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Feds and the Fifth Amendment

Mo Brooks

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) introduced a bill to make it a firing offense for federal employees to refuse to testify.

News that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) introduced a bill that would mandate the firing of federal workers who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in Congressional hearings sparked a lot of spirited discussion. A few commentators suggested that the bill might do some good. One wrote, "If you are not willing to disclose information about your conduct in your official capacity you should be fired." Another wrote, "The Fifth Amendment--which protects against self-incrimination -- applies to all Americans. That includes federal employees."

Adam Mazmanian responds: The bill was proposed amid anger on the Republican side in the House Oversight and Government Reform committee against Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service's director of tax-exempt organizations. She's a key figure in the ongoing scandal about the alleged targeting of Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status for special scrutiny.

Brooks's bill was nicknamed the "Lerner rule" when it was first floated. Since then Republicans on the committee passed a resolution determining that Lerner did not waive her Fifth Amendment rights, due to the content of a statement she made before refusing to answer questions. Since then, another IRS official took the Fifth in a separate hearing of the same committee looking into potential conflict of interest in the award of several IT contracts.

Despite the growing anger of Republicans on the committee, it's unlikely that Brooks' bill will become law, even if it advances through the House. First of all, there would be limited Democratic support for such a measure. For example, the ranking member on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) expressed disappointment that the witness in the IT case was refusing to testify, but offered his strong support for the right to avoid self-incrimination. But even absent that, there would be serious constitutional questions raised by a measure that explicitly impinged on a guaranteed right.

Posted by Adam Mazmanian on Jul 01, 2013 at 1:29 PM

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Reader comments

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 RayW

There are two sides to this issue. The first is the right not to incriminate yourself, and the second is the responsibility of an employee to be accountable to his employer.

The fifth was meant for the common man on the street not to respond to questions from "the government" that may incriminate him. I THINK that was in response to the use of coercive questioning that resulted in twisted questions getting answers that made a person look guilty when in reality he was not and silence was presumed as guilty.

On the other hand, when I worked in real life if I was called up before the board of directors to give an accounting of my stewardship of the company funds and reputation and invoked the fifth because I was afraid of being fired, then I would still be fired.

A fine line here, and a law is not needed that weakens the fifth, but the concept of an employer/employee relationship needs to be put in place. Of course, that means that the employee can rip off his employer and ruin his name, but without solid proof, all that happens is he gets fired if he refuses to answer questions related to his job (note, his job, not his personal life, again a fine line in some cases like politicians and authority figures).

Now what I wonder is, does this apply to the other people in politics like the president, the house, the senate, the judiciary? After all, we are their employers and how often do we get evasions from them?

Tue, Jul 2, 2013

Get with reality people and learn the Constitution! The fifth does not protect your job security in any way - it only protects you from saying things that could prosecute you. You do not have a right to your job. The fith was never ment to be used to allow people to continue illegal activity (especially with taxdollars!) - which is exactly what these people against this proposal are, in essence, are wanting to do. Yes, it does not surprise me that the Dems are against this because they know that it is unethical and often illegal activity that is both keeping them in power and allowing them to achieve thei agendas. It is obvious that corruption will be knocked down in the Government by making their workers accountable or lose their jobs. I do not see how any ethical person can see it otherwise. The fact that there are so many people against this proposal makes it clear just how much ethics is now lacking in this country. Ignorance of the Constitution alone cannot be the reason why people think that this type of behavior should not have consequences in other areas. And one more point. If this activity was used to protect illegal activity against liberals, most of these people would be signing a different tune because this is not about the Constitution but about the power of liberals in Government to abuse their positions and to not be held responsible for their abuses.

Tue, Jul 2, 2013

Has our society sunk so low? Our elected officials do not wish to defend the constitution our brave troops have fought and died to protect for over 200 years. They think it is ok to pass laws saying the constitution does not apply anywhere it is inconvienient. Slowly we sink. First we are scared of the terrorists and we freely surrender our rights to a government that promises us safety at the expense of our constitutional rights. Now that same government wishes to suspend a constitutional right. Our Founding Fathers and every soldier who ever died to protect this country is weeping in their graves. I will happily face whatever risks to remain a FREE AMERICAN! Happy Fourth of July!!!!!!

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