Protectors Of The Constitution?

“Don’t tread on me.”  “You can have my guns over my dead body.”  “I have the right to bear arms.”  These, and so many more arguments are made anytime someone even floats the idea of maybe tightening gun laws.  Such was the case when the recent bipartisan bill to expand background checks went down in flames, even though it in no way would have infringed on anybody’s right to own a firearm.

But this is not about guns or gun laws.  Nope, this is about another amendment that seems to be meaningless to Congressional Republicans.  That one, of course, is the Fifth Amendment.

In case you were not following, and by this point most people are not, House Republicans are still engaged in their witch-hunt regarding the supposed IRS scandal (the one that supposedly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status disproportionately, even though the evidence does not support the claim.  Nor does any evidence point to a directive from the White House to do so.) and the testimony of IRS official Lois Lerner.

When Ms. Lerner gave her testimony before a House committee last month, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions so as not to incriminate herself.  In case you are a little behind on the language of the amendment, here you go:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” (emphasis mine) (source)

Now, I don’t know for sure if Ms. Lerner committed a crime or not, but she and her attorneys felt it best that she invoke the Fifth Amendment in her testimony, and that is certainly her right.  South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy does not agree.

“That’s not the way the Fifth Amendment works. You don’t get to tell your side of the story and then avoid the very process that we have in this system for eliciting the truth, which is cross-examination.”  –Trey Gowdy

Unless I am missing something in the wording of the Fifth Amendment above, Mr. Gowdy is wrong.  It seems to me that Ms. Lerner certainly can use the Fifth Amendment exactly the way that she did; I don’t see anything in the text that states that someone cannot be compelled to incriminate themselves unless they have already defended themselves first.  Mr. Gowdy is asserting that Ms. Lerner waived her right to invoke because she chose to defend herself in an opening statement.  How does he fail to understand that someone can invoke their Fifth Amendment right at any time during a proceeding?

Proclaiming that you are a “protector of the Constitution” and the rights it provides is a wonderful thing, but you do not get to pick and choose which amendments apply.  Either they all do, or they all do not.  You cannot defend your Second Amendment right while trying to infringe on someone else’s Fifth Amendment rights.  That is just not how it works.  If Mr. Gowdy wants to try to nail Ms. Lerner for a crime, he will have to do so without her help.  He cannot change the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to suit his needs.

Information for this entry was taken from the article linked here.

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