FBI’s search of Jefferson’s Capitol Hill office ruled unconstitutional

The Washington Post reports:

The Justice Department trampled on congressional independence when raiding U.S. Rep. William Jefferson’s office last year, a federal appeals court ruled Friday, siding with Congress in a constitutional showdown.

In a rare textbook case involving all three branches of government, the court held that investigators violated the Constitution by reviewing legislative documents as part of a corruption investigation.

The court ordered the Justice Department to return any legislative documents it seized from the Louisiana Democrat’s office on Capitol Hill. Still undecided is whether prosecutors can use other records it confiscated as part of their bribery case against Jefferson.

You can read the full opinion here. A snippet from the opinion is below:

The question on appeal is whether the procedures under which the search was conducted were sufficiently protective of the legislative privilege created by the Speech or Debate Clause, Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution. Our precedent establishes that the testimonial privilege under the Clause extends to non-disclosure of written legislative materials. See Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Williams, 62 F.3d 408, 420 (D.C. Cir. 1995).

Given the Department of Justice’s voluntary freeze of its review of the seized materials and the procedures mandated on remand by this court in granting the Congressman’s motion for emergency relief pending appeal, the imaging and keyword search of the Congressman’s computer hard drives and electronic media exposed no legislative material to the Executive, and therefore did not violate the Speech or Debate Clause, but the review of the Congressman’s paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive and accordingly violated the Clause. Whether the violation requires, as the Congressman suggests, the return of all seized items, privileged as well as non-privileged, depends upon a determination of which documents are privileged and then, as to the non-privileged documents, a balancing of the separation of powers underlying the Speech or Debate Clause and the Executive’s Article II, Section 3 law enforcement interest in the seized materials. The question of whether the seized evidence must be suppressed under the Fourth Amendment is not before us.

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