The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

January 4, 2014

The case of the ‘represent-a-thief’

RICHMOND — Hugh Grafter was said to be the best congressman money could buy. Accused of accepting large sums of money for making speeches on the floor of Congress to promote legislation favoring the business purposes of various large corporations, his high-priced principals were finally challenged.

Grafter was charged with bribery and conspiracy, and he used the Constitution in his defense.

“Under the good old Constitution,” he argued, “a member of Congress is permitted to say anything he wants on the floor of Congress without fear of prosecution. If I wanted to ? and  I do not ? I could call the President of the United States a Communist. And, if I say it on the floor of Congress, nobody could do anything about it.”

“While a Congressman is permitted to say anything he wants on the floor of Congress,” responded a U.S. Attorney, “it’s a horse of a different color when he’s paid to do it. A congressman is supposed to be a representative, not a represent-a-thief. If he get’s caught taking bribes, he’s got to pay the piper like any other crook.”

If you were the judge, would you permit Congressman Grafter to be prosecuted for taking bribes?

This is how the judge ruled. There is a constitutional prohibition against the courts looking into the motives of congressmen in making speeches on the floor of Congress, and it is framed in the broadest terms.

(Based on a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court decision)

Jack Strauss, a retired New York City trial attorney who now resides in Berea, wrote a syndicated column for 36 years called, “What’s the Law?” It appeared in papers coast to coast, including the Pittsburgh Press, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Hartford Times, the Kansas City Star and the Philadelphia Daily News, among many others. It appears here with his permission.

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