One of my partners forwarded this Politico piece my way the other day. I do not intend to reveal sources, but this partner is a fellow Miami of Ohio grad, as is the subject of the article.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Miami alum in question is apparently causing a stir on Capitol Hill by proposing the House Sergeant-at-Arms be permitted to fine lawmakers up to $2500 for shooting video or taking photos on the chamber floor. The rule is apparently a reaction to events last year when Ryan refused to allow a vote on gun control, and which triggered a protest on the House floor. During the protest, the C-Span feed was cut off (the majority party controls that) and some members started live streaming with their cell phones. To the best of my recollection, this did not cause the world, the country of Congress to come to any crises. But apparently, the Speaker wants even more power to stifle dissent.

Some House members believe this move may be unconstitutional. This scenario raises a number of questions.

First, what the heck is a “sergeant-at-arms” anyway? It sounds pretty militaristic, but it seems to be a position held in non-military settings. I looked it up and it appears to be a term that comes from medieval times. The sergeant-at-arms functioned for the sovereign as kind of a body guard. So the modern sergeant-at-arms doesn’t really protect an individual, it protects order in the institution. “Hall monitor” would probably also work. But I digress.

The constitutional argument is sort of a narrow issue. And it can be summarized as a “who’s in charge” debate. Article I of the Constitution says “each House may . . . punish its members for disorderly behavior.” And the folks objecting to Ryan’s plan have a simple position. The sergeant-at-arms is not “the House.” He’s not even a member of the House for that matter. So, if the sergeant-at-arms is all of a sudden charged with the power to punish House members, that is not consistent with the plain language of Article I.

The counter argument is that the House can adopt a proactive penalty for violating a House rule (it is against the House rules to take video or photos of the House floor), and then delegate the execution. There is some precedent for that procedure in that members are automatically fined for missing certain paperwork deadlines. In Speaker Ryan’s view, this is no different.

We will see. But in my view, the more pertinent question is why is there a rule prohibiting photos/videos in the first place. Maybe these rules were enacted when cameras were as big as small monuments and flash bulbs presented some sort of fire hazard. But those days are long gone. It’s tough for me to see how documenting the people’s business constitutes “disorderly behavior.” And if one party wants to shield the events from the public, that’s the problem. Not some representative wielding a cell phone. Speaker Ryan and I must have had different Political Science professors in Oxford.