It’s not just DUIs, either, as Concordia professor Jayne Jones told Fox News yesterday, but anything that doesn’t qualify as “treason, felony and breach of the peace,” as noted in Article IV, Section 10 of the state constitution. The clause echoes an identical restriction in the US Constitution in Article I, Section 6. The bar on arrest prevents law enforcement and local authorities from using their power of arrest to interfere with legislative business. But does this go too far in putting legislators above the law, and people in danger?
The issue caught their attention after a police dash cam video surfaced of a state representative getting pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence. Jones said the law exists because, “Back in the 1800s, when our Founding Fathers wrote the constitution, there was a natural fear of political retribution from certain votes and freedoms of speech.”
Thienes said he was “appalled” to find out that there were people who can get a pass for drinking and driving, “especially with all the laws that legislators recently made to make DUIs tougher in Minnesota.”
Jones recalled a student, who had interned for the Minnesota Senate, describe an incident at a legislative reception. According to Jones one of the senators said to the student, “Ride along with me in my car, I can’t get arrested for a DWI.”
I’m not certain that the legitimate fear expressed by the Founders in Article I, Section 6 has no basis in today’s world. We’ve seen local communities pass resolutions calling for national-level politicians to be arrested and tried for crimes, especially George W. Bush during the Iraq War. How difficult is it to predict that some of those same localities might not take advantage of the power of arrest to keep a legislator from casting a vote on a contentious bill — say, perhaps, in Madison last year during the “fleebagger” protests?
On the other hand, Jones has a point about the hypocrisy of a legislature that toughened laws on driving under the influence (and rightly so) while apparently flaunting their immunity from the same law while the part-time legislature is in session. Public safety is a factor, too, as it was in passing those tough laws, and so is the principle of equal treatment under the law. Perhaps the solution to this would be to amend the state constitution to include driving under the influence so that legislators understand that they can’t simply claim immunity from arrest while arguably endangering other Minnesotans on the roads.
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