GOP’s Gohmert, Clyde file lawsuit over metal detector fines
Two GOP lawmakers announced Monday that they have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of fines issued against them for failing to complete security screenings to enter the House chamber.
Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Andrew Clyde (Ga.) both tried to appeal the fines — which are $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for the second — earlier this year before the House Ethics Committee but were unsuccessful.
The lawmakers argued that the fines amount to “a means of harassing democratically-elected representatives who are members of the opposition party in the House of Representatives.”
In their lawsuit filed in the D.C. district court, Gohmert and Clyde argue that the fines are violations of the Constitution’s 27th Amendment, which prohibits any change to the salaries of members of Congress until after an election has passed, as well as Article 1, section 6, which states that lawmakers are privileged from arrest while entering or leaving the chamber except for cases of treason, felony and breach of the peace.
Clyde and Gohmert further argued that the punitive measures have been selectively enforced against Republicans and alleged that numerous Democrats were also seen setting off the metal detectors without undergoing further screening but didn’t face fines.
Six House members to date have been issued fines for failing to complete security screenings. All but one of those lawmakers, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), were Republicans.
The House Ethics Committee upheld the fines issued against Gohmert and Clyde, but agreed last month to dismiss the fines against Clyburn and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). The cases involving the remaining lawmakers issued fines, Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.), are still pending.
“Upon information and belief, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] has instituted an unconstitutional policy of enforcing the Screening Rule against only members of the Republican minority in the House of Representatives, and exempting members of the Democratic majority from its enforcement, resulting in only Republican members being fined and having their congressional salaries reduced, all for the purpose of creating a false narrative for the political benefit of the House Democratic majority,” the lawsuit states.
Lawmakers have 30 days to file an appeal to the House Ethics Committee after receiving a fine notification from the House sergeant-at-arms. A bipartisan majority of the evenly split committee must agree to dismiss a fine in order for an appeal to succeed.
In the event a fine is upheld, it must be paid from a lawmaker’s official salary. Lawmakers are expressly prohibited from using campaign or office budget funds to pay the fines.
Gohmert was fined $5,000 after he declined to undergo a second security screening after briefly leaving the House floor to use the restroom on Feb. 4. The Texas Republican noted in the lawsuit that he had not been asked to comply with an additional screening to reenter the chamber after using the restroom across the hall the day before.
Clyde was fined twice over two separate incidents, resulting in a total of $15,000 worth of fines. According to the lawsuit, Clyde entered the House chamber on Feb. 3 “without being screened by security personnel or passing through a magnetometer.”
Two days later, Clyde’s phone set off the magnetometer, but he declined to undergo a second screening and told security staff that “I have to vote.”
House Democrats voted in February to establish the fines because several Republicans refused to comply with the security screenings, which were instituted days after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Some GOP lawmakers continued walking after setting off the metal detectors, maneuvered around the metal detectors, and argued with Capitol Police officers attempting to enforce the screenings.
In addition, a concealed gun was found on Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) in late January while he underwent a metal detector screening to enter the House chamber. That incident further deepened Democrats’ concerns that some Republicans were flouting longstanding rules that prohibit anyone from bringing firearms into the House or Senate chambers.
Members of Congress are typically exempt from the metal detector screenings required of everyone else entering the Capitol complex. Aside from the House chamber, lawmakers are still allowed to skip the screenings at other security checkpoints in the Capitol and the nearby office buildings.
House members have also been subject to fines if they didn’t comply with rules requiring masks in the House chamber during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least six Republicans were issued $500 fines last month for protesting the requirement after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people can forgo facial coverings in most settings.
The Capitol’s attending physician issued new guidance on Friday that people who are fully vaccinated no longer have to wear masks in the House chamber, but that people who are unvaccinated or “vaccination-indeterminate” should still wear them.