The 2010 censure by the House Ethics Committee will continue to haunt Rep. Charles B. Rangel, despite the New York Democrat's legal battle for a clean slate .
"Public service has its benefits and its burdens," Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote Friday in an 11-page decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that upheld a lower court's dismissal. Henderson stated, "Rangel must vindicate his reputation in the one court that can hear his claim: the court of public opinion." On Dec. 2, 2010, in a scene some feared would sink his political career , Rangel stood in the well while the speaker read a censure resolution against the veteran congressman that was agreed to by a vote of 333-79. He was censured for 11 ethical violations, including improper solicitation of donations, failure to disclose financial information, improper use of House resources, receipt of improper favors and failure to pay taxes.
In 2013, Rangel filed suit against Speaker John A. Boehner and lawmakers who were on the Ethics panel, attempting to remove from “the Journal of the House’s Proceedings” any reference to his censure. The case centers on a memo, purportedly written by the chief counsel of the Ethics Committee, that claimed two of the panel's staffers engaged in impermissible "ex parte" communications and distributed damaging information about Rangel to GOP members of the adjudicatory subcommittee.
Rangel’s attorneys focused on the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause that states lawmakers, “for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”
They argued that his colleagues' conduct cannot be protected by the clause because it was, in Rangel's view, illegal.
The federal appeals court rejected the claim, and Rangel's suggestion that staffers are not protected.
"In sum, the Speech or Debate Clause prevents us from entertaining this action. The same legislative immunity would presumably protect Rangel if he ever found himself on the other side of the ―v," Henderson concluded.
Todd Ruger contributed to this report. Related: Rangel Still Fighting to Clear His Name Are Members Liable for Their Staffers' Actions? GOP May Have Helped Delay Waters, Rangel Ethics Cases Charlie Rangel’s Career Might Be in Peril The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.