Wednesday, September 14, 2016

From the Washington Examiner: Hearing a showdown between First Amendment and Congress

The story raises federalism issues as well, and highlights recent activities involving the House Science Committee chaired by Texas Republican Lamar Smith.

- Click here for the article.

Wednesday hearing in the House is shaping up to be a battle between First Amendment rights and Congress' subpoena authority in its own investigations.

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing assessing subpoenas issued by Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to two state attorneys general and a number of scientific groups. Smith issued the subpoenas earlier this summer to get documents related to the climate change investigations of Exxon Mobil by New York and Massachusetts attorneys general.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and a number of scientific groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, have refused to comply with Smith's subpoenas. The attorneys general cite federalism concerns, while the groups say their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon.

On Wednesday, four law professors will go in front of the committee and assess whether Smith's subpoenas are valid. A committee aide said the goal is to show the subpoenas are valid and to force the groups into complying with them given that some of them have not shown they're willing to work with the committee.

"We're really seeing an obstruction of a congressional investigation," the aide said.

Eight organizations, in addition to the two attorneys general, received subpoenas from Smith in July. None has complied, though negotiations are ongoing.

Smith will hope to show that the subpoenas are valid under the three-pronged test set out by the Supreme Court for congressional investigations. According to that test, the subpoenas need to be issued by a committee with legislative jurisdiction over the subject matter, have a valid legislative purpose and be asking questions pertinent to the investigation.

Smith argued in a letter to the attorneys general this summer that his committee is investigating if Schneiderman and Healey are taking actions that would have a chilling effect on research and development funding. Research and development funding is, with the exception of military and medical funding, under the committee's purview.

- Click here for the hearing.

The title is: Full Committee Hearing - Affirming Congress’ Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities: Subpoena Authority and Recourse for Failure to Comply with Lawfully Issued Subpoenas.

For news coverage:

House Science Committee Hearing an Attempt to Justify Unconstitutional Investigation.
Constitutional scholars to House climate deniers: No witch hunt of Exxon critics.
Congress should ask what Exxon knew about climate change.

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