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Would Congress Lie to You?

I’ve been thinking lately about the penalties for lying to Congress.  As I understand it, the maximum penalty is 5 years in jail and a $250,000 fine per count.  Wow, that makes me want to tell the truth next time I have to appear! 

The Sonia Sotomayor hearings have  just begun, and I am expecting some real fireworks from; well, honestly 1 or 2 questioners.  She has been a prosecuting attorney, and you know how mean and tricky trial lawyers are.  I can hardly wait for her to be reminded that she is sworn to tell the truth, and asked if she was telling truth when she said in her opening statement:  “The task of the judge is not to make law; it is to apply the law.” 

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In 2005 at Duke University, Sonia Sotomayor said, “The Court of Appeals is where policy is made.  I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don’t make law…”  This was followed by her and the whole room breaking into loud laughter as if to say, “we can’t say this publicaly, but we all know it’s what happens. ”

I – thank God – am not an attorney, but since many members of the Senate are, this is the question I would like to hear somebody ask, “Judge Sotomayor, at Duke University in 2005, you said that ‘the Court of Appeals is where policy is made;’ but here in your opening statement you said, ‘The task of the judge is not to make law, it is to apply the law.’  My question, judge, is: Were you lying in 2005, or are you lying now?”  You know – a tricky lawyer kind of question. 

I have heard supportive attorneys say that of course judges don’t make law, they make policy.  Only an attorney would be shameless enough to try to find room between the two.  Tell that to a cop who botches the Miranda warning and who says, “Hey, it’s only a policy, not a law!” 

Speaking of lying to Congress, I think it is fairly rare that it happens– the TV cameras are on, attorneys sitting everywhere, research people ready to make mincemeat of you…I don’t think, however that it’s rare for Congress to lie to the people.  Think about it:  promises about reading lips and no new taxes; Robert Bork’s America; nobody earning less than $250,000 will pay a nickel more in taxes; promises about how many jobs a stimulus package will generate, and on and on.  

Look, I understand the importance of not lying to Congress; they need information in order to make good laws; although the usual result of their effort isn’t really too hot.  But, here’s the thing; isn’t it more important that they don’t lie to us?  Think how much better our decisions could be if they told us the truth about when a recession is over; what they plan to do if elected to office; if interest rates are going up or down…

If we could force it, I think most of them would be broke and in jail with Bernie Madoff.  Wow, I’m feeling better just thinking about it!  But I’m interested to know if you think people lying to Congress, or Congress lying to the people is the bigger problem.