A top appellate court on Friday declined to second-guess the House of Representatives’ censure of long-time Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y.
In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the December 2010 censure of Rangel amounted to a legislative dispute that could not be resolved by the judicial branch.
“Rangel must vindicate his reputation in the one court that can hear his claim: the court of public opinion,” Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote.
The former chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rangel was found by the House Ethics Committee to have committed 11 ethical violations. The alleged violations included improper solicitation of donations, failure to disclose financial information, improper use of House resources, receipt of improper favors and failure to pay taxes.
The House agreed by a vote of 333–79; and on Dec. 2, 2010, House Speaker John Boehner read the censure resolution on the House floor while Rangel stood in the well.
Rangel subsequently sued. In its decision issued Friday, the appellate court agreed with a district court judge that the Constitution’s “Speech or Debate Clause” shielded the censure resolution from legal challenge. The clause states that “the Senators and Representatives . . . for any Speech or Debate in either House . . . shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
“The Clause reflects the Founders‘ belief in legislative independence,” Henderson noted.