George Santos (R-NY) has rightly become the posterboard image for liars. During the 2022 midterm elections, he misrepresented nearly everything about himself to voters. Santos lied about his sexuality, education, work, and faith. Voters in the New York district have a right to be angry after he misrepresented himself to them, and they put him in Congress.
After Santos admitted he lied to the electorate, there have been calls to investigate him. That’s all fine and well. Some have even gone as far as to say he shouldn’t be seated. For his part, the congressman-elect said he wouldn’t resign and would serve his two-year term. The calls for legal action to remove him have grown under the pretense he committed fraud against his constituents.
In a moral and ethical sense, he did defraud his constituents. In a legal sense, not so much. Let’s discuss why…
On Monday, January 2, George Washington University Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley explained that if legal action to remove Santos came about, it would likely fail in court. The reason — it’s not a crime to lie in political campaigns or Congress. Turley noted if it were, there would be enough lawmakers in prison to make it impossible for the House to attain a quorum to conduct its business.
On a practical matter, the issue isn’t a legal one. It’s a political one. As Turley notes, honesty isn’t a requirement for serving in Congress. Still, it may impact his ability to acquire security clearances that would allow him to sit on certain House committees. That assumes the GOP leadership would let him anywhere near a committee. The reality is that the GOP will incapacitate Santos. He will not properly be able to represent his constituents, and that is the greatest injustice in this whole matter.
So, why isn’t this a legal issue? Turley noted that in 1969, the House moved to prevent Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY) from taking his seat. Powell was accused of misappropriating public funds. In Powell v. McCormack, the US Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress is limited to the qualifications outlined in the Constitution and rejected the attempt to stop him from serving as a congressman. The court ruled that Congress can expel a member for misconduct while in the service of their constituents, but the seating of a member is decided by voters alone.
In addition, Turley also added that the Supreme Court has never accepted lying as a criminal act in political activities. In United States v. Alvarez, the court ruled the Stolen Valor Act was illegal. It would have criminalized false claims of military decorations or medals. It said a person had a First Amendment right to lie.
Here’s the real question… where is the line drawn?
Has anyone called for President Joe Biden’s removal over all of his lies? He’s the most prominent political figure in America right now. He’s lied about being arrested with Nelson Mandela. He plagiarized during the 1988 presidential campaign (among other times). Biden has falsely claimed to be at the top of his college class and even a college professor. There is a lot more. The president is a known serial misinformer and disinformation machine.
What about Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who falsely claimed he served in Vietnam? Then there’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who falsely claimed she was a Native American to get special privileges. What about former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who lied about his military service, or Georgia Senatorial candidate Hershel Walker who many say misrepresented law enforcement and educational credentials?
For decades, pundits have called lies nothing more than “spin.” The media has justified it at times as a means to an end. The uncomfortable truth is that lying in politics isn’t a crime.
Is it wrong, immoral, and unethical?
Should voters be making their voices heard?
There is no way to sugarcoat the horrendous actions of this freshman lawmaker. There is no justifying it. Still, catcalls against Republicans who are dealing with other practical matters instead of talking about this issue is nothing more than political theatrics. There is nothing they can do other than allow the situation to become a distraction. It seems they have enough of that right now. They can’t decide on a Speaker, let alone prepare to govern or legislate.
In 2024, Santos will have to answer to voters at the ballot box.
The Conservative Era, Copyright 2023