House Imprisonment Not Out of the Question
Former tax official Lois Lerner’s confrontation with Congress over a potential contempt citation may get emphatically more dramatic, depending on how far back into congressional history House Republicans want to reach.
Deep in the recesses of congressional power — and in precedent stretching back to the 18th century — is the ability to pursue “inherent contempt” against individuals, including the right to imprison a person in the Capitol to compel compliance with lawmakers’ authority.
Congress hasn’t exercised inherent contempt power since 1935 and there’s no suggestion that lawmakers are actively considering the option in Lerner’s case.
But House attorneys, and lawyers for the former Internal Revenue Service official, are looking at the potential legal paths as House leaders consider first whether to take a contempt citation to the floor and, if it passes, whether the Justice Department will pursue prosecution.
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