House members can now be fined up to $2,500 for live-streaming, recording or taking photos on the floor, based on a new rules package the House passed along party lines at the start of the new Congress.
The new rule was instituted in the wake of Democrats live-streaming this summer their gun control sit in on the House floor. A few House Democrats protested the new rule Tuesday by putting duct tape over their mouths, holding up pocket Constitutions or snapping photos.
And noted civil rights activist John Lewis decried the decision Tuesday in a speech on the House floor. The Georgia Democrat noted that he “isn’t afraid” about being fined. He’s been fined before, he said, as have others.
“We were elected to stand on the courage of our conviction; we were not sent here to run and hide,” he said. “We must use our votes, our voices and the power vested in us by the people of the this nation to speak to truths as we see it, regardless of the penalties.”
The new rule gives the chamber’s Sergeant-at-Arms the authority to fine members $500 for the first offense and $2,500 for any offense after that. Members can appeal fines in writing to the Committee on Ethics.
Several House Judiciary Democrats last week opposed the rule change in a joint statement, calling it an attempt to “impose a modern day and unconstitutional gag rule to restrict the First Amendment rights of Members.” And those same Democrats released Tuesday a letter led by former constitutional law professor and freshman Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin and signed by more than 35 law professors and scholars expressing concern for the rule.
“As constitutional and legal experts with experience in academia, the Federal courts, and Congress, we believe there are significant constitutional and policy problems presented by the proposed new provisions,” the letter reads. “If adopted, the new provisions would undermine core constitutional protections under Article I of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. At a minimum, it would seem that significant and controversial changes of this nature would benefit from the input of legal experts before being considered by the full House of Representatives.”
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