Eviscerating Republican Bills of Attainder

Alan “Big D” Grayson’s exchange with Georgia Republican Paul Broun is pretty remarkable. First, Grayson absolutely schools Broun on the unconstitutionality of bills of attainder. Broun is reduced to repeatedly reading off of a talking points memo – on camera – to try to respond to Grayson’s Socratic line of questioning. Second, Grayson has yet again shown what it looks like when a Democrat stands up for his beliefs and defends an ally (ACORN) from unwarranted and in this case unconstitutional attack.

Glenn Greenwald has a great post looking at the legal precedents relating to bills of attainder and why Grayson is so spot-on in his analysis.  Glenn deconstructs the argument made by Broun and other anti-ACORN Republican members of Congress. Here’s where he arrives:

For those who want to ignore the actual law and insist that it’s not “punishment” for Congress to prohibit specific people from receiving discretionary government benefits (such as government contracts), it should be the case that you’d have no Constitutional objection to bills which provide for the following:

* Only registered Democrats, but not registered Republicans, shall be eligible for unemployment benefits.

* Any individual belonging or contributing to the NRA shall be permanently barred from government employment.

* Anyone who has been employed by Blackwater at any time during the past decade — including those who performed contracting services for said corporation — shall not be permitted to participate in the Medicare or Medicaid program.

* Any organization which helps more Republicans than Democrats register to vote shall be barred from holding tax-exempt status.

* Any person or company providing services, or entering into contracts with, Fox News shall be barred from receiving government contracts.

By the reasoning of Rep. Broun and his defenders, such measures cannot be unconstitutional because Congress is not “punishing” anyone here.  Nobody has the “right” to receive unemployment benefits, or be employed by the government, or to have government-provided health care benefits or to receive special tax-exemptions.  Those are purely discretionary benefits which the Congress is free to dole out, or not dole out, as it wishes.  Nobody who is singled out by the Congress can possibly complain that they are being unconstitutionally “punished” merely because Congress has decided to deny them these discretionary benefits.  Is that what anti-ACORN crusaders are prepared to defend?

There are days where it must be truly embarrassing to be a Republican member of Congress. I’m guessing yesterday was one of them.

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