Continuity Punted

Posted October 8, 2004 at 5:27pm

After two months on the panel’s agenda, the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to take up a constitutional amendment to ensure Congressional continuity before adjournment. [IMGCAP(1)]

The resolution, which passed out of subcommittee in May, would give Congress the constitutional authority to craft a legislative solution to the problem of mass death or incapacitation of Members due to a terrorist attack or other disaster. Drafted by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, the measure was expected to pass the full panel if brought up.

An amendment allowing temporary appointment to the House has virtually no chance of passing that chamber, however. Instead the leadership has decided that a change to House rules to allow the Speaker to unanimously revise the quorum requirement downward if a majority of Members could not report due to incapacity is the preferred course, despite the objections of many scholars that the move is of dubious constitutionality. The change has not been brought to a vote.

The Senate also has yet to take up House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wis.) bill to expedite special elections to 45 days after a catastrophe that kills more than 100 House Members.

The pile of pushed-aside continuity measures that are unlikely to reach consideration during the lame-duck session also includes efforts to reform presidential succession, which is almost universally acknowledged as seriously flawed, as well as a nonbinding resolution to encourage the outgoing president to nominate, and the Senate to confirm, the incoming administration’s Cabinet selections before Inauguration Day. That way, a line of succession would be ready if the president- and vice president-elect were unable to be sworn in.

Term Limits Lifted. A bill to allow members of the Office of Compliance’s oversight board to serve a second five-year term has passed both chambers and is now awaiting the president’s signature. Three of the five directors, including the chairwoman, saw their terms expire Oct. 1. The remaining two were to be term-limited out in May 2005.

The Senate passed the House’s version of the measure early last week but had to send the three-line bill back to the other chamber for a technical correction that, left unfixed, would have prevented the three directors whose terms already expired from serving again.

Going to the Ropes for Johnson. In a unanimously approved resolution passed Thursday, the Senate called on President Bush to posthumously pardon legendary boxing great John Arthur “Jack” Johnson for his “racially motivated” federal conviction in 1913.

The Committee to Pardon Jack Johnson is a coalition of political and civil rights leaders, Hollywood personalities, artists, and boxing experts who are seeking to clear Johnson’s name. Among them are Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Reps. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

In July, the Johnson committee filed a petition with the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney to overturn the conviction that ended Johnson’s heavyweight career.

After his defeat of former boxing champion Jim Jeffries — then known as “the great white hope” — in 1910, the federal government launched an investigation into Johnson’s personal life and eventually convicted him under the Mann Act, which outlawed the transport of white women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Johnson had dated and eventually married three different white women. After fleeing the country, Johnson eventually returned to the United States in 1920 and served nearly a year in federal prison.

If granted, Johnson’s would only be the second posthumous presidential pardon in U.S. history. In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned the former slave and first black Army officer Henry Flipper.

— Suzanne Nelson and John McArdle