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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tom Cotton's attack on the Constitution

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 6:48 AM

TOM COTTON
  • TOM COTTON: Proposes automatic conviction of families of Iran lawbreakers.
Several people sent links this morning to yet another odd performance by U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, already distinguished by his opposition to replenishing the country's disaster aid money unless it can be taken out of some other recipient's hide.

His no-aid-for-storm-victims stance was plain old greed and obedience to the Club for Growth masters who elected him and plan to pay for his campaign against U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

But this latest is weirder still, so weird that even fellow Republicans suggested he back off, which he eventually did. From Huffington Post:

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Wednesday introduced legislation that would "automatically" punish family members of people who violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, levying sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

The provision was introduced as an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which lays out strong penalties for people who violate human rights, engage in censorship, or commit other abuses associated with the Iranian government.

Cotton also seeks to punish any family member of those people, "to include a spouse and any relative to the third degree," including, "parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids," Cotton said.

"There would be no investigation," Cotton said during Wednesday's markup hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "If the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime as well. It'd be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof."

Another congressman likened the measure to visiting the sins of an uncle on a nephew. Weird stuff. Cotton — a Harvard educated lawyer — proposed it even though the Constitution explicitly prohibits "corruption of blood" in treason cases and even though the Fifth Amendment prevents deprivation of liberty or property without due process of law, even for non-citizens. (Republicans tend to sneer at people who invoke the 5th Amendment, holding it less valuable than the 2nd Amendment.)

PS — Facebook commenter raises a question. Given the Republican view on personhood — the minute an egg is fertilized — would Cotton automatically criminalize in utero nephews, too?

UPDATE: I gather Cotton is feeling the sting. I had a rare communication from his office. Points made:

1) Offering an amendment to legislation is not legislation. I differ; at a minimum it's a distinction with no practical difference.

2) It was withdrawn. All have noted this. It's the thought that counts.

3) The penalties he proposed would be financial and travel, not jail. I thought Republicans held property to be sanctified above just about everything. Taking money by force of law sounds pretty severe to me. Sounds a lot like a "fine."

4) Constitutional points aren't relevant because he would punish only non-citizens. Yes, but our courts have held the Fifth Amendment protections can apply to non-citizens.

5) Here's his statement on the point.

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