Revisiting Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords working at desk crop

It has been a little over a year since the tragic attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords’s life. First we must not forget that a Federal judge was also killed that day and the life of a 9 year-old girl was cut hopelessly short.

But at the same time, we cannot forget her congressional district. Every district in the United States is entitled to representation in the House of Representatives under the Constitution. And the district she represents, the 8th District for Arizona, has been without its representation since the attack.

It is without any doubt beyond absurd that she was not expelled within a month of the attack. It is beyond unfair to the people of the 8th District of Arizona that they have not had an opportunity to be represented in the House of Representatives. But the sad fact of the matter is that it is not unconstitutional, and it needs to be.

How is it not unconstitutional? Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution provides each house of Congress with the ability to determine the qualifications of their own members:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members … and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

This is how Representative Giffords has been able to retain her seat in the House, including her full salary and other benefits, without actually being there. So for a year, her full salary and her medical care have been paid by those who pay taxes to the United States Treasury. And in return the 8th Congressional District of Arizona has received nothing. No representation in the House of Representatives, and therefore no ability to assent or object to any legislation that comes before the House or any committees to which Giffords is a member.

And now word has recently surfaced that Giffords is considering running to be re-elected to her seat in the House, despite no record of service for 2011 with the exception of one vote on a bill for which her one vote made no difference to the bill’s outcome. She needs to step aside until it can be determined that she is fit for service and able to take on the rigors and stresses that come with the job of a Representative. Further, she either needs to resign her position or be expelled from the House of Representatives such that the People of her district can select a new member, so the People can have the representation in Congress to which they are entitled under the Constitution.

Along with this, I propose the Constitution be amended such that the incapacitation of members of the House and Senate can be properly accounted, such that the people represented by that member can have that person recalled in the event of their incapacitation and new representation selected. Currently there is no remedy for the People of a District, other than a regular election, when their Representative or Senator is incapacitated and the House or Senate refuses to expel that member. There must be an additional remedy for either the People of a District or the Legislature of the State from which that Representative or Senator comes.

Allowing Giffords to be an example, the People of her District should have had the ability, last year, to recall her from her seat and allow another person to be selected in her place. Or, alternatively, the Legislature for the State of Arizona should have been allowed similar capacity, to declare that Giffords is incapacitated with respect to her duties as a Representative and hold an election to select a replacement.

Again, the Constitution should be so amended, and I would fully support such an Amendment, and I will likely be sending such an idea to my Senators and Representative in the coming weeks. I will post the details of such a communication if it occurs.