Reasons for my Public Integrity Unit vote
Aug 19, 2014 @ 07:54:37
Since Governor Perry's indictment by a Travis County grand jury, I have received inquiries as to why I voted against an amendment that was intended to move the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) from the Travis County District Attorney's office to the Office of Attorney General. When I was first elected to the Legislature, I was advised to do the right thing and then explain it. Here is the explanation:
During the 83rd Legislature the District Attorney for Travis County was arrested for drunk driving and exhibited reprehensible behavior. In many cultures the public shame of such actions would result in an official's voluntary resignation. There is however, no mechanism for the legislature to force the resignation of a locally elected official who has lost the public's trust. That did not stop members of the legislature from trying.
Senate Bill 219, a bill which dealt with the Texas Ethics Commission and was vetoed by the Governor, presented the opportunity for a political statement through an amendment to "transfer the duties and responsibilities of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney's office to the office of the attorney general."
The problem with the amendment was that the PIU is merely an organizational division within the office of the District Attorney. Travis County like the other 253 counties in the State, derive their authority to prosecute criminal violations from the Texas Constitution. The Attorney General has no such authority and the amendment would not have conferred it to him. Only a constitutional amendment can do so.
As written, the amendment would have charged the Texas Ethics Commission (currently accused of abusing its authority) with creating a plan to move the duties and responsibilities of the PIU from Travis County to the office of attorney general. It would have required implementation of the plan to be carried out in a matter of months without further statutory authority, thereby circumventing both the Texas Constitution and statutes. In other words, the amendment required the Commission to do what it has no authority to do.
I voted against the measure because: (1) it was unconstitutional and (2) fraught with unintended consequences.
It perplexes me that the same people who are decrying the actions of the Ethics Commission are also questioning the votes of members who opposed granting the Commission an unconstitutional task.
Beyond my vote on the amendment, although I believe the Governor's public threats were imprudent, they alone do not appear to be a crime. He was threatening a legal and constitutional action, if the District Attorney did not take a legal action-resignation. If this is ruled a crime, it will certainly dampen political debate among lawmakers.
That being said, I disagree with the Governor's decision to line-item veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit based on the refusal of the District Attorney to resign. And while I do think that Governor Perry was completely within his authority to veto the funding, I believe the situation could have been handled differently.
The indictment of Governor Perry may appear to be vindictive and politically motivated based merely on public statements. If there is no more evidence than what is public, the indictment seems to me to be a misuse of the justice system for political purposes-much like the intent of the politically charged and unconstitutional amendment.
"[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt." - Samuel Adams, Essay in The Public Advertiser, 1749
For Texas and Liberty,
REPORT on the border! First hand account from a week tour.
Jul 17, 2014 @ 04:41:23
Simpson: The Fourth of July and the Fourth Amendment
Jul 07, 2014 @ 08:56:21
This op-ed originally appeared in the Longview News-Journal Saturday Forum on July 5:
Last week the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously that in order to search a person’s cell phone, a warrant must be obtained. This major ruling supporting due process, property rights, privacy and limitations of police power is most welcome. In fact it is desperately needed when just about any occasion now is deemed reasonable to search “persons, houses, papers and effects” without the restraint of first having to obtain a warrant, despite the Fourth Amendment.
The temptation to abuse government power is not new. Our country’s birth did not spring from pristine theory and ivory towers, but from the hard realities of individuals striving to eke out a living and from turbulent contests with a government that sought to profit from its people instead of simply protecting their freedom.
The birth pangs of American liberty were not merely the constrictions of exorbitant and unfair taxation, but intrusive and abusive police powers and standing armies free to subsist at the expense of the people in their homes; to search them, to arrest them and to confiscate their possessions as they pleased. This may have kept the government secure, but it did so at the expense and security of its citizens.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court recalled some relevant history in the ruling about searching cell phones. In the last paragraph of its opinion, the court recalls the remarkable words and actions of our American patriots, James Otis and John Adams:
“Our Cases have recognized that the Fourth Amendment was the founding generation’s response to the reviled ‘General warrants’ and ‘writs of assistance’ of the colonial era, which allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. Opposition to such searches was in fact one of the driving forces behind the Revolution itself. In 1761, the patriot James Otis delivered a speech in Boston denouncing the use of writs of assistance. A young John Adams was there and he would later write that ‘[e]very man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.’” According to Adams, Otis’s speech was “the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.”
Opposition to arbitrary government power not only gave rise to our Republic — it is essential to its preservation. Aggression should be opposed and punished by civil power, but not without real and substantial checks and balances. Obtaining a warrant from independent judges and obtaining convictions by juries are expensive and time consuming. But, they are essential in making sure force is used to protect the people and not merely those in power. Civil government must enforce the law lawfully, or else it will become criminal itself and violate the rights of the people it is supposed to protect.
Regrettably, instances of such abuse of government force are all too frequent today. Just think of IRS audits, DOJ gun-running, TSA groping, assassination of American citizens abroad and, more close to home, the issuance of “no knock” warrants authorizing military-like home invasions by police at all hours of the day or night — not for protecting people from imminent danger such as kidnapping or armed robbery, but for possession of controlled substances … or even raw milk.
As we celebrate our independence and give thanks for our nation’s freedom, let us remember it is not simply our civil servants, police, firefighters and military that have made us a great nation, but a restrained, humble and wise use of the power we have entrusted to them and our own responsible use of freedom as citizens. Ultimately it is the blessing of God which keeps us from treading on our neighbor and keeps us living within the bounds of our Constitution.
— Rep. David Simpson, a Longview Republican, represents Gregg and Upshur counties (District 7) in the Texas House.