Republican hardball in the House

By Julia Scott
Published February 17, 2005 10:10PM (EST)

Several members of the House Committee on the Judiciary sent a letter on Thursday to Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), protesting his hardline policy of bypassing Committee consideration of two recent bills.

One is the Real ID Act. Introduced by Rep. Sensenbrenner and passed last week by the House, the bill would deny drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, make it harder to achieve asylum status and give the Secretary of Homeland Security unchecked power to remove any obstacle -- human, environmental or otherwise -- to the "expeditious construction" of barriers along the borders of the United States.

The other bill, the Class Action Fairness Act, passed by a 279-149 House vote Thursday (it already passed in the Senate) and will go straight to President Bush to be signed into law on Friday. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the bill on the grounds that it will move most class action lawsuits with multiple plaintiffs from state to federal courts, where they are less likely to be heard.

The immigration bill still faces an uphill battle in the Senate. But for Democrats, the process in the House has been tainted by Sensenbrenner's blatantly partisan power play.

The letter, signed by John Conyers, Maxine Waters, and 15 other minority members of the committee and announced in a press release, notes that "important rights are at stake" in these and other bills the House will consider soon. The full committee's consideration of the issues, they say, should not be bypassed. Here's an excerpt from the letter, which War Room received from Conyers' office (but is not yet available online):

"Dear Mr. Chairman:

"We are writing to let you know of our very serious concern regarding the Committee's failure to comply with regular order concerning numerous significant matters that fall within our jurisdiction.

"This week, the House is scheduled to take up S. 5, the Class Action bill, in the complete absence of Committee hearings or markup. While we have had hearings and markups on class action legislation in the past, the version being considered this year is quite complex and markedly different than previous versions considered in the House. Moreover, there are many new members in both the Committee and the House who would undoubtedly benefit from Committee consideration of this sweeping legislation. We would also note that the proposed rule is closed, a further affront to minority rights. The fact that the Senate has already approved this matter in no way justifies a 'rush to judgment' in the House, when so many important rights are at stake.

"Our concerns are compounded by the fact that last week the House took up H.R. 418, immigration legislation, again without any Committee hearings or markup. In that case many of our members wrote to you asking for hearings before the matter moved to the floor. That letter was ignored. Again, we understand that many of the provisions in H.R. 418 were based on provisions rejected in the conference last year concerning intelligence reform. However, this does not justify the failure to allow our Committee to consider these important matters."

Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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