The Yale Law Journal Pocket Part: Congressional Ethics


Congressional ethics scandals have appeared frequently on the front pages of newspapers for the last several years; in March 2008, the House of Representatives approved “one of the most significant changes to its ethics rules in decades, creating for the first time an independent panel empowered to initiate investigations of alleged misconduct by members of the chamber.” This issue of The Pocket Part addresses a related proposal made last year in The Yale Law Journal by Josh Chafetz; Chafetz calls for “a new congressional oversight body, modeled on the British Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.”

In his Reply, Paul M. Thompson argues that Chafetz’s proposal is unnecessary, and that the recent ethics scandals that have plagued Congress are signs that a system that is functioning well, rather than one that is in “disrepair.” “Like the fever that accompanies a virus,” Thompson argues, “they are a sign that our body politic can heal itself.” Furthermore, according to Thompson, Chafetz’s proposal would “replace a system that works with one that is redundant, at best, and prone to partisanship and gridlock, at worst.”

Chafetz responds to Thompson’s criticisms by arguing that Thompson’s position relies on the inapplicable paradigm of criminal law as a model for ethics enforcement. Instead, Chafetz claims, “Congressional ethics is not simply about punishing rulebreakers; rather, it aims to promote public trust in Congress and its members.” Under this framework, “it is clear not only that our current system is in shambles, but also that the creation of Congressional Commissioners would be a useful corrective.”

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1 Response

  1. I wouldn’t worry about congressional ethics untill prosecutorial ethics are controlled. The below blog describes a prosecutor who engaged in extortion, obstruction of justice and acceptance of a bribe…

    The State Supreme Court thought this conduct was just dandy. (see opinion in blog)