In the wake of the elections of 1788, the 1st Congress of The United States began to gather in New York.
To say that absolutely nobody had any clue what to do would be the understatement of the last two centuries. Sure, they had the rules laid out in Article I and plenty of experience in State Legislatures, but nobody had any idea if this would actually work or not. Two States had not yet ratified the Constitution and consequently had not even held elections for the new Congress. Travel times were much different than today, as horses or walking were the only ways to get from there to here. Things were slow.
From March 4th, when the Congress convened, it would take a month before a quorum could be achieved. And before a single piece of legislation could be presented, debated or passed, the first order of business in the House was to elect the 1st Speaker of the House. In the Congress of a nation that was as yet strongly divided, the new Speaker was elected on the very first ballot. It was pretty much the only thing that went easy.
The hurdles faced by the 1st Congress were things that we take for granted in today’s Country. At least half of the Congressmen in New York believed that the new Constitution was not sustainable and that New Yorkers – and by extension Northerners – were conspiring to keep the Nations new capital in New York. As James Madison said, “We are in a wilderness with not a single footstep to guide us.”
And so with the Constitution as their guide and the son of a German Immigrant Luthern Pastor, Frederick Muhlenberg, at the gavel, things got underway…
“No Bill of Attainder… shall be passed…” – Article 1 Section 9
In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency, the only person to ever do so. The primary evidence against him was a set of tapes that he had made in the Oval Office, which purported to contain direct evidence of the Watergate Conspiracy, or at least a lot of buzzing that replaced sections that might have proved the Watergate Conspiracy if they hadn’t been so obviously erased.
After he resigned President Ford pardoned Mr. Nixon on September 8, 1974.
Prior to that day, Presidential papers were not considered “public documents.” They were private papers which belonged to the President. In fact, until Franklin Roosevelt donated his papers to the National Archives through his Presidential Library and Museum in 1939, they had never been available to the public except in the form of books and articles written by researchers who had been granted access.
Until December 19, 1974. On that day, President Ford signed a bill passed by Congress, The Presidential Recordings and Materials Act.” This law, which by definition applied ONLY to the records and Materials of Richard Nixon, made it clear that these were now the property of the United States, to be overseen by the National Archivist, who was charged with determining which records and documents the United States would keep – for potential use in judicial proceedings – and which would be returned as the property of Richard Nixon.
Naturally, the former President sued, claiming that this law was clearly unconstitutional as it violated the ban on Bills of Attainder.
It would take until 1998 to fully resolves Nixon’s role in this. Today, the Federal Courts are preparing to take up two cases that both Defenses are arguing are Bills of Attainder. Will history repeat or will the Courts find that no bills of attainder shall be passed?
The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it. – ARTICLE I, SECTION 9, CLAUSE 2
In Alabama, a man with a long record of violent criminal activity found himself on trial for armed robbery. The trial lasted two days and seemed pretty much slam dunk for the government. Then the jury began to deliberate. And deliberate.
After three hours, they sent a note to the Judge letting him know that they were deadlocked and unlikely to reach a unanimous verdict. after some extensive back and forth, there was one holdout. The Judge decided to take action. eighteen minutes later the Jury returned a unanimous Guilty verdict.
And on appeal, the 11th Circuit, led by the brilliant Judge Ed Crane, overturned the conviction and granted the man’s habeas corpus demand.
To answer that you have to go back to Article 1 Section 9 and then back to 1670. A man named William Penn (yes, *that* William Penn) decided to push the limits of English law and defy the Crown. Of course, he was arrested and put on “tryal” in the Old Bailey.
What happened next is why Judge Ed Crane granted the motion for habeas relief in an Alabama Armed robbery case in 2019…
You are There: The Trial of William Penn CBS Radio reenactment
11th Circuit Ruling by Judge Ed Crane: Brewster v Hetzel