D.C. Circuit Rules for Rep. Jefferson:

This morning a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Rep. William Jefferson's challenge to the FBI's seizure of material from his office. The opinion for the Court, written by Judge Rogers and joined by Judge Ginsburg summarizes:

This is an appeal from the denial of a motion, filed pursuant to Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, seeking the return of all materials seized by the Executive upon executing a search warrant for nonlegislative materials in the congressional office of a sitting Member of Congress. The question on appeal is whether the procedures under which the search was conducted were sufficiently protective of the legislative privilege created by the Speech or Debate Clause, Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution. Our precedent establishes that the testimonial privilege under the Clause extends to non-disclosure of written legislative materials. . . . Given the Department of Justice's voluntary freeze of its review of the seized materials and the procedures mandated on remand by this court in granting the Congressman's motion for emergency relief pending appeal, the imaging and keyword search of the Congressman's computer hard drives and electronic media exposed no legislative material to the Executive, and therefore did not violate the Speech or Debate Clause, but the review of the Congressman's paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive and accordingly violated the Clause. Whether the violation requires, as the Congressman suggests, the return of all seized items, privileged as well as non-privileged, depends upon a determination of which documents are privileged and then, as to the non-privileged documents, a balancing of the separation of powers underlying the Speech or Debate Clause and the Executive's Article II, Section 3 law enforcement interest in the seized materials. The question of whether the seized evidence must be suppressed under the Fourth Amendment is not before us.

We hold that the compelled disclosure of privileged material to the Executive during execution of the search warrant for Rayburn House Office Building Room 2113 violated the Speech or Debate Clause and that the Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged under the Clause. We do not, however, hold, in the absence of a claim by the Congressman that the operations of his office have been disrupted as a result of not having the original versions of the non-privileged documents, that remedying the violation also requires the return of the non-privileged documents. The Congressman has suggested no other reason why return of such documents is required pursuant to Rule 41(g) and, in any event, it is doubtful that the court has jurisdiction to entertain such arguments following the return of the indictment against him while this appeal was pending.

Judge Henderson filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, which begins:

When all of the brush is cleared away, this case presents a simple question: can Executive Branch personnel—here, special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation—execute a search warrant directed to the congressional office of a Member of the Congress (Member) without doing violence to the Speech or Debate Clause (Clause) set forth in Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution? The limited United States Supreme Court precedent regarding the applicability of the Clause in the criminal context makes one thing clear—the Clause "does not purport to confer a general exemption upon Members of Congress from liability or process in criminal cases. Quite the contrary is true." Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 626 (1972) (emphasis added). It appears that neither the Supreme Court nor any inferior court has addressed the question as I view it and the single holding from our court on which the majority almost exclusively relies to answer the question in the negative decides only the Clause's applicability to a civil subpoena obtained by private parties who sought certain files in the possession of a congressional subcommittee. . . . I believe the question can be directly answered "yes" without resort to dicta or any other indirect support or theory. Accordingly, while I concur in the judgment which affirms the district court's denial of Representative William J. Jefferson's (Rep. Jefferson) Rule 41(g) motion, I do not agree with the majority's reasoning and distance myself from much of its dicta.

I hope to have more on this decision later today.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. House Probe of Jefferson Suspended:
  2. More on Rep. Jefferson's Papers:
  3. D.C. Circuit Rules for Rep. Jefferson:
More on Rep. Jefferson's Papers:

Lyle Denniston has a thorough discussion of the D.C. Circuit's decision here. How Appealing has a round up of news coverage here.

House Probe of Jefferson Suspended:

The Washington Post reports:

The House ethics committee has suspended its investigation into Rep. William J. Jefferson, acceding to requests from federal prosecutors who believe the congressional inquiry could interfere with the criminal case against the Louisiana Democrat, who was indicted this summer on 16 corruption charges.

The six-member subcommittee handling the inquiry decided to hold off because of concerns from the Justice Department that it "might create legal or factual issues that would complicate or impede the criminal prosecution and related law enforcement efforts in this matter," the panel's top lawmakers, Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), said in a statement.