WASHINGTON—Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s latest refusal to allow a formal vote on impeaching President Donald Trump has some legal experts worrying that a modern version of England’s infamous Star Chamber court is emerging here in America.
The Star Chamber court met secretly, afforded defendants no due process, delivered verdicts that couldn’t be appealed, and meted out often barbaric punishments. The chamber was especially feared in the 16th and 17th centuries, and its unrestrained cruelty was among the reasons the Puritans migrated to America.
“We will not be having a vote,” Pelosi said. A formal vote would require all 435 members of the House to go on record one way or the other on the impeachment issue.
Approval of a formal impeachment inquiry would afford Trump due process protections that are currently denied by Pelosi’s defense of the informal process.
The informal process—with House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) at center stage—functions almost entirely behind closed doors, with Democrats only promising the release of transcripts sometime in the future.
For now, House Democratic leaders are keeping a tight lid on their impeachment drive, even to the point on Oct. 15 of cutting off the microphone of House Minority Leader Steven Scalise (R-La.) as he asked on the House floor, if “the House been authorized to conduct an impeachment inquiry into President Trump?”
The day before, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tried to attend a closed meeting of Schiff’s panel hearing testimony, but was locked out.
Afterward, he wrote on Twitter, “To exclude Members of Congress from hearings confirms the American people’s suspicions: this is not a legitimate ‘impeachment inquiry’ — it is a charade.”
Due Process Lacking
The closed-doors have civil rights-law experts such as Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation’s Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies noting that Star Chamber oppression, especially during the reigns of Kings Henry VII and Charles I, prompted the founders to include strong due process guarantees in the Constitution.
“We established basic rules of due process in this country in order to avoid the way things had been done in England with secret, anonymous accusations, with witnesses you couldn’t confront and cross-examine,” von Spakovsky told The Epoch Times on Oct. 15.
“I mean, all the kinds of things the way Star Chambers operated, and even though impeachment isn’t a legal prosecution or legal case in the courts, it is such a serious undertaking, with such substantial consequences that those same basic rules of due process should apply even more so than in court,” he said.
“Other than declaring war, there is no more serious undertaking by the House of Representatives than impeachment because they are removing a duly elected president and over-turning the choices of the American electorate,” von Spakovsky noted.
A former Department of Justice counsel, von Spakovsky was a member of the Federal Election Commission for two years.
Mark Fitzgibbons, president of corporate affairs for Virginia-based American Target Advertising, is an expert in federal administrative law.
He told The Epoch Times on Oct. 16 that “comparisons of this secretive, unconstitutional impeachment process to the Star Chamber are appropriate because impeachment is an adjudicative process, not legislative, even though conducted by Congress.”
The Pelosi-Schiff process to date “violates constitutional rights by, at a minimum, prohibiting confrontation of witnesses and violating due process. It has become a dangerous mockery of the constitutional process,” Fitzgibbons said.
Brian Darling, former counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and an authority on congressional rules, told The Epoch Times, “The fact that House Democrats are departing from precedent shows this is not a fair process, and President Trump will be impeached by the House no matter what evidence is presented to the contrary. The great risk for Democrats is that the American people correctly discern this to be a wholly partisan effort.”
House Makes Its Rules
But George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley recently warned both parties in Congress that the Constitution allows the House to conduct an impeachment under whatever rules it chooses.
Turley criticized Pelosi for not having a formal vote, writing that “the current impeachment ‘inquiry’ rests on the authority of one person. Until the entire body votes, it remains the Pelosi impeachment effort rather than a House impeachment process.”
Still, Turley said, “On its face, the Constitution does not require anything other than a majority vote of the House to impeach a president. It is silent on the procedures used to reach that vote, and courts have largely deferred to Congress to create its own internal rules and processes in fulfilling constitutional functions.”
“The wisdom of congressional approach or methodology is not open to judicial veto. … Nor is the legitimacy of a congressional inquiry to be defined by what it produces. The very nature of the investigative function — like any research — is that it takes the searchers up some ‘blind alleys’ and into nonproductive enterprises. To be a valid legislative inquiry there need be no predictable end result.”
Some Democratic Hill veterans generally support Pelosi’s approach, but worry about how the public sees it.
“Like the Speaker, I am a bit agnostic on this. Despite what the Republicans say, a vote to begin the process is not needed,” Jim Manley, former communications director for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), told The Epoch Times on Oct. 16.
“But the fact that House Democrats couldn’t agree simply to get this out of the way shows a bit of weakness to me,” he said.
Pelosi isn’t likely to switch course, however, according to Heritage Action Executive Director Tim Chapman, as long she has “no incentive to expose her moderates to a politically risky vote … Pelosi doesn’t want to give [Republicans subpoena power] as long as she can get what she wants politically out of the unofficial House proceedings.”
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