Griffith: Put Proxy Voting Rule on Hold
Wednesday, May 27, 2020 – Congressman Morgan Griffith (R-VA) today spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives calling for the House to suspend its proxy voting rules until the courts rule on their constitutionality.
A transcript of his remarks as delivered is below:
MR. GRIFFITH: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
[To MR. WOODALL] And I appreciate the kind words of my good friend and colleague, and we will miss you when you go on to do greater things elsewhere.
Madam Speaker, if we do not pass the motion to proceed to the previous question, we can put the proxy quorum voting rule on hold until after the courts have time to rule on its constitutionality.
Most on this side of the aisle, and a handful on the other side of the aisle, strongly believe that this proxy voting rule is unconstitutional. Accordingly, yesterday, a suit was filed to have the rule declared unconstitutional.
Under the suit, the court is asked to do many things, including asking for an injunction of our Clerk from counting the proxy votes on any measure and on counting proxies for purposes of determining a quorum. The courts must weigh in on this controversy before we take important votes using this new proxy quorum voting scheme.
The suit lays out constitutional requirements. Many of these arguments were made previously. It goes through the definitions of words like to “meet,” “assemble,” etc.
Madam Speaker, as you know, words are important, and the meanings are important, and the filers of this suit couldn’t make me happier when I was reading it.
They used Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of 1773. Just to let you know exactly how odd ball I can be, I pulled off my copy of Samuel Johnson’s of 1773 off the shelf in my office, and I checked to see what they had written down, and they got it exactly right.
And the term “meet” meant “to encounter, to be close, face-to-face.” And in 1851, the Webster dictionary says, “to come together or approach near or into company with, to assemble, to congregate.” And the example they used in Webster’s 1851 was, “the legislature will meet on the first Wednesday in March.”
Clearly, they knew what it meant to come together face-to-face.
Today on the Internet – knowing that some out there would say, Morgan, get yourself out of the dusty books – it says, “meet: to come into the presence of, to come face-to-face and assemble.” Similarly, in Johnson’s, it means “to bring together in one place.” Webster, “to collect a number of individuals into one place or body.” Internet, Merriam-Webster, today, “to bring together, as in a particular place.”
The suit lays out the constitutional requirements. Many of these arguments were made, as I said, previously.
Now I know what many of you are thinking. Morgan, you got to get modern. Zoom is a place, as is Webex and a dozen others. And some say that if they had only known about it during the writing of the Constitution, they would have permitted it.
But, Madam Speaker, they had the written word and they had the ability to send letters.
They also knew about dangers. They knew about wars with other nations, later, the burning of D.C., the Civil War, multiple plagues and fears have gripped the capitals of this country, but they never contemplated sending a note or a letter by friend or by post saying – and can you imagine it saying – “Hey, give my vote to Harry Lee of Virginia or William Holman of Indiana, and not only count my vote as the vote on the bill but count me present as part of a quorum?”
Never did it. Never thought they should. Never thought they could.
So the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of this a so-called rule is well-founded.
Also, it’s important we think about how the new-fangled proxy rule affects our work today. Let the courts do their thing and we’ll sort it out later.
Well, that is more than sloppy legislating. It’s dangerous.
Morgan, you say, how is that? Let me explain.
As an example, we are preparing to vote on the re-authorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA. On that or any other vote that does anything of import, no matter how small, even the naming of a post office, because it spends money, the vote and the action of this House under the proxy quorum rule is tainted and the authority of that legislation, accordingly, called into question.
On FISA, if we pass it, and the courts rule that the proxy voting quorum rule is unconstitutional, in whole or in part, we will have handed either a get-out-of-jail free card to terrorists who are enemies of the United States, or a hammer they can use against prosecutors trying to pursue justice.
Is that really what we want to do? I know it’s not, and we have another way.
We can put the proxy quorum rule on hold, suspend it until the courts can make a finding – final ruling on its constitutionality.
SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE: The gentleman’s time has expired.
MR. WOODALL: I yield five minutes.
SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE: Additional five minutes?
MR. WOODALL: Yes, ma’am.
SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE: The gentleman is recognized for five additional minutes.
MR. GRIFFITH: We can put the proxy quorum rule on hold. We can suspend it until the courts can make a final ruling on its constitutionality. Once we have that answer, we can then move forward.
But to move forward without knowing where we are going on constitutionality is dangerous, damaging, and destructive to every act we take in this body.
So Madam Speaker, I would implore the members of this House: do not vote the party line. Do not say, “Oh, it’s a previous question. It’s a throw-away vote.”
Today, the previous question is an important vote on whether we move forward not knowing the way, or whether we move forward knowing whether it’s constitutional or unconstitutional.
I ask you all to vote for our great republic and this august body. Vote no on the previous question and put the proxy quorum rule on hold until we have a definitive answer.
Madam Speaker, I respectfully yield back.
Text of Second Set of Remarks
MR. GRIFFITH: Thank you, Madam Speaker.
I appreciate it and I would reiterate and thank the gentleman for his kind comments and he’s absolutely right. I come here not today as a Republican or a Democrat, I come here as an American and, I have no agenda today except to defend the Constitution.
And while the courts may ultimately determine that my friends on the other side of the aisle are right, I believe they are sorely wrong, Madam Speaker. Sorely wrong.
Because we are not just talking about voting from afar, and while I would have problems with that as well, I will tell you it is more critical than that, because the Constitution calls on us to meet, to assemble, and to have a quorum.
And the Founding Fathers debated whether or not that quorum should be a smaller than 50 percent amount. And they determined that was not right because then it would tilt power into the hands of those that live closer to the capital, like Mr. Beyer, who apparently is carrying at least nine proxies. It tilts power into those people’s hands and away from the states that are further away, like Colorado and California.
And so, Madam Speaker, I would submit to you – there is a reason that in 231 years this has never come up, even though they could have written a letter, as I said before. They could have easily written a letter. They could have written a letter and said, “Hey, I can’t get there right now, give my vote to my friend.” They didn’t do it.
They could have said, “Hey, for purposes of a quorum, count me from afar by letter.” They knew how to write. Messages were traded all the time.
But instead, they went to wherever the capital was at the time, whether it be in Philadelphia, whether it be in Washington, D.C., in a hotel, and they did the people’s business. They did not cede that authority to anyone else. They kept it for themselves, and that’s what the Constitution calls for.
And you know what, as I said before, they never did it, they never thought they should, they never thought they could, and, ladies and gentlemen, Madam Speaker, I have to tell you – we go all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, and Caesar Rodney got on his horse while deathly ill with cancer, suffering from asthma and the gout, to ride to Philadelphia to cast the deciding vote for his state of Delaware because he needed to be there live in order to do it. He needed to be at the capital, he needed to be at meeting place of this country, even in its infancy, to cast the vote no matter what, and he rode through a storm.
And so we continue to have the policy, because it was the Founding Fathers’ wish and because it is the right thing to do, that if you’re going to count as a quorum, you meet in the capital.
You may designate a different place for that capital. We might designate it in Colorado, if need be. But wherever the capital is designated, this body must come together representing the people from the various states of this Union and we, each individual, shall cast our vote, not ten votes here by one and eight votes there by another, but one by one, each district as determined in the decennial Census shall cast their vote on each and every measure.
And when we don’t do that, we don’t do our job. And when we don’t do our job, we cast a doubt on every action we take.
I yield back.