Republicans just made it illegal to protest on the floor of Congress. Farewell, First Amendment.|
Members of the House Republican caucus voted Tuesday to issue heavy fines to lawmakers who protest on the floor of the House of Representatives.
As the 115th Congress was sworn in, the House voted 234-193 along party lines to approve a new set of rules for members of the House that include fines for taking photos or videos while inside House chambers. As The Hill pointed out, this rule is routinely ignored when foreign dignitaries visit the House of Representatives, and when the President of the United States delivers their traditional State of the Union speech.
Under the new rules, members who are found to be in violation will be fined $500 for the first offense, and $2,500 for every subsequent offense. Members can choose to appeal the fines if they feel they were unjustly punished. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) mocked the new rules by tweeting a selfie next to Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) shortly before the new rules were approved, implying that the “draconian” new rules were really meant to preempt any potential protest in the new Congress.
— Jared Huffman (@JaredHuffman) January 3, 2017
Rep. Lewis and other Democrats, both in the House and Senate, famously staged a sit-in last June in the aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, which killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Democrats pledged to occupy the floor of Congress until a vote was held on new gun legislation that would have expanded background checks for firearm purchases, and made it harder for gun buyers to acquire assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Eventually, Lewis ended the sit-in, with participants in the Congressional protests vowing to take the discussion back home to their constituents.
“We got in trouble. We got in the way. Good trouble. Necessary Trouble. By sitting-in, we were really standing up,” Lewis tweeted following the sit-in.
House Democrats have yet to publicly say whether or not they plan to obey the new rules against public protest in the 115th Congress, as House Speaker Paul Ryan has openly announced his plans to dismantle outgoing President Barack Obama’s legislative accomplishments following Donald Trump’s inauguration, namely the Affordable Care Act. Ryan also aims to privatize Medicare by turning it into a voucher system for private health insurance, which, ironically is the same model the Affordable Care Act currently follows.
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.