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Congressional Oversight in the 21st Century – Wayne Law – Wayne State University


The Levin Center’s primary mission is what we’re here about today and that is to promote fact-based bipartisan legislative oversight. But we have a secondary mission as well and that is to promote civil discourse in public affairs. The intention of oversight part of our checks and balances which is really one of the great gifts America has given to the world. I really learned from oversight. And how it only works if you’re willing to dig deep. What I’ve been really impressed by this far is how grounded the Levin Center seems both in these crucially important national issues but also in the community. Every congressional committee, every Senate committee has an oversight piece, they have an oversight team. Like what Justice Potter Stewart said about hardcore pornography. I’ll know it when I see it. But we need to do better than that if report on oversight was convenient about when we started to do this past June. We now have a database of every congressional hearing from 1947 to present. and I support yourself in the present. About 8,000 observations. We also have records of every billing production, every law, every sentence or phrase on the State of the Union address, example of New York Times stories, executive orders. So we try to provide a database of common activities so that we can understand what are the topics of attention of the U.S. Federal Government. Based on my own experience it’s always been a little surprising to me that the courts are neglected as an area for the study of congressional oversight and in some ways it’s actually easier for Congress to oversee the judicial branch. So much of its work is centralized within the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Broadening from oversight to interactions between the brands the interactions are quite complex. Congress oversees the budget, salaries, rules, cameras in the courtroom. There are judicial issues that interest Congress. Congressional investigations have a very different underlying purpose. It is not to enforce the criminal law. It is not to seek criminal punishments. Rather the purpose of a congressional investigation is to aid the Congress in carrying out its legislative function, gather information. We think about oversight in terms of information. And I think that is something that’s come up on the panel on that sort of others remarked on as well. That good oversight requires information. Having a range of sources, having a range of information that informs that oversight. Even if not all of those sources were used. It just ensures that more voices were heard in the process. Congress tends to be most successful in those situations where the investigation bears indicia of bipartisanship. And so I think that the bipartisanship efforts to defeat executive privilege or agreement to accept a claim of executive privilege contributes to strengthening of the checks and balances in places a priority on separation of powers and the institutional role that Congress plays over political expediency. My article examines the characteristics of chairs that tend to pour oversight hearings, and titled “Who Conducts Oversight? Bill of Righters, Writers and Nail-Biters.” And I’ll explain in a moment what each of those terms means. This paper is a sort of a trying to group that cluster of issues that come up when Congress is conducting oversight related to overseas matters. So I want to talk a little bit about why Congress might do that. And then talk a little bit about several challenges that it presents both internal to our system domestically and then respective foreign entities. And then talk about a couple of brainstorm ideas for how Congress might be able to strengthen its hand. I want to thank everybody for this wonderful day. As somebody who’s so interested in congressional oversight I found every minute fascinating. I thought our three panels were fantastic. It also tells me about the richness of the topic. There’s so much more to think about. The role of bipartisanship, public versus private sector investigations, how you measure and encourage effective oversight, how you balance congressional oversight of the judicial branch with having needs to have the judicial branch enforce your subpoenas, how and when to conduct oversight of matters that are outside the borders of the United States.

One Comment

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