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Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit Reduction Act

Rep. John Conyer's (D-MI) is suing President Bush over the enactment of the Federal Deficit Rediction Act. Shorter version: The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill and even though they went to conference, the House never voted on the version passed by the Senate as a House clerk changed a provision in the Senate version and Bush signed it into law. Bush can't sign a bill unless it has been agreed to by both the House and Senate.

The Government moved to dismiss (pdf) Rep. Conyer's lawsuit, and last night, he filed his motion and brief in opposition.

No one in the House of Representatives voted on the version of the bill which was signed into law. The Senate version was never presented in the House for a vote. .... The Deficit Reduction Act needed to be passed by the House of Representatives in the same form that it passed the Senate. The Act never did and thus the Act is not valid. A law is not validly enacted if even "one of paragraph of that text" is different.

This seems pretty basic to me. The House members were disenfranchised. If this process is approved, what's to stop Bush from signing into law any bill passed by only one house of Congress? As Conyers said:

"First it was ignoring the Geneva Conventions," said Conyers. "Then it was the abuse of Presidential signing statements. Now our government is arguing that it can pick and choose which laws to ultimately enact, regardless of clear Constitutional procedures requiring bicameralism before presentment to the President."

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  • Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#1)
    by barbarajmay on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:00:21 PM EST
    My head just spins when I try to reconcile the behavior of this adminstration with what I know (or thought I knew) about constitutional law. There are two things I absolutely knew for sure: that the Supreme Court can't involve itself in voting matters of a state (like electing the president), and the president can't sign a bill that hasn't been passed in identical form by both houses. Sometimes I feel like I stepped through the looking glass.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#2)
    by magster on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:25:02 PM EST
    Does Conyers have standing? Is that one of the issues in the Motion to Dismiss? That is always the cop-out for defendants and for Courts.

    That's one of the issues but the brief argues why he has standing.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#4)
    by magster on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 12:26:59 PM EST
    Whoops, I should read the links before I post. Standing is an issue.

    why wouldn't anyone have standing as a citizen and a taxpayer. the asserion that it is difficult to find a perty with standing because standing requires one to show he is personally affected by all spending at issue seems farfetched. If you pay taxes it's in part your money being spent in all areas.

    The larger issue seems to be whether the Supreme Court should exercise jurisdiction to resolve an internal matter regarding the legislative branch or whether it should defer to the legislature's interpretation and enforcement of its own rules. There really is no question that Congress presented the bill to the Executive with its certification it had been duly enrolled. the real question is the validity of that certification and which branch gets to decide the validity.

    John Conyers is a HERO.

    Rather than standing being an issue, I do see failure to join an indispensable party (the House and Senate0 as being an issue; that can be remedied ny an order requiring joinder as defendants. The real issue though remains whether the courts should intervene in an internal legislative matter-- especiall one that could be remedied by the legislature by simply passing new legislation.

    I think there is a single perfect term for bush - VANDAL.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#10)
    by Edger on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 02:13:41 PM EST
    Bush can't sign a bill unless it has been agreed to by both the House and Senate. Law, shmaw. When has law or consitutionality ever been something bush has shown any regard or respect for before?

    The disregard here does not appear to by Bush but by Congress. At most, Bush acquiesced in the House violating its rules. That the House is not a named defendant suggests some motives other than legal redress of grievance here (although I think the grievance is legitimate). Bush could not have signed the bill if it was not presented to him by Congress as being passed by both houses but that is how it was presented. Certainly he could have vetoed the bill for any reason he chose, including an assertion he didn't believe it had lawfully passed the House. But, again, the real issue is who gets to decide whether the Legislature validly enacted a piece of legislation. (Once more, that is a different issue than whether the substance of the legislation is constitutional-- clearly the Courts can and do ultimately decide that.)

    I'd also point out that the Constitution states something a bit different than what conyers asserts: Art I, § 5 1, ... a majority [of members] shall constitute a quorum to do business... 2. Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.... 3. Each House shall keep a Journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgment reguire secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the members of either House on any question shall, AT THE DESIRE OF ONE FIFTH OF THOSE PRESENT, BE ENTERED on the journal. That (and the requirement appropriation bills be initiated in the House)is all the CONSTITUTION says about HOW bills pass in congress other than in § 7 where it mandates that the yeas and nays on veto overrides must be recorded. The rest of the process is detemined by legislative rules. Conyers is essentially arguing he thinks Bush is required to enforce legislative rules. That's a dubious argument. I'll leave other to speculate as to why conyers named Bush and not Congress.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#13)
    by Punchy on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 04:15:46 PM EST
    especially one that could be remedied by the legislature by simply passing new legislation.
    And therein lies the rub--they had to twist arms, and (I think) hold the vote open (again) just to get this thru. It'd NEVER pass if brought to a vote again. This is why Bush signed it regardless of the mistake and why Congress will fight to not have to pass it again. It's a minor point, but the precedent is HUGE. Once the Pres can pick and choose which bill he/she wants (House bill or Senate bill), the whole Legislative branch thing is dead. Hyperbole? I'm not so sure.

    "It's a minor point, but the precedent is HUGE. Once the Pres can pick and choose which bill he/she wants (House bill or Senate bill), the whole Legislative branch thing is dead. Hyperbole? I'm not so sure." No, it's not hyperbole it goes way beyongd hyperbole and totally misstates the issue. The President can only consider the bill presented to him by Congress. here, the allegation is that CONGRESS wrongly certified the bill as having both houses. In the absence of that there would have been no legislation presented to the President and he clearly would have had no power to approve anything.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#15)
    by ras on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 04:46:59 PM EST
    Per Deconstructionist's pts, it certainly does sound as if Congress, not the Pres., represented the legislation as a validly passed bill, and that Conyers is therefore suing the wrong party [in fact, it sounds more as if Bush is the one who would have the right to sue Congress if he so desired] Three other q's for the legal eagles: 1. What was the provision that was changed? 2. Is there precedent (not just legal, but in general, too) for such changes passing into law? I.E.: has it been done before? Or is the clerk in q the first ever to do something like this? 3. If the clerk, as I expect, is hired by Congress and not by the Exec, doesn't that further underscore that the mistake/misrepresentation is Congress's? Or was the clerk hired by some other agency altogether?

    Excuse me, but I find it difficult to believe Conyers would file an improper suit. I smell a bunch of obfuscationists around here.

    OR, that he wouldn't have standing, since he was one of the ones who didn't get a chance to vote on the changes.

    A suit is not IMPROPER simply because it contains flaws. As I said, Bush could seek an order requiring Congress to be joined as in indispenable party -- or Conyers could seek leave to amend the complaint. I'm not going to pretend to be dense and ignore the obvious reason why Conyers chose to sue Bush and not Congress. Playing dumb rarely helps. As I said, the real issue at stake has nothing to do with Bush or the Presidency in general. The real question is how far the courts will go in making Congress abide by its rules.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#19)
    by Sailor on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 06:00:42 PM EST
    No, it's not hyperbole it goes way beyongd hyperbole and totally misstates the issue.
    No, it doesn't. One house and the exec conspired to violate the constitution. And decon supports it. No amount of obfuscation can disguise that.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#20)
    by ras on Thu Jul 20, 2006 at 06:15:24 PM EST
    Sailor, You'd have to show proof that the House in q did not misrepresent the legislation as presented to Bush. Sounds more like they did, though. The issue of standing sounds like over-clever lawyering, and should be dropped. Meanwhile, I await the first learned reply to my three q's above. Agent99, I find it difficult to believe Conyers would file an improper suit. Why? I mean, we dunno yet if this suit will be shown as proper or not, but why is it so difficult to believe that he might? Of course he might! The fact that he left Congress entirely out of the suit already indicates that he's playing politics with it. It might also be legit nonetheless, or not, but either way he's clearly not shy about putting the p.r. value ahead of the legal issues.

    "1. What was the provision that was changed?" There were many differences between the bill that originally passed the House and the conference committee report that was enrolled and presented to Bush. A few of the differences had to do with less money for guaranteed student loan funding, some housing and other social programs, and I'm sure that the pork allocations were juggled around and therewere some winners and losers there. 2. Is there precedent (not just legal, but in general, too) for such changes passing into law? I.E.: has it been done before? Or is the clerk in q the first ever to do something like this? It is not uncommon (especially in the old days when cut and paste literally meant cut and paste)for the versions of bills that get presented to the President to differ from the document that was represented to members as being the bill because of confusion and drafting errors. this is a little different though because, essentially Conyers isn't arguing that he voted in favor of something different than he thought was up for a vote but that he was denied opportnity to vote by parilamentary maneuvering outside the rules. I don't know if there is any precedent precisely on that point. "3. If the clerk, as I expect, is hired by Congress and not by the Exec, doesn't that further underscore that the mistake/misrepresentation is Congress's? Or was the clerk hired by some other agency altogether?" Yes, the claimed wrongful certification of the bill presented was indisputable so certified by the legislature.

    Ras: While he may not be shy about PR, he has always shown a marked allegiance to our country, the constitution and doing things properly and fairly. It's not a PR stunt. Conyers has the loyal American gripe that Congress has been turned into a circus, and I think aiming it at * for signing the illegitimate bill best highlights the origins of the very problem he seeks to halt. I'm sorry, but I find the discussion of technicalities, here, offensive. I know that this site heavily focuses on legal issues, and I really do not want to come off as some blindly partisan maniac, but John Conyers... please. That man is a model congressman, a model citizen, the real kind of patriot, and unabashedly, and with due decorum, chasing after the legitimacy of our legislative branch, of our government. If he has brought suit, and how he has brought suit, should, in all our minds, be prima facie completely proper. We're talking John Conyers, NOT Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#23)
    by ras on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 02:53:36 PM EST
    Deconstructionist, Thx for the answers, tho I am a little unsure, still, as to why this time it's different. Sounds like the only diff is that Conyers filed a suit, whereas no one else has done that before in similar situations. Or were you saying that the prior c&p jobs were done on all 3 branches at the same time? Agent99, I do not share your complete faith in a person so obviously willing to politic the issue rather than let the chips fall. I do share your disdain that it might become a matter of legal technicalities rather than principle. The bill s/b rejected in whole in order to set a precedent, then re-passed if possible, and all of Congress (D & R alike) should be told, "shame on you, you sloppy little buggers! How dare you give a false certification!"

    ras I think you should cut him some major slack on the politicking angle. The majority manages to stifle him at every turn, consigning him to the basement for important hearings, turning off his mic, all kinds of rasty stuff, and yet he presses for the right things, even if he has to get creative. People gripe that the Dems have no spine. Conyers has both spine and decorum, and he's trying very hard to do his country a monumental favor. So. I don't think we should criticize that. I think we should revere it.

    Re: Conyers v. Bush: Lawsuit over Federal Deficit (none / 0) (#25)
    by ras on Fri Jul 21, 2006 at 08:43:40 PM EST
    Agent99, all kinds of rasty stuff Thanks, I think. Should I be insulted or proud? :)

    RAS: As I understand it with the 2005 FDRA, the bill progressed as is normal with certain different provisions in the House and Senate versions. In such instances, one chamber could simply vote to concur in the bill as ameneded by the other chamber, and this does happen. However, where that is not desired, a conference committee (comprised of members of each chamber) is appointed to negotiate the differences between the versions and if possible to prepare a conference committee report ( recommended bill) to be presented to each chamber. If each chamber then passes the CCR as is, we have no problem, the bill is enrolled and presented to the President. Here, though, it appears the Senate amended the conference committee report (providing less social program spending) and passed an amended version, but the House passed the the CCR as is. So, we still have two different bills being passed after the conference committee and it would seem the proper thing to do would be to transmit the amended Senate version to the House for concurrence (or vice versa I suppose). Conyers seems to be saying that what happened is that rather than that happening, at that point the leadership of both chambers simply decided to enroll the Senate version with the certification IT had passed both chambers even thought that version was never presented to let alone passed by the House, and then presented the act to the President who signed it. (One assumes because it was clear the Senate was adamant about its position and the House leadership did not want to reopen debate on a controversial bill.) In other words, Conyers is alleging that the leadership deliberately made a false representation and did so for the purpose of preventing members of the House from having opportunity to seek further changes or vote against the legislation. That is different from the more common situation where a conference committee voted to report out a compromise version of the bill but because of either mistakes or maneuvering, someone later discovers discrepancies which it is decided to gloss over to get the legislation enacted without more delay,