Sunday, October 01, 2006

Legislating Violations of the Constitution

With little public attention or even notice, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that undermines enforcement of the First Amendment's separation of church and state. The Public Expression of Religion Act - H.R. 2679 - provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

A federal statute, 42 United States Code section 1988, provides that attorneys are entitled to recover compensation for their fees if they successfully represent a plaintiff asserting a violation of his or her constitutional or civil rights. For example, a lawyer who successfully sues on behalf of a victim of racial discrimination or police abuse is entitled to recover attorney's fees from the defendant who acted wrongfully. Any plaintiff who successfully sues to remedy a violation of the Constitution or a federal civil rights statute is entitled to have his or her attorney's fees paid.

Despite the effectiveness of this statute, conservatives in the House of Representatives have now passed an insidious bill to try and limit enforcement of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, by denying attorneys fees to lawyers who successfully challenge government actions as violating this key constitutional provision. For instance, a lawyer who successfully challenged unconstitutional prayers in schools or unconstitutional symbols on religious property or impermissible aid to religious groups would -- under the bill -- not be entitled to recover attorneys' fees. The bill, if enacted, would treat suits to enforce the Establishment Clause different from litigation to enforce all of the other provisions of the Constitution and federal civil rights statutes.

Such a bill could have only one motive: to protect unconstitutional government actions advancing religion. The religious right, which has been trying for years to use government to advance their religious views, wants to reduce the likelihood that their efforts will be declared unconstitutional. Since they cannot change the law of the Establishment Clause by statute, they have turned their attention to trying to prevent its enforcement by eliminating the possibility for recovery of attorneys' fees.

Link to info on the bill from THOMAS


Post a Comment

<< Home