It came out of nowhere, and now, over a year later, the Tea Party movement is a major player in U.S. politics. Dismissed by the media, the first activists who gathered together to protest tax day in 2009 have grown into a movement that can elect or defeat candidates for federal office. But, what if a candidate is already elected? That’s ok, because some Tea Party activists are focusing their attention on recalling certain federal officials. Is it legal? We’ll soon find out.
As noted in a story on Politico.com, “Tea Party forces are seizing on a new strategy in their attempt to purge Senate incumbents from office: the recall.” In this case, we are talking about the Tea Party movement in New Jersey, and the target is Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez.
The most prominent attempt to recall a sitting senator is currently unfolding in New Jersey, where Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez awaits a state high court ruling on whether a recall effort against him can go forward.
The New Jersey lawsuit — which questions whether tea party forces can legally gather signatures to petition for a ballot recall of a federal official — is emerging as the beachhead for a movement that some activists envision sweeping the country, the next step in the evolution of tea parties as a political force.
So… is this a massive waste of time or the next venue for the Tea Party movement to show its strength?
The Washington Times reports that the recall efforts (Louisiana and North Dakota activists have also joined in the recall proceedings) are “a long-shot approach, the legal hurdles are tremendous – no member of Congress has ever been recalled – and it’s limited only to states with recall laws that are broad enough to include federal officeholders.”
A report by the Congressional Research Service, the advisory think tank for Congress, says the Constitution does not authorize a recall and says it’s never happened.
“The recall of members was considered during the time of the drafting of the federal Constitution in 1787, but no such provisions were included in the final version sent to the states for ratification, and the specific drafting and ratifying debates indicate an express understanding of the framers and ratifiers that no right or power to recall a senator or representative from the United States Congress exists under the Constitution,” Jack Maskell, the CRS report’s author, wrote.
Several court cases have already ruled on issues regarding states trying to recall federal officials. Each time, the courts have noted that the U.S. Constitution contains the guidelines for service in Congress, and the states cannot alter those guidelines. This is exactly why term limits on federal officials will never work unless the Constitution is amended. The blog Dissenting Justice notes a few examples:
As the Supreme Court held in Powell v. McCormack, the Constitution establishes all of the requirements for members of the House and Senate. In Powell, the Court held that Congress could not alter those requirements. The House tried to block Adam Clayton Powell from taking his House seat on the grounds that he had engaged in financial impropriety. The Constitution, however, did not allow the House to block Powell, because he had met all of the requirements of office listed in the Constitution.
In US Term Limits v. Thornton, the Supreme Court extended Powell and held that states lacked the authority to alter the requirements of members of Congress as well. Thornton involved a challenge to an Arkansas law that established term limits for members of the House and Senate. The Court held that the law violated the Constitution. There is nothing unique about a “recall” statute that would make it permissible.
I have had many conversations with friends and colleagues about the Tea Party movement, and one point I raise over and over again is that its real power lies in the fact that it is a MOVEMENT, not a political party. As long as it remains a movement, focused on those core issues that got people off the couch to start with, then it will continue to have influence. But if the movement branches too far or tries to become too organized and bureaucratic, then it will suffer.
The Tea Party’s message of more freedom, lower taxes, less spending, and a small federal government is resonating throughout the country. This message will have a HUGE impact in the November elections, and it will show the power of the people vs the power of the establishment in Washington. I’m banking on the power of the people…. so let’s stay focused and put our time, money, and efforts where they can do the most good… defeating Democrats at the ballot box.