainder?
ANOTHER CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield for a second? The gentleman from Florida?
GRAYSON: No. I’d like an answer to my question. [...]
GRAYSON: The question is, will the gentleman from Georgia agree with me that the Bill of Attainder clause was intended not as a narrow or technical provision, but as an implementation of the seperation of powers, and a general safeguard against legislative exercise of the judicial function, or more simply, trial by legislature. Will the gentleman agree to that?
BROUN: No, sir, I will not, and I ask counsel to help us with this. I think all this is determination of the court and I’d like to appeal to Mr. Sensenberner.
GRAYSON: Well, I’m sorry, but it’s my time, not yours or Mr. Sensenberner’s, so I will reclaim my time, and I will point out that what you just you would not agree to is from a Supreme Court case called the United States v. Brown, something I would expect you might know about, given your name.
Grayson ended his remarks by noting that the conservative crusade against ACORN isn’t based in principle but politics: “We are trampling on people’s Constitutional rights. And I think it’s unfortunate that the mania that exists on the other side of the aisle regarding this one organization, and we know why that mania exists, it’s because they’ve registered an awful lot of Democrats, continues to distort and waste the time of this committee and many other committees here in Congress. Enough is enough.”