Home / GOP Rep. Sensenbrenner Flip-Flops on Patriot Act, Endangers Law License

GOP Rep. Sensenbrenner Flip-Flops on Patriot Act, Endangers Law License

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F. James Sensenbrenner (R- Wis.) seems to be making waves these days in a number of not so flattering ways. His recent unilateral gaveling-closed of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Patriot Act (in violation of House rules) pretty much re-defined modern-day GOP arrogance. His outrageous flip-flop, first saying the Patriot Act would be made permanent “over my dead body” and now seeking to rush legislation through the House that would make the Patriot Act permanent, while trying to stifle debate about the Act, is in violation of American traditions, House ethics rules, as well as an egregious flip-flop on his part that makes him deserving of ridicule and scorn.

Now, in an extraordinary move, Sensenbrenner privately demanded that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago change its decision in a narcotics case because he didn’t believe a drug courier got a harsh enough prison term. Sensenbrenner, in a five-page letter dated June 23 to Chief Judge Joel Flaum, asserted that a June 16 decision by a three-judge appeals court panel was wrong. He demanded “a prompt response” as to what steps Judge Flaum would take “to rectify the panel’s actions” in the case.

Judge Flaum declined comment on the situation, saying he doesn’t publicly discuss matters pending before the court. He sent a letter back to Sensenbrenner saying it was inappropriate to comment on a pending case. But the panel amended its ruling to cite a Supreme Court case that showed Sensenbrenner was wrong.

The Chief counsel of a House Judiciary subcommittee, who apparently is also an apologist for Sensenbrenner’s unethical behavior, argues that Sensenbrenner is simply exercising his judicial oversight responsibilities. But some legal experts believe the action by the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is an attorney, is a violation of House ethics rules, which prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters, as well as court rules that bar such contact with judges without contacting all parties.

Judiciary Committee Democratic staff huddled at press time yesterday to determine how, or if, to respond to the letter. According to one aide, Democrats were considering asking the House Ethics Committee to review the letter. This is par for the course in the mistakes the Democratic Party makes when they respond to wrongdoing by the Republican Party and part of the reason some believe the Democratic party has become timid in their approach to politics.

To put everything in perspective, the GOP is a party who expended 60 million dollars and several years of government resources and time in a failed and unconstitutional attempt to prove that Bill Clinton’s sex life was a “high crime.” This same party should never be given the benefit of the doubt when one of their members has arguably violated the law. This is the same GOP that thought that investigating Bill Clinton’s sex life was more important than stopping Osama Bin Laden, at the very time he was planning to perpetrate the 9/11 attacks.

Thus, the GOP’s outlandish use of resources, time, and governmental focus (at the expense of national security), to investigate something the government had no business meddling in, and to fail miserably trying to make the term “high crime” stick to what was a consensual sexual act puts their party in a position that when they slip-up, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That is not to say the Democratic Party should act frivolously as the GOP did with regard to Clinton, but at the very least they should aggressively pursue all legal avenues in good faith against their opponents.

In Sensenbrenner’s case, going to the House Ethics Committee, although it should be pursued as the Democrats have suggested, is largely ineffective. Take for example Tom DeLay, perhaps the only man in history to be a repeatedly admonished as an offender of House ethics rules, still walks around the capitol claiming he has done nothing wrong and is largely intact as a political figure.

Therefore, pursuing House Ethics violations by Sensenbrenner will only be effective if it is followed up by a vigorous attempt to have Sensenbrenner sanctioned by any and all Bar Associations of which Sensenbrenner is a member. It is instructive to note that all lawyers are bound by separate ethical standards in the jurisdiction in which they practice. In order to become a lawyer one must have the appropriate education, pass the bar exam, and pass a separate ethical exam. Every jurisdiction writes its own rules that its lawyers must follow 24 hours a day seven days a week, and violations are handled by special courts set up in each jurisdiction. Cases against an attorney can arise from the Bar itself or when a citizen files a claim against an attorney in the jurisdiction they are registered in. The attorney will have a chance to clear his name but if found guilty will be subject to discipline.

Although each jurisdiction writes its own rules, all states base their rules on the Model Rules of Professional Conduct put out by the American Bar Association. In particular model rule 3.5 states:


A lawyer shall not:
(a) seek to influence a judge, juror, prospective juror or other official by means prohibited by law;
(b) communicate ex parte with such a person during the proceeding unless authorized to do so by law or court order;
(c) communicate with a juror or prospective juror after discharge of the jury if:
(1) the communication is prohibited by law or court order;
(2) the juror has made known to the lawyer a desire not to communicate; or
(3) the communication involves misrepresentation, coercion, duress or harassment; or
(d) engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal. [emphasis added]

Looking more closely at sections a, b, and d of the rule it becomes apparent that Sensenbrenner violated all three of these provisions. He did, by his letter “seek to influence a judge” in an “ex parte” communication and has engaged in conduct “intended to disrupt” the tribunal. Contrary to court rules, Sensenbrenner’s letter was not sent to Rivera’s appellate attorney, Steve Shobat, who received a copy only after the letter was placed in the official court file. “To try to influence a pending case is totally inappropriate,” Shobat said. “My client had a very small role in this case, and to think that she is the focus of the head of the House Judiciary Committee? It is intimidating.”

Law professor Zlotnick echoed Shobat, saying, “To try to influence a court ruling is entirely inappropriate, particularly in an ex parte (without notifying all parties) proceeding – they are trying to intimidate the judiciary.” The more juicy part of this whole charade comes at the end of section (a) of the model rule. Did Sensenbrenner try to influence a judge by means prohibited by law. Sensenbrenner is one of the politicians with the most control over the budget for the judiciary. Was this act of intimidation a subtle threat for the court to alter a ruling or face a cut in its budget? Is this a form of subtle extortion where Sensenbrenner is threatening to take away money from the court if it does not do what he says?

Only time, and a thorough trial at any and all State Bar courts of discipline can reveal the mindset of disgraceful representative F. James Sensenbrenner and whether he is engaging in conduct that could subject him to discipline. If the Democratic Party is able to summon the backbone to prosecute Sensenbrenner to the fullest extent of the law the truth about what he was thinking and his motives for threatening the court may come out. Luckily, it does not take the will of the Democratic Party to initiate the process. Any citizen with knowledge of these transgressions is permitted to complain to the Bar where the alleged perpetrator is licensed to practice law.


More left-leaning and libertarian political commentary can be found at the Rights and Freedoms Coalition website.

Edited: LI

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  • RJ

    Sensenbrenner is an ass. I get it. And I do not entirely disagree.

    But the successful Impeachment of BJ Clinton (and the unsuccessful prosecution of him in the Senate) was hardly unconstitutional.

    However, perjury is a felony. And therefore can be considered a “high crime” by the Congress. And BJ Clinton pretty overtly perjured himself. Which is part of the reason why he was disbarred by the USSC…

  • billy

    sorry rj but perjury is a crime. a person has to be charged and convicted of it to have committed perjury. clinton was neither. its too silly to try to go into the details but even if everything you believe is true, he could not even have been charged with perjury since his testimony was not pertinent to any case. if it had been he would have been charged. how can you explain the fact that clinton was never charged with perjury if he “pretty overtly perjured himself” as you say?

  • This may be the most outrageously partisan article I’ve seen on BC in a while. Sure, Sensenbrenner is a loose cannon and an egotistical maniac, but that’s his personal problem. Trying to extend it to the entire GOP and declaring that the GOP as a whole is essentially evil for investigating Bill Clinton – which was mostly the vendetta of a few legislators and Ken Starr – is ridiculous.


  • RJ


    Not all crimes are actually pursued to the point of indictment. And even when they are, the guilty are not always FOUND guilty.

    (See: OJ…)

    Clinton lied under oath. This is obvious. This is also an example of perjury. And perjury is a felony.

    Clinton was Impeached, and disbarred.

    But, hey, it’s all the GOP’s fault that BJ Clinton had numerous adulterous sexual encounters with a barely-legal unpaid subordinate, and lied about it to the American people, as well as under oath! And it was all “unconstitutional” for the GOP to bring that up, too!

  • billy

    i would argue that clinton, if he lied under oath, clearly did not commit perjury. that is supported by the facts since it was never alleged (outside the blogosphere)that he committed perjury.

    but it is not to say that it is not unethical to lie under oath. that is probably why he was disciplined by the bar.

    the big point probably that you missed was that his “numerous adulterous sexual encounters” are perfectly legal, and catching al qaeda was more important than focusing 100% govt resources on a legal sexual act and unsuccesfully trying to show how it is a “high crime”. dont you think?

  • RJ

    catching al qaeda was more important than focusing 100% govt resources on a legal sexual act and unsuccesfully trying to show how it is a “high crime”.

    If you think a few dozen million dollars over several years = “100% govt resources” then you are completely cracked, my friend…

    BJ Clinton, in fact, initiated numerous aggressive foreign-policy actions while the whole Monica thing was swirling around him. So, it’s not like he was incapable of action during 1998 and 1999…

  • >>i would argue that clinton, if he lied under oath, clearly did not commit perjury. that is supported by the facts since it was never alleged (outside the blogosphere)that he committed perjury. << What are you, six years old? You can't remember the actual Clinton presidency AND you don't know the definition of perjury? Perjury IS lying under oath. And in fact it was alleged outside the blogosphere, which is why he was disbarred and impeached. Dave

  • billy

    dave nalle, you are proving yourself to be the juvenile one, since everyone knows that perjury includes other factors including the alleged lie MUST be MATERIAL to the proceeding.

    Since his sex life was immaterial to any proceeding it was not perjury, even though it was a lie under oath.

    even a sixth grader knows that. i would like to see you argue now how his sex life was MATERIAL to any case?

  • That’s why I asked if you were too young to remember the actual case, and clearly you don’t have the first clue about the details, Billy.

    Clinton was specifically on trial for sexually harassing Paula Jones, which WAS a case about sex and that means that his sexual indiscretions were relevant. What did you think he was put on trial for? In the Paula Jones trial, when asked if he had had sexual relations with Monica Lewinski he provided a negative answer, despite subsequently admitting that he in fact had engaged in oral and other forms of sex. That’s perjury, plain and simple.

    Of course it is also considered perjury to lie to a grand jury or to a congressional committee, both of which he also did.

    Clinton committed at least four acts of perjury, depending on how willing you are to accept the arguments of defense lawyers. Several of them are virtually incontrovertible since they involve direct denial of known facts.

    For more on the perjury and the defense arguments see this article in Slate.


  • billy

    now you are confusing civil and criminal matters. i would argue that even if everything you believe is true, his indiscretion you described was a civil matter, and clearly not a crime, and most definitely not a HIGH CRIME as envisioned by the framers. the framers would roll in their grave to hear you try to accuse the president of an impeachable HIGH CRIME for that sexual nonesense.

  • Perjury in a civil suit is still a felony, Billy.

    I never said he should have been impeached. Sexual misconduct isn’t a high crime or a significant misdemeanor, IMO. But he did commit perjury, and that might be construed as a real crime worthy of impeachment.


  • confused

    And how does the republicans shouting about Clinton have anythign to do with the bullshit Sensenbrenner has pulled?

    Clinton was so 1998. But that seems to be the battle plan from the republicans around here, swarm, distract, shout, dilute, anything but actually deal with any real problems.

    Gavelling a meeting in the middle of testimony, being on the record and doing a 180. We heard the term “flip-flop” about every 8 seconds during the 2004 campaign, but when this happens, havnig to do with basic civil liberties.

    You folks keep whining about Clinton. Good Job, makes me full of confidence about the neocon regime running our country. Now excuse me, I’ve got t get to the baptist church so I can be born again, that way I can at least have some rights left.

  • >>And how does the republicans shouting about Clinton have anythign to do with the bullshit Sensenbrenner has pulled?<< Damned if I know, but it was brought up by the leftist who made the post, not by any of the Republicans who responded, so don't accuse them of raising it to "swarm, distract, shout, dilute" or anything like that. Dave

  • confused

    “This may be the most outrageously partisan article I’ve seen on BC in a while” according to Dave

    So you haven’t read the one starting with “Liberal Racism” or any of John Bambeneck’s neocon hate speech? They are very entertaining, and dwarf anything on this post for sheer partisan swill.

    And you say “don’t accuse them” as if you are not a republican and that you don’t do all that. Yeah right, all i have to do is read half your stuff from tonight alone.

    But you keep on hatin’, you are good at it.

  • You sure have the right name, Confused. Bambenek isn’t partisan, Bambenek is conservative. He doesn’t post pro-GOP, he posts anti-liberal. It’s not the same thing. This post on the other hand IS partisan, because it’s anti-party, not motivated by any kind of philosophy, just by partisan hate.

    Can you grasp the difference?


  • Dave, you are so full of shit!!

  • billy

    how is pointing out the ethical transgression of the thug sensenbrenner “anti-party”. i guess the republican party has accepted that they are the party of corruption since when someone calls them on it, they call it anti-party.

  • Billy, did you READ the post. It’s not about Sensenbrenner except as a sarting point. It’s about tarring the entire GOP with the misbehavior of one member. It’s full of generalized attacks on the party with very little substance behind them.


  • billy

    gee and ive never seen the right do that with michael moore who isnt really even a dem (voted for nader in 00).

    its more of a stretch to call the dems the party of moore than the gop the party of sensenbrenner and delay.

  • Hey, I never said the right was innocent, I was just talking about this post.