December 28, 2016

When Democrats staged a sit-in on the House floor in June over gun safety laws to protect children and innocent bystanders, Paul Ryan shut down the CSPAN cameras to deny the public access to their protest.

Undeterred, Democratic congressmen began using live-streaming services like Facebook Live to keep their message from being squelched.

Paul Ryan wasn't happy about that, and plans to put an end to live streams, according to Bloomberg News.

Under the proposed new rules package, which was seen by Bloomberg, members could face a $500 fine through deductions to their paychecks for a first offense of using electronic photography or audio or visual recording, as well as for broadcasting from the chamber’s floor. A $2,500 fine would be leveled for the next such offense and each subsequent violation.

The new rules also clarify which conduct is to be deemed disorderly or disruptive during floor proceedings, including blocking access by other members to microphones or what is known as “the well” -- the front of the chamber.

How is this not a violation of the First Amendment? Elected officials in a building paid for and maintained by taxpayers to conduct the public's business clearly have a First Amendment right to be heard, right?

Right, but not because of the First Amendment.

But experts say Ryan’s proposal may run afoul of Article 1 of the Constitution, which says “each House may … punish its Members for disorderly behavior.” For more than 200 years that has been interpreted to mean any contested sanctions against lawmakers must be approved by the full House with a floor vote, attorneys steeped in congressional legal matters say.

“The Constitution gives the House the authority to discipline members; I have never heard of anything where an officer of the House was given that authority,” said Mike Stern, a former lawyer for the nonpartisan House counsel’s office and the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s GOP staff.

Stern, who called the proposed rule a “plausible Constitutional issue to raise,” said Democrats could take the matter to court. “Their strongest argument would be: The House doesn’t have the authority to give these officers the power to punish us; only the power of the House can do that, and [Republicans] have short-circuited our rights by the way they’ve done it.’”

This is nice and all, and if it were reversed, I guarantee you a right wing think tank funded by the Koch brothers would grind the gears toward getting it to the Supreme Court, but Democrats lack the same legal infrastructure on our side. I expect members will defy the rules under some set of circumstances, be fined, and live with it.

The House of Representatives is the people's house, and we should have the absolute right to view the proceedings at all times, not when the Speaker chooses to leave the cameras on. With fascism roaring down the tracks at us, the First Amendment is more important than ever, and today's technology clearly allows for us to view proceedings in real time, whether on CSPAN or Facebook Live.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.